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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Troop Event at Marine Corps Station Miramar, California

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
January 13, 2015
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.

Thank you. General, thank you, and to all of the leadership here at Miramar. I very much appreciate you allowing me to disrupt your day and -- and come and have an opportunity to thank you, thank all of you for what you do for our country, thank your families. In particular, I do want you to pass on to your families how much we appreciate their sacrifice, and how important they are, not just to you, but to all of us and to this country. And we are grateful, and appreciate what your families do.

I know this is a particularly important time for all of you, as we are transitioning in many ways around the world. Most specifically, in Afghanistan. And I know most of you have served more than one tour in Afghanistan. And one of the focuses that we have had over the last couple of years -- will continue to have -- is to get the Marines back to the original purpose of our Marine Corps -- your maritime service, your full-spectrum operations -- and we're doing that. We will continue to do that. I know you want to do that.

The kind of uncertain dangerous world that we live in today is going to require that kind of strategy, that kind of focus on our forces.

Asia-Pacific, the rebalance there is -- is going to be particularly important for our future. As the world economy shifts, opportunities and challenges shift, and you'll play, as you have throughout the history of this country, historic roles in all of that.

This is my second stop today. I was at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The weather is better there, of course, than here. I don't know how many of you are from Missouri or the Midwest, but it was about fifteen degrees when we landed. So, I was there for a few hours to thank our B-2 squadrons and our wings there for what they do -- a different mission, but all part of the overall same responsibilities we all have as members of the defense enterprise of this country, and that's to secure and defend this country and assure in every way we can that this country remains safe and secure.

And to help our allies, which becomes also for your future and all our futures more and more a critical component of our own strategic interests as we continue to help our allies build their capabilities, particularly what we've been doing, will continue to do, that you're part of, will have a big part of in the Asia-Pacific.

But we're doing it with our partners, our allies all over the world so that they have capabilities. They have the capacity. They have the institutions to defend themselves. We'll help. We'll support. We'll be their allies, but we can't take on all of the challenges by ourselves. They must do it as well.

And so that's a big component of this, and I thanked the Air Force across the board for what they have done. It gave me an opportunity also to thank the Air Force for the opportunity to work with them, as I've served as your secretary of defense the last two years. The same reason I'm here today, will be here tomorrow. I have an opportunity to go out on the USS America. So I'll spend some time tomorrow with Marines and Navy to thank all of you for the opportunity to serve with you.

And it's been a privilege for me, and I'm very proud of what we have done together over the last two years.

Then I'll go onto Fort Bliss, Texas tomorrow afternoon and be at Fort Bliss on Thursday, and then we're going to go over to White Sands Missile Range later that afternoon. And I'll end about three days of journey to thank the services -- the Marines, the Navy, the Army, Air Force -- for what they do for this country and for the privilege I've had to serve as your secretary of defense.

At Fort Bliss, the commemoration will be kind of that. I've not been back to Fort Bliss since I took basic training there in 1967. Many of you know that part of the country and know that the desert in El Paso, Texas in the summer is very inspirational. And it was for me.

And then after I took AIT here in California at Fort Ord, California, I was assigned in the first class of the then-classified -- it was top secret -- the first shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile called the red-eye gun. And all the subsequent weapons that we have developed since then came from that technology.

So, I'm going to go back and take a look at White Sands Missile Range. There are not a lot of people there. That's the way it should be. So that will end the three days of getting around the country to thank you all for what you do and for the service you continue to give this country.

Let me focus on a couple of particular areas that affect you and impact you, and then we'll open it up to questions and whatever you all want to talk about.

But let me go back to a couple of points that I made earlier. As we engage in a new kind of a world, a world that as we all know is dynamic. It's always changing. It's always shifting. As I reminded our Air Force buddies in Missouri this morning, a year ago today, I don't know how many people would have given a lot of thought to what was going to happen in West Africa with Ebola; what the Russians were going to do, the invasion of Crimea; the dangerous excursions in -- exercises in Ukraine, how that has really shifted a complete emphasis on our force structure, our training, our rotations, our capacities, capabilities of our allies in Europe. As a matter of fact, how it's greatly strengthened NATO.

How many people would have sorted out what was going to happen in the Middle East a year ago? In particular, what ISIL has done, what it continues to do, the threat that ISIL presents to that part of the world, to all of us. We saw some component of Islamic terrorism just recently, a few days ago in Paris.

