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Leon E. Panetta to Receive 2018 West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award

Leon Panetta Thayer Award Recipient 2018The West Point Association of Graduates is pleased to announce that Leon E. Panetta—23rd U.S.Secretary of Defense, 3rd Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, 18th White House Chief of Staff, and Chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy—will receive the 2018 Sylvanus Thayer Award. The award will be presented on October 4, 2018 during ceremonies hosted by the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

West Point Association of Graduates Board Chairman Lt. Gen. (USA, Ret.) Joseph E. DeFrancisco, Class of 1965, said, “The West Point Association of Graduates is honored to present the Thayer Award to Secretary Leon E. Panetta. His distinguished public service career has spanned five decades, starting in 1964 as a U.S. Army intelligence officer, to time as a Congressman, to leading several national agencies and serving in high-ranking positions for two U.S. Presidents, through today as Chairman of an institute devoted to attracting men and women to lives of public service. Having Secretary Panetta forever associated with West Point through the Thayer Award speaks directly to its purpose of recognizing a citizen of the United States, other than a West Point graduate, whose outstanding character, accomplishments, and stature draw wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives. His life of service to our nation truly exemplifies the West Point values of ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’”

“I thank the West Point Association of Graduates for this distinguished award,” said Secretary Panetta. “I am honored to be recognized among those men and women who have dedicated their lives to the values of West Point: Duty, Honor, Country.”

Leon E. Panetta was born in Monterey, California and raised in the Monterey area. In 1960, he graduated magna cum laude from Santa Clara University in California, and received a juris doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1963. A year later he joined the U.S. Army, commissioning as a second lieutenant of the Military Intelligence Corps and receiving the Army Commendation Medal for his service. After the Army, he became a legislative assistant to Thomas Kuchel, the U.S. Senate Minority Whip from California. In 1969, he was appointed director of the Office of Civil Rights in the Nixon Administration.

After returning to California to practice law, Panetta was elected in 1976 to represent California’s 16th Congressional District, starting a 16-year career in Congress. As a legislator, Panetta became a respected leader on agriculture, federal budget, ocean and healthcare issues, and from 1989 to 1993 he chaired the House Budget Committee. He won passage of the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, Medicare and Medicaid coverage of hospice care for the terminally ill. Panetta left Congress in 1993, when President-elect Bill Clinton selected him to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

President Clinton approached Panetta again in 1994 to become his new chief of staff, a position he held until January 1997. As chief of staff, Panetta was credited with bringing order and focus to White House operations and policy-making. After serving in the White House in 1997, Panetta and his wife Sylvia founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy on the campus of California State University, Monterey Bay. The Institute is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit study center that seeks to attract men and women to lives of public service and prepare them for the policy challenges of the future.

In 2009, President-elect Barack Obama nominated Panetta to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked with international leaders to confront threats of Islamic extremism and the Taliban, and supervised the operation to find and bring the international terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice. Two years later, President Obama nominated Panetta as Secretary of Defense, where he led efforts to develop a new defense strategy, conduct critical counter terrorism operations, strengthen U.S. alliances, and open military service opportunities to Americans regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

In 2014, Panetta published his memoir Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, a chronicle of his life in public service. In his review for the New York Times Book Review, Leslie H. Gelb wrote, “Young people searching for a role model of a public servant will find few as good as Panetta.”

Panetta currently serves on the boards of directors for Oracle and Blue Shield of California. He also serves as co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Defense Personnel Task Force and the Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Countering Violent Extremism.