Article By: Barbara Honegger
Fellow officers in full dress uniform, family and friends ringed the room in rapt attention as Naval Reserve Lt. James Panetta was awarded the Bronze Star Medal by Naval Postgraduate School President Daniel Oliver in a special ceremony in the President's Conference Room, Dec. 9.
Panetta, son of long-time NPS friend and supporter, former District 17 Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, received the honor for "exceptionally meritorious achievement" as an intelligence analyst identifying and tracking high-value al Qaeda targets in support of a joint special operations task force in Afghanistan during the six months beginning Oct. 15, 2007.
"We're truly blessed in this country that so many are willing to put themselves in harms way to protect our nation and our way of life, and we're here today to recognize one of those heroes," Oliver said before reading the citation. "One day Lt. Panetta had a normal life as an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area and the next day was mobilized as a Reservist serving his country in Afghanistan."
The award citation, signed by then Commanding General of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, states that "Panetta's leadership, dedication to excellence and analytical expertise were instrumental in the successful execution of high-priority missions of national significance. His diligent development of pattern-of-life analysis of key enemy personnel was the backbone of inter-agency planning and Task Force operations. His contributions will have a lasting impact on the Joint Task Force and the security of the United States."
"It's a true honor to receive this award, but it's also very humbling, because the people I served and worked with in Afghanistan are the real heroes, who made the real sacrifices," Panetta said in remarks following the pinning. "The fact that I'm receiving this just means that I did my job, and did it well. It was an honor just to be there as part of the team, going after those who started all this. I was simply fortunate to have been in the position."
Turning to Oliver, he added, "It really means a lot for someone of your stature and rank to be doing this. My family and I deeply appreciate that the Naval Postgraduate School is extending this special honor."
Stressing that he couldn't have done his job for Operation Enduring Freedom without the support of his family, Panetta announced that he was sharing his Bronze Star with his wife, Carrie.
"When I look at my wife and our two girls, Siri and Giovanna, I know that she's also done her job, and done it well," Panetta said, "and I share this medal with her. Carrie also has a great sense of duty, and I couldn’t have done what I did without her help, and that of my entire family."
"It’s exciting and very, very special to have this award presented at the Naval Postgraduate School," Carrie Panetta said. "When Jim decided shortly after 9/11, in the Spring, that he wanted to do Navy intel, we knew there would be sacrifices. We’re all very, very proud of him today, and I really appreciate his recognition of all the family support, not just mine."
Panetta's mother, Sylvia, who made many trips to Oakland to help out with their daughters during his time overseas, also saw it as part of duty to both family and country. "That was my job," she said."It was important to all of us that we do everything we could. Today is a special, special day. We are very, very proud of him."
Panetta's father beamed throughout the ceremony. "We’re extremely proud of his service," the senior Panetta said. "There are a lot of men and women serving on the front lines, and we thank all of them, but when it's your own son, it's especially gratifying. The award is great, but we're just very, very glad to have him home."
In addition to his life partner, children and parents, Panetta was surrounded but by extended family members, some of whom had traveled across country to share his special moment: Panetta's brother Christopher, his wife Elizabeth and son Michael; mother- and father-in-law Joann and Don McIntyre; and aunt Anna Panetta.
Coming all the way from Rochester, New York, was the commander of Panetta's Reserve unit, Pacific Fleet 0419, Cmdr. Jay Dutcher. "This is a tremendous recognition of Jim's service, especially as it's unusual for a junior officer, particularly a junior intelligence officer, to receive the Bronze Star," Dutcher said. "As he rejoins the Reserve community, I look forward to frequently pointing to Jim as an outstanding example of national service."
Also attending the ceremony was Rear Adm. Edward "Sonny" Masso, Commander, Navy Personnel Command and Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel.
Panetta grew up in Carmel Valley, Calif., and is currently a deputy district attorney with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. He also acts as the supervising attorney for the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force.
Posted December 12, 2008