I know that the Marines are involved in those efforts in the Middle East in some of the things that you're doing there. But I mention those three particular examples of the kind of shifting, changing, challenging, uncertain world that we live in. It's a world now that presents very little margin, very little margin for error, very little margin for anything, especially time.

When these disasters hit, these challenges hit, these attacks hit, they're immediate. They're deadly. And I think when you add all of that up, and then you add a fairly recent element of cyber warfare into all of this. Certainly, everyone is aware of what happened with Sony. This recent, over the last couple of days, attack --

(SOUND OF AIRCRAFT TAKING OFF)

That's always reassuring to hear, as long as they're our planes.

The recent attack on our CENTCOM Twitter network is another reminder of the sophistication, the capability of now not just state actors and nations, but individuals and non-state actors who probably present more challenges, more deadly threats to all of us than just a nation-state does alone. Nation-states have some component of responsibility, some basis of boundaries. But individuals and nation-states -- non-nation-states don't -- groups like ISIL, ISIS, and Al-Nusra and Al Qaida, and the entire inventory of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups that don't.

They espouse a very deadly theory about their thinking of how life should be led. And so that adds to the complexity that's always been out there. That's the history of differences, religious, tribal, ethnic differences.

And when you take all of that and you frame that up in a large scope of how do we deal with all this, as powerful as we are -- the most powerful nation on earth -- it's going to require new capabilities. It's going to require a modernization process that we've always been very good at since World War II. But we're going to have to continue an acceleration of those capabilities as we invest in new technologies, and thinking through these challenges.

It presents great opportunities, I believe. I say that because what you all are doing, because you do a little ambassadorial work with everything else you do. Everybody who is assigned around the world, whether you're deployed, stationed overseas, whatever your status, you have some ambassadorial responsibilities, you're not just a warrior.

You do a little State Department work. Some of you know from your experience in Afghanistan, you've been asked to do a little work with the local mayor and the sewer director, the bridge builders, mediator. It's more sophisticated today than it ever was. But those are opportunities too. They're opportunities for us to find common interests in the world with other nations who are not exactly like us, who will not be like us, and many who do not want to be exactly like us. But that's okay. Everybody should have a right to choose, choose their leaders, choose their lifestyles, as long as they are respectful and they allow for rights of others.

So there'll be variations of these states as they evolve and these conflicts as they are settled -- and they will be settled. But it gives us an opportunity to come together with some common interests that historically we've never seen quite like the world as it is today. Yes, more complicated, yes, probably more diversification of challenges, diffusion of power, yes. But we have to come at this based on the reality of what we have in front of us, but also we don't want to squander the opportunities and the possibilities, and the Marines play as big a role in that as any of our services do, because you were always on that cutting edge and you were always on that front edge as your relationships develop and as you have to reach out.

We're going to get you back to that. We're going to get you back into that full scope of operations where you've been, and every Marine I've ever known wants to be.

Just let me add one quick thing about budgets and priorities. I also want to add to the comments I've made about technology, capabilities, capacity, which are all critical for our future and the investment and the -- and the wise investment of those technologies for the future. The human dimension of who we are, whether it's sexual assault or any component, any component of our community, of our family, we take care of each other. We don't take care of each other just on the battlefield, but we've got to take care of each other in dorms, in bars, on bases, at parties. You take care of each other, you trust each other, and you have to rely on each other, again, not just in war, but this is a family, and we let each other down if we don't do that.

And I say that because it isn't just the sexual assault issue which we're dealing with, which we are addressing straight-up like the military has always done with every issue. And we're straightforward about it. We have a problem, we're dealing with it, we're making progress, we're going to stop it. Not because I say it or the president of the United States says it, it's up to you. It's up to you.

And I'm very proud of what you all have done here so far in this effort. But it's also our children, our education, our health care facilities. It's assuring that you feel, your families feel, your husbands and your wives, that you have not just a profession here and a future in that profession, but it's the right thing for your families.

And it's a tough business. I know that; it's a tough business. But we cannot disconnect the human side of this from the warfighting and all the other warrior side of who we are. We're strong because of who we are as individuals and families and because of the community of strength that we have knitted together over generations and generations and the respect we have for each other.

I say that -- I know it's obvious, but I think too often, it gets overlooked and it just gets taken for granted, and we shouldn't do that. All your leaders work on this, you all work on it. We're going to continue to work on it. We should work on it. Ethics, standards, values -- (siren sounds) -- I hope one of our security guys is not trying to take a helicopter, but we'll catch him.

But seriously, these are important parts of our future.

