USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Leon E. Panetta visited the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Jan. 21 and 22.
Following his arrival on the carrier's flight deck via helicopter, Panetta was greeted by Rear Adm. Walter E. Carter, commander, Carrier Strike Group 12, and Capt. William C. Hamilton Jr., Enterprise commanding officer.
Following a brief meeting, Panetta ate lunch with enlisted Sailors on the mess decks and held an All Hands Call for more than 1,700 Sailors and Marines.
"Even after 50 years of service, because of your tireless work on the Big E, there is no other nation that can match this ship," Panetta told the crew. "This is a great ship, and all of you are a great crew."
Twenty-one of the Sailors gathered in the ship's hangar bay had the privilege of being reenlisted by Panetta, who also presented awards to 10 additional Enterprise Sailors.
"It's an amazing feeling, and it's something I never thought would happen," said Senior Chief Navy Counselor Ramous K. Fleming, one of the Sailors who reenlisted Jan. 21. "It fills me with pride to get to stand in front of someone as high ranking as the Secretary of Defense and renew my commitment to my country."
Following the all hands call, Panetta presented 200 Sailors with his personal coin.
"It was one of the coolest things I've done in my military career," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class James Holman, the Reactor Labs leading petty officer. "It'll be cool to show my parents the SECDEF coin I received and the picture I took with Mr. Panetta, because how many people can say they've met the Secretary of Defense?"
That evening, the SECDEF ate dinner in the Enterprise wardroom with junior officers before heading to the flag bridge to watch evening flight operations.
"I've had a really good tour," said Panetta. "I enjoyed every aspect of the ship, but the greatest thrill was watching the aircraft takeoffs and landings; a thrill I will never forget."
"Carriers play a major role in our military, not only today, but they will play a role in our future," said Panetta. "You are part of what keeps our force agile, flexible, quickly deployable and capable of taking on any enemy anywhere in the world."
Enterprise is currently underway conducting training exercises and evolutions as part of a composite training unit exercise in preparation for the ship's 22nd and final deployment following 50 years of Naval service.
For news regarding USS Enterprise or the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, visit www.enterprise.navy.mil or the USS Enterprise Facebook page at www.facebook.com/USS.Enterprise.CVN.65 and follow us on Twitter @TheCVN65.