WASHINGTON, March 4, 2016 —
The service members of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington are at the pivotal point of strategic history because they “do it all and have it all” to face today’s many global challenges, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the multifaceted group in a troop talk there today.
In the last day of his trip to the West Coast to strengthen ties between the Defense Department and the technology community, the secretary said the active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members who work jointly at the installation constitute a significant asset as the military faces challenges such as the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese and Russian aggression, North Korean threats, Iran, and the accelerated fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“In the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, “We have the challenge of maintaining the role the United States has played for decades and decades here: to provide the military flywheel, the system of security, that’s allowed the Asian miracle of prosperity to occur.”
The rebalance recognizes that half of the world’s population and half of its economic activity takes place in those nations, the secretary said. “This is the single region of greatest consequence to the American future,” he added.
Peace and Stability
The atmosphere of peace and stability the U.S. military has provided in the Asia-Pacific region has allowed the rise of countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, India and across Southeast Asia, Carter said. “China’s [economic] rise is fine,” he added. “But China’s aggressive behavior is not.”
Noting recent threats and provocative actions from North Korea, Carter said Joint Base Lewis-McChord would be the installation to respond first if a crisis occurred on the Korean Peninsula in the future. The base would become a hub through which military forces would flow, he explained. “Strong deterrence, which U.S. Forces Korea calls ‘fight tonight’ is the posture we have to have to deter North Korea,” he said.
While the United States has not had to worry about Russia for more than a quarter of a century, Carter said, “now, clearly, we do.” Units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are now representing the U.S. military in the European Reassurance Initiative, aimed at making sure the United States deters Russian aggression in Europe.
And even with a nuclear arms agreement in place with Iran, not all issues with that country are solved, the secretary said, expressing concern about potential “Iranian malign activities in the region.”
And Lewis-McChord troops are crucial in the challenge to accelerate the fight to defeat ISIL, Carter said. Starting with ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, it’s also critical to “make clear there’s no such thing as a state based upon that ideology,” the secretary emphasized.
Filling A Community Role
“You represent a terrific relationship between the military community and the larger national community. It’s very important to our country,” Carter said of another role JBLM troops play in the area.
The secretary said he visited with the technology hub in the region this week to strengthen ties between DoD and the tech community, noting that military technology is another area in which Joint Base Lewis-McChord has a vital role. “It’s important that we are the first with the most,” he said. “Not just now, but 10, 20, 30 40 years from now. And that means we have to leverage the tremendously American innovative technology economy and make sure we’re completely up-to-date and have the very best in our military.”
One such high-tech capability at Lewis-McChord is the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS -- a full-spectrum, combat-proven, all weather, 24/7 lethal and responsive precision-strike weapon system. The secretary said he has not ruled it out in the counter-ISIL fight. The joint base’s cyber unit, once used for defensive purposes, is now also used offensively to defeat ISIL, Carter pointed out.
“There is no reason why [ISIL] should be able to use the Internet and social media to tyrannize [citizens] on whose territory they now sit” the secretary said. “We’re going to knock that out.”
Carter told the troops they are part of the finest fighting force the world has ever seen, and that he looked forward to greeting each one of them.
“You do it all, and you have it all,” he said. “You’re doing the noblest thing a person can does with his life. But also, right here and now, you’re at a strategic hinge in history.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)