Budget. We'll be presenting a new budget to the Congress here in the next few weeks. The president will announce his new budget in early February. I think the budget that we present that will be realistic. We're getting ourselves put back together. But over the last two years, we've taken major hits. You all know that, because of sequestration, especially because of what happened in 2013: when you couldn't train, we couldn't fly, we couldn't steam. The government was shut down for sixteen days. We had to furlough people.

That has thrown our budgeting, our planning, our strategic focus into disarray. We can't continue to do that. Now, we're -- we're coming back, we're getting better. But sequestration still hangs over us. That is going to have to get fixed. It's still the law of the land. It comes back in FY 2016 if we don't fix it.

So, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that within our ability and within the confines we have to work with the Congress to get this fixed. But I want to assure you that what we have before us are the resources we need to carry out the strategic interests of this country and to defend this country.

But we've got to look beyond, and all the tremendous platforms that you all are proficient in and you run and you fly and you maintain. If it's the V-22 or a new F-35 coming online, what I'll see tomorrow, the USS America, those platforms begun years ago. Investment in those started many, many years ago. We have to continue to forward deploy in every way. Investments, in thinking, in science, and anticipation, planning, leadership, strategic thinking. And budgets are a big part of that.

Last part of this I want to mention is go back to a couple of comments I made earlier. As good as we are, there's nobody in the world close to us. No enterprise in the history of the world has been as good as you are. Professionally, you're professionally led, you're better educated, you're better equipped, you're better trained, you're better motivated than anyone ever before.

But that doesn't always mean it'll be that way. So we have to continue to stay focused on the quality of our people. The quality of our leaders. The quality of each of you. And that is critically important. That means enhancing yourself professionally and personally in education. Many of you I know are enrolled in courses. Most of you have degrees, skillsets. But you keep enhancing that.

And we want to continue to not just retain, because retain is only as good as today, but we have to continue to encourage great young people like you are to come into this business, into this profession, and we have to build it strong now, and we have to assure that in the next few years, as young people come along, when they look at what you're doing and how you're doing it-- in particular, how you're doing it, they'll want to do it: just like each of you had role models and each of you were mentored.

And somebody in your life or many people maybe in your lives, each of you, somehow influenced you to become a marine. I suppose some of you just said "I want to be a marine," but I don't know if it was a movie you saw or your dad or a friend or a coach or whoever it was, something motivated you to at least take a look at being a marine. And that's what we want to continue to do.

And that may, in the end, be your biggest responsibility, as you work your way through your careers. Again, I want to thank you for what you do for this country, what you've done for our country, what you will do for this country. It's been a privilege to be your secretary of defense.

Thank you very much. Take a question or some questions.

We have a microphone or you do?

Okay, go ahead.

Q: Good afternoon sir, First Lieutenant Glauf, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (inaudible).

Sir, if there's one lesson that you have to pass on to your successor that you had to learn the hard way, what would that be, sir?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, that's a very, very good question. And it's a question we should all ask ourselves every day, actually, in everything we do.

The first part of the answer would be, you learn hard lessons every day. Every day. And you do, because everybody's job here is important. There's no unimportant job here, or you wouldn't be here. Every job has a purpose, has a reason, and you have to do it as well as you can do it, or the whole damn operation becomes mediocre.

But to your point, I think the biggest lesson you always learn, but going in you know it, and that is to listen. Listen, listen, listen. Listen carefully to not just your commanders. When I first got here, two years ago, I started holding a junior enlisted luncheons, private luncheons with junior enlisted, E-5 and below, with an individual from each service. Come to my office, no one else in the room, just us.

And those last at least an hour. Sometimes an hour and a half. I do it with junior officers as well, once a month. And that gives me an opportunity to really understand what the younger individuals are thinking in our officer corps and our enlisted, what they think is right, what they think is wrong. They're very honest. I tell them to be very honest. We don't take notes. We don't record anything. I don't quote anybody. I say, "I've got to know what you think."

I obviously do the same with all of our officers, especially our commanders, our senior officers.

But listening is critical to anything. You can't fix a problem unless you understand the problem. The best way to understand a problem is you've got to go out and see it, you've got to hear it, you've got to understand it not just from the cerebral, intellectual way, where somebody telling you about it or sending you a report, that's important, because you can't be everywhere.

