Defense Secretary Leon Panetta personally addressed the troops at one of the main U.S. Army posts in the country in an attempt to prevent any more of the embarrassing incidents, such as the recent episodes of soldiers desecrating Afghan corpses.
"These days it takes only seconds -- seconds for a picture, a photo, to suddenly become an international headline," Panetta said today in Fort Benning, Ga. "And those headlines can impact the mission that we're engaged in . . .They can damage our standing in the world, and they can cost lives."
"I need every one of you, every one of you and all of your fellow service members to always display the strongest character, the greatest discipline and the utmost integrity in everything you do," he also said.
Most recently, photos emerged of American soldiers posing next to Afghan corpses in 2010. Panetta apologized for the act when the Los Angeles Times published the images in April and the White House warned that the publication of the pictures could lead to more American casualties.
The Los Angeles Times story marked the second such incident in four months, after video surfaced in January of four United States Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents.
In March, an American soldier broke into the houses of Afghan villagers in the middle of the night and murdered sixteen adults and children.
"I know that these incidents represent a very, very, very small percentage of the great work that our men and women do across this world," Panetta acknowledged, before adding that "a few, who lack judgment, lack professionalism, lack leadership can hurt all of us and can hurt all of those men and women who serve this country with distinction."
Panetta didn't dwell entirely on the recent failures that have made international news.
"The main reason I'm here today . . . is to thank you, to thank you for making the decision to step forward and to serve this country," he said. "Our democracy from its very founding depends on those who are willing to serve and make this country a better place for those that follow."