Carter Praises Japan-based Sailors’ Security Role
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD THE USS BLUE RIDGE, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, July 21, 2012 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter spent time here today with U.S. troops who are, as he put it, “at the epicenter” of the nation’s strategic transition to an Asia-Pacific focus.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter departs the USS Blue Ridge after meeting with leaders and conducting an all-hands call in Yokosuka, Japan, July 21, 2012. Japan is Carter's third stop during a 10-day Asia Pacific trip to meet with partners in Hawaii, Guam, Thailand, India and South Korea. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Between his meetings with Japanese government officials and senior U.S. military commanders in Japan, Carter spoke to sailors serving on the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s command ship.
He told the crew he understands they’re a long way from home, but East Asia is an important place to be.
“This is actually where much of the future lies,” Carter said, adding, “We've been a Pacific power for hundreds of years. We will be a Pacific power for hundreds more years.”
The flagship and its crew have been part of important and historic events, the deputy secretary said. Not only does the ship operate with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, but in port calls and military-to-military engagements, the 7th Fleet and its command platform are building friendships and alliances with nations throughout the region, he said.
Carter has emphasized throughout his travels that the strong military presence the U.S. has maintained in the Asia-Pacific region over the past 70 years has helped create and maintain an enduring peace, which sets the stage for economic growth.
“Security is, at the end of the day, what we're all about,” the deputy secretary told the sailors. “I always say security is … like oxygen. And if you have it, you don't think about it. But the minute you don't have it, that's all you can think about.”
U.S. forces in the Pacific ensure security, he said, and set conditions so that people “go home every day, they see their families. They realize their dreams. They live their lives.”
Security makes that possible, Carter said. “That's what we provide,” he added. “And it's the most precious thing you could possibly provide. … That's what we do.”
Carter noted the Blue Ridge was the command center for U.S. military support to Operation Tomodachi, the Japanese-led humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort that followed the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
American military involvement in that effort was important in two ways, the deputy secretary said: “It was important to help people, but it also showed everyone out in this region, everyone out in Japan, what kind of people we are.”
Humanitarian relief and disaster assistance aren’t the Defense Department’s primary roles, he acknowledged, noting warfighting is the department’s primary mission. But, he added, helping people is also a key military mission, and it demonstrates “where we come from, where our values are -- that we're here to help and that we're here to improve people's lives.”
U.S. troops in the Pacific are at the heart of America’s strategic shift as the era of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, Carter said.
“We still are focused on Afghanistan,” he said. “That's what I wake up to every morning. And we will be until we succeed there.”
But security responsibility in Afghanistan is transitioning to Afghan forces, he said, and it’s time for DOD to look for “the next frontier.”
“When you … look around, one of the first things you see is the Asia-Pacific region and its central importance,” Carter said.
The department’s leaders recognize that importance, and are determined to effectively conduct activities, develop partnerships and alliances, and manage military investment in the region, he said.
“That's why I'm here,” the deputy secretary said, noting that after his Japan visit concludes he’ll move on, making stops in Thailand, India and South Korea.
As he travels across the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said he tells everyone he meets that “this part of the world is very important to the United States.”
He congratulated the sailors on their part in carrying out the nation’s strategy of maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
“Your country and your government and your department, our great department, [thank] you for what you do,” Carter said.