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Remarks by Secretary Hagel During a Troop Event at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Nov. 16, 2014
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MAJOR GENERAL TED MARTIN: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Major General Ted Martin. I'm the commanding general of the National Training Center. I've got the best job on the planet. I would like to tell you that we've got a great day here.

We're going to be welcoming our secretary of defense. (Inaudible) telling you somebody is more than the secretary of defense, he's a fellow soldier, as General Odierno says, he's a soldier for life, because once you're soldier, you're always a soldier.

He's a combat infantryman. He earned a Blue Cord, like many in the service standing here today. Like us he has worn boots on the battlefield, so he knows what it means to sacrifice for his country, but more importantly, he knows of the sacrifices that our families are making, and we're out here training, and we're deployed fighting for our country.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's my honor to introduce the 24th secretary of defense, Secretary Chuck Hagel. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. General, thank you. Thank you. General, thank you. Good afternoon.

First, you know, sit down, kneel down, relax, I was just a sergeant so I didn't give any orders. Still don't. I want to thank you for what you're doing. I want to thank your families for their sacrifices and what they're doing to support you.

You're all making a better world for all of us. You are engaged in as important a mission as there is. And that's the security of this country. So to all of you and your families, and to your colleagues, thank you.

Also, I very much appreciate the opportunity to come out here today and witness an exercise that some of you have participated in, if not all of you, this morning to see first hand the kind of full spectrum training that you're getting.

It is critically important that the kind of training you're getting here continue to be refined because, as you all know so very well, it is training that prepares you, that keeps you ready. It is training that keeps you on the cutting edge of what's coming next.

We can't predict anything in the world and in life, but we do know that the unpredictable is the predictable. It is the one thing that we know is coming. And the more we can stay ahead of the threats and the challenges, not wait for those to come to us, but for us to be prepared and we go to them, that's the key.

And what you're doing here represents that as much as any element of our entire defense enterprise training that we have. And I want you to know that I understand that. All of my leaders, your leaders, understand that, will continue to support that in every way.

I was in North Dakota on Friday where we talked a little bit about what we're doing to renew and upgrade and modernize our nuclear enterprise. But I reminded all of our missileers and all those who are engaged in that important work that, yes, the nuclear deterrent is essential, it's critical to our defense, to our security, but so is our conventional forces.

And so are those forces so critical, what you're doing, Special Operations in our Air Force and our Army, our Navy, that all coming together is what's most important and essential, and what represents our future.

The kind of full spectrum training that you're getting here when you're not just being soldiers, you're being soldiers first, but you've got to know a little something more about the environment that you're going into, some of the history, some of the culture, some of the human dimensions that always play out in any contest, and in any conflict.

After all, it is about people, where they come from, what they think, why they do things the way they do, how are they recruited in so much of this fanaticism, this dangerous, dangerous radicalism, terrorism.

You have to be mayors of small towns. You have to be sewer commissioners. You have to be architects. And you have to be soldiers. You're soldiers first, but you've got to have all those other pieces as well.

And as I watched this training this morning, it reminded me again of the coordination that (inaudible), all the things that you all did together, it was impressive.

And I want, again, you to know that we're going to continue within our defense establishment to emphasize that kind of training, give your commanders, give all of you more and more latitude and flexibility to decide what you think is most important as how we prepare you as we prepare our next generation of soldiers to deal with not only the challenges we have right now in front of us, but what may yet come.

The asymmetrical threats that we're also dealing with, and the cyber piece that is included in your exercises, in your training is a good example of that kind of emerging and sophisticated and new threat.

I want to particularly note that here today are all the various components of this effort, the trainees, the established opposition, the 11th Cav, I have a personal recollection about the 11th Cav when my brother and I served together in Vietnam in 1968, his first five weeks in Vietnam, he served with the 11th Cav up on the DMZ of Vietnam, working with then Colonel George S. Patton Jr.

And then he was transferred down to serve with me in the 9th Division in the Mekong Delta.

I also know something about the 4th Infantry Division, not only because the chief of staff of the Army once commanded the 4th ID, but I went to Vietnam in December of 1967 with orders to go to the 4th ID.

So I almost was a member of your unit. But there were other plans. So I tell you those stories because I don't know of an American today that is not connected in some way with our armed forces, whether it was a family member, what you represent.