But as much time as the secretary of defense or any leader can put in to being out with troops and getting a sense and seeing things, and I've done a lot of that, I've done a lot of that in the last two years, all over the world and here in the United States. It's not a lesson, necessarily, but it probably goes into the category of lesson/advice because you will always learn a lesson. You will learn a lesson if you don't do it, because you will misjudge or you will mistake feelings and attitudes, and you don't want to be surprised. That's pretty fundamental to things in life. You don't like to be surprised.

In this business, I said earlier, there's little margin for error. There's little margin of time for calibration, of adjusting tactics, strategies. And when you're wrong, that's right on top of you.

So, that may not be as precise an answer as you want, but I think it's the biggest. It's the biggest answer I can give you, and most important overall. Thank you very much.

Q: Good afternoon, sir.

Corporal (inaudible) with (inaudible).

My question is, out of all of the countries you've visited across the world, which one of them was your favorite, and why?

SEC. HAGEL: Believe it or not, I really enjoyed every country. I've been to -- for some reason I was counting these up over Christmas, for some reason. I don't know what it was. But probably over 140, maybe 150 countries around the world. I was in the Senate for twelve years on the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Intelligence Committee. I traveled a lot before I was in the Senate, in business and other activities. I traveled a lot with this job.

Every country is different. I don't care if you go to Europe, and say "Well, you're going to Europe." Well, you're going to Europe, but every country in Europe is different. Every history is different. Every component of a civilization is different. How did we get here? Our story.

Someone once told me that every individual in life, no matter what your job -- what you ever do, every individual has one good book in them. And I believe that. Because everybody's life is one good book. Some of you have got more than one book, but everybody's got one book, because everybody's got one story based on your life, what you've dealt with, challenges, opportunities, relationships, it's your life. It's your story. It's your book.

I look at countries the same way. I learn something in every country. I enjoy every country. I enjoy the culture in countries.

Two, partially the same answer I gave -- (inaudible) -- you learn something if you listen and if you observe. I learn something about all those visits over the years in different capacities, is, you know, -- (inaudible) -- related to the answer I gave here a minute ago regarding the lessons learned.

And that is, every country I've ever visited -- I've not visited North Korea, so I put North Korea outside this; I've not visited Iran, so I put Iran outside this. Every country I visited in some way, not universally, but in some way admires the United States greatly; admires some component of our society, of who we are, of our people.

I don't know if I've ever visited a country that admires everything about us. That's okay. I'm not sure I admire everything about every country. But every country I've ever been in has admiration for many aspects of who America is and who we are, and what we are, and what we represent. That should tell us a lot. That should tell us an awful lot.

Somebody was pointing out the other day, which I've watched the Gallup surveys for many, many years, and I get these Gallup results often, over the years I did, that when you look at the annual reports on immigration, on surveys and studies on how many individuals around the world each year voluntarily want to leave their country and go somewhere else.

Not -- (inaudible) -- a refugee, but they have resources, means, ability to be able to leave their country. It's still in the 70s, the 80 percentile; millions of people want to come to the United States. It isn't China, not Russia. It's not Europe. It's the United States. Well, as long as we stay in that universe, that doesn't tell all the story, but it still tells a big story and an important story.

The other part of what I've learned on this is you can't force the United States value system and our values and our standards and our structures and our institutions down anybody's throat. And we make huge mistakes when we think we can go around and make many USAs all over the world. It just won't work, never has worked.

Help them; human rights, freedom, people having rights to decide their own lives for their own families and opportunities. That's universal. How they do that, how they structure that, that should be up to them, not to us or anybody else. And that's another component I've learned from each of these countries as well as I visited all of them.

And if we're wise in how we work that, this can be I truly believe a golden era for the United States. I do not accept a lot of thinking out there that because of the day-to-day problems that we've got and what's going on in the world that somehow we're on the back-side of history. The United States is not on the back-side of history.

I don't know why we would be surprised that the Japanese are moving in new directions. I think that's good. It means they're taking on more responsibility. The Chinese are developing and building. They're a huge country. They're smart. They've been around 5,000 years. They've got resources. These countries in Asia are developing. They're presenting great opportunities for us, for partnerships, for markets. It shouldn't surprise anybody. After all, isn't that who we are? Isn't that what we've advocated -- free markets and freedom, and people to choose?

So, if we're smart, this can be just another golden era, I really believe, for America. Not just for America, but our partners and our friends and our new friends -- our new friends who can benefit from a lot of the things that we've been able to do over the years, and as we work together.

Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. My name is Corporal (inaudible) from (inaudible).

Becoming the secretary of defense is obviously a huge accomplishment, but how do you plan to progress yourself professionally after your position here?

SEC. HAGEL: I've had a very fortunate life, all the different things I've had an opportunity to do in my life. And I recognize that, how fortunate I've been. It's given me, yes, personal gratification. But also it's given me opportunities to do things to help people build institutions, do things that I think are important, in ways I never, ever thought I would ever, ever have an opportunity to do.

What do I do next? I don't know. I haven't thought about it. I never have. I probably shouldn't say this, but -- because I do believe in planning, as I just preached about investments and what we need to do. Institutions inside have that responsibility. But I've never thought about my next job. I finish one, and then I think about, well, what could I do next, or how does that all work? A lot of it comes to you in many ways.

I had a friend a long, long time ago in Nebraska, who was an architect who gave me some advice. I needed advice all time. And I've gotten a lot of advice over the years. But he said this to me once. He said, "Just always remember, if it doesn't fit, don't force it." And the older I've gotten and the more jobs I've had, the more I recognize the application of what he said to everything in life. If it doesn't fit, don't force it.

You cannot force things in life. If you try to, you'll make a huge mistake. You'll make a huge mistake -- in your personal life, your professional life. You can try to adjust things. You can try to make things work. Be smart about it. But you can't force anything.

The United States in a lot of our foreign policy over many years, the mistakes we've made is because we have tried to force things. I've watched very successful people disintegrate because they've tried to force something. And so, I've never tried to do that. I mean, not because I've been smart, but I just have kind of let it -- I've let the currents take me, in many ways. And that's what I'm going to do this time and see what happens. And I'm just not thinking about it right now.

I told the president that I was going to do this job, and I've committed that to all of you. You deserve it. I'm going to do this job right up until the last hour I'm here. And that's what I've been doing, and I will continue to do that. And -- once I'm gone -- then we'll go to the next chapter.

Thank you.

I'll take one more question? Is that right, John? One more?

Q: Good afternoon, sir. PFC Stephenson with (inaudible). What are your most revered moments while serving as the secretary of defense?

SEC. HAGEL: My -- did you say my most revered?

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think you -- when look back -- and it'll take me a while to kind of inventory all this over the last two years -- some of the highlights of all that -- I mean, every day has been a tremendous day for me. Been a highlight every day. It really has. I mean, how many people ever have an opportunity to be secretary of defense? Not many. And so, it's always, like any job, like what you all do, is what do you do with it every day? What do you do with it?

So, my moments, as you ask the question, they just come almost every day, and I think when you think about, well, what are the things that stand out? Meeting with world leaders as I have all over the world, that's always interesting. And I enjoy it. I like it. I did a lot of that when I was in the Senate. But I like the opportunity to sit down with world leaders and talk about our common interests and challenges and things that affect both of our countries. Those are certainly highlights.

Having opportunities to be with troops on different occasions and at different events, different things, just is a big part of what I'll take out of this job, because when you really define anything down, and at the end of anybody's life, not just a profession, well, what do you really have?

You have your family and your friends. And the other part of that is you look back and you say, "What the hell did I do with my life? Did I really make a difference in any way?"

So, it really doesn't matter how many positions you've had or how many awards you've been given, how much money you've got, because we will all inventory it-- and the older you get, the more you do inventory, what have you done with your life? Have you changed anybody's life? Have you made the world better?

And I think those are moments that you think about as you do this job, recognizing, I think, always the awesome responsibility that goes with this job. Any senior level job. But I think secretary of defense's job is -- you know, next to the president, I don't know of a job in government that has more responsibility than the secretary of defense for all the reasons you all know.

I mean, the president's got the toughest job. This is a tough job, responsible job, but it's a tremendous job. Tremendous, tremendous job. So, all the two years I've served in this job, my moments are -- have all been up. I haven't enjoyed every moment, but the moments have been up. And I think you've got to always judge everything from the cumulative -- how your day ends, not just how your hour ends, or even more than just how your day ends. It's a longer -- it's the longer pull.

That's the way history's recorded. It's the way your lives are recorded. It's the way your jobs are recorded. We all are judged not just on the day, the moment, or the week, but on the wider scope of your time in any job.

Thank you.

Okay. You guys are tremendous. Thank you, I'm grateful. I wish you all much success. Are we going to take pictures? John? Are we going to do that? Yeah we are. Okay.

Then I'm going to have the chance to see each of you, if you want your picture taken with me. You may not want your picture taken. But if you want your picture taken, I want my picture taken with you, so I'll have a chance to shake your hands individually and thank you, but thank you for giving me some time today, thanks.

(Applause.