So many of you come from families of service, your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sisters, uncles, grandparents served. You serve as role models for our society, for our next generation of young people coming behind you, what you do.

What you do is not just what you do here or on the battlefield or anywhere else you go. But you represent as proud a tradition and as important a job as there is in this country.

Before we run out of some time, and I know we're going to have an opportunity to take pictures, and I want to give each a coin, I want to also thank the community.

Fort Irwin and the people in this area of California who have been so supportive of our troops and their families over a number of years. That just doesn't happen. And I know about that. I come from a state, Nebraska, where the state of Nebraska embraces completely, thoroughly the Strategic Command and all of the Americans who serve there and have served there.

So I know it's a community effort. And I want to thank the community and the communities all around for their continued support and help in so many ways.

Also I'd be glad to take a couple of questions before we take some photos. But I would also note that not only you may have a question to ask, but if you've got a suggestion. I've said here a couple of minutes that it's important that we listen to our commanders and we listen to our leaders as to what they think is important, not just in training, but everything.

What do they think works, what doesn't work, what we should we be doing more of, maybe less of? The only way we really understand that and know that is we have to come out and see it and listen, and reach out.

So if any of you have got any thoughts on anything, not just regarding the training, but how we can do things better in this business, I would welcome those thoughts.

So with that, we'll just open it up and we’ll take a few minutes and talk about whatever you want to talk about.

Yes.

Q: Just a question, sir. With things heating up in Iraq and Syria, do you feel in the future we'll probably deploy a full invasion force against ISIS?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think the president has been pretty clear on our strategy regarding ISIS. And as you know, General Dempsey is just returning from Iraq where I'll have some time with him tomorrow.

But where we start is the strategy. And the strategy is working. The strategy is to support the Iraqis in their fight against ISIL. We're doing that in many ways.

First, as they have just elected and formed a new government, a new government that must be inclusive, that must be participatory, that must reach out to all of the people in Iraq to gain the people of Iraq's confidence and trust, Sunni, Shia, Kurds. Some of you have served there, many of you have served there.

That's part of it. We're helping with that. We're supporting that. They're a sovereign nation. It is their country. They have to do this themselves.

Second, as you know, we have had -- we have had advisers over in Iraq working with Iraqi security forces as we are working with them to assess what they need to strengthen their forces.

We are working with a number of our coalition partners, and have been using air strikes effectively to help the Iraqi security forces build and strengthen their forces as we give them time, as we give them support, as we help them.

We also know that we're in the process now of opening four training centers in Iraq where we will train and equip, along with coalition partners who have also committed to trainers, help the Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga forces.

We are expediting requests for munitions, for equipment, for supplies. We have been doing that over the last few months. All of those are different ways how we are continuing to help.

And through an effective coalition, we have over 60 members of that coalition, and they're all participating in some way. Some will be sending trainers to be part of those four training centers.

Others are working with us and actually carrying out air strikes. They're all in some way participating.

But this has to be an Iraqi effort. It is their country. They're a sovereign country. We were invited in. They asked us to come in and help them. And we are doing that. So our anti-ISIL strategy is comprehensive, it's complete.

It includes all the different components of what we're -- of what I just talked about in (inaudible). The president just announced recently recommendations that General Dempsey, General Austin had brought to me, and I recommended to the president, that we increase our troops by about 1,500 to focus on those training and equipping missions, as well as self -- force protection, force protection for our forces, because that is as key and foremost in our priorities, the protection of our own people, as any one priority.

So if that gives you some dimension of what we're doing now, we're doing a lot. And we're doing the things that we need to do to support that new inclusive government. And there are a lot of good things happening.

Just one additional example, you know they -- the Iraqi government has not had an Iraqi minister of defense for over four years. The new government under Prime Minister Abadi recently selected a new minister of defense, a Sunni minister of defense who has been working in Anbar province and reaching out to the Sunni tribes.

As we help the Iraqi security forces build in and integrate the Sunni tribe into that security force, in fact, last weekend there was a ceremony that included about 2,000 Sunni tribesmen, as they are starting to get into a swearing in -- eventual swearing in ceremony and start moving in to training in the Iraqi security forces.

So there is a lot going on. But we've also said -- General Dempsey said this again when he was there that this is a difficult mission. It will be a long mission. This isn't going to be over quickly.

And we have to be prepared for that. But we are going to do it in a way that what we do to help the Iraqis is sustainable, that it will last, that it will be there, and it's for them and for their country.

Do you have one question over here? It was somebody over here?

Anybody else? I'm sorry. Yes.

Q: Sir, could you talk to us about what the U.S. position is in Nigeria? I mean, do we have boots on the ground in Nigeria fighting the hostiles there, the radical…

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we're helping the Nigerian government and supporting the government in their efforts. And that's another area that obviously (inaudible) organized governments and countries and societies of Boko Haram and that terrorist group, what it's doing to tear apart the country of Nigeria, and its brutality.

So we, through AFRICOM, help and assist in different supporting roles. And that's one area that we're helping in. We don't have boots on the ground there.

Yes.

Q: Sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Oh, I'm sorry, (inaudible).

Q: Sir, are there any plans on the horizon to get us more funding for better training, better equipment, or just better -- or back to an area where it was during the Iraq War, Afghanistan War?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we are constantly upgrading equipment and materiel. And this is, again, I go back to a point I made earlier about why it's important to come out and listen to the commanders and see what you all need and what you need more of.

At the same time, we also know about budget constraints that we're dealing with right now. The Defense Department has taken deep, steep, abrupt cuts in its budget over the last few years.

Those budget constraints are going to continue. Sequestration has done tremendous damage to our resource base.

We will, once again, be presenting to Congress a budget that we hope will be a budget that they can agree to and they will eliminate sequestration to free us up in not only our ability and flexibility to make the decisions we need to make inside the department on reforming programs, platforms, processes, reforming all the various aspects of our enterprise.

As we see platforms -- older platforms age and become less effective, less efficient, we need to move those through the system, as we have done in the history of all of our platforms, because we have coming in behind them on-line more efficient, more effective platforms.

We need the flexibility from Congress to be able to do that, not lock us in to preserving things that we don't need.

We have a tremendous excess in base facilities, so many bases we don't need, facilities we don't need, that we're paying billions of dollars in overhead a year that we don't need. That's part of it.

The resource base itself, the funding has to get fixed. It's something we're working on. It does affect readiness. It does affect maintenance. It does affect equipment. It does affect the things that you're talking about.

But we are committed not to ever, ever put any of you or any of our troops in a situation where you do not have the edge as you have had in every way, technologically, in preparation, in training, in readiness, no fair fights, we don't like fair fights.

And that's something that we will continue to fight for. And it's critically important for our country, for the future of this force.

Somebody -- yes.

Q: (off mic). So as the secretary of defense, we understand it’s a very important job and you've done great, a lot of service for us, and an intricate part of our military community.

But it has been a long time since we had a combat veteran in the White House. When can we expect you to run for the presidency, sir? (Laughter.)

SEC. HAGEL: I've got my hands full. I have my hands full, not just because I have a Band-Aid on my face, it's a tough job. But I appreciate your comments. But I'll tell you, I don't, first of all, minimize combat experience. I don't think anybody would, does.

But I don't think you need to be a combat veteran to be a good leader and understand the necessities and leadership and what it takes to keep this country safe.

I think President Obama has done an excellent job of working with us, listening to us. General Dempsey and I meet with him once a week, privately. And he listens to what we have to say. He supports us. He has listened to our recommendations, has supported those recommendations.

There will be a new president in two years, but for right now, President Obama is the president. And I think his commitment to you, to the security of this country is strong.

And I also think it's important to have a president of the United States, at this time in the world with such volatility and so much coming at us all at once -- probably unprecedented.

I don't know the time when so much is happening all at once, coming at us. And it all rolls back down hill on us: Ebola, what's happening in Eastern Europe, ISIL, across the board.

To have a president who is thoughtful, who is wise, who understands that application of force sometimes is required, but never without a strategy behind it, never without the other dimensions of wise policy.

And I think that in particular is something that America would always want in their presidents, whether they have military experience or not. And I think this president has shown that he has that.

Thank you all very much. And I think we're going to -- are there any other questions? Are we okay time-wise or – John? okay.

Again, I am so appreciative of the opportunity to be here with you today, and to come out and thank you personally and to see what you're doing, what you mean to all of us, and to our country, and also to have an opportunity for you to make certain that you tell your families how much we appreciate them.

It's tough on families. So we all know that. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to support the families because they're critical to supporting you and supporting us.

So thank you. (Applause.)

Thank you. Thank you.