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Secretary Gates Remarks at the National Guard Joint Senior Leadership Conference, National Harbor, Md.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
November 19, 2009

                SEC. GATES:  Thank you, General McKinley. 

 

                It's certainly a pleasure to be here with all of you today. And general, even though you're off stage I will say even though it has been a year since you earned your fourth star, it is still great to see it on your shoulders.

 

                As many of you know, to live and work in the District of Columbia is to be surrounded by politicians and be submerged in politics.  Will Rogers once said, "Politics is the best show in town.  I love animals and I love politicians and I love to watch both of 'em play either back home in their native state or after they have been captured and sent to the zoo or Washington."  I would prefer to watch from my native state.

 

                I have been honored to speak to the Guard community and leadership a number of times as Secretary of Defense.  Over that period, we've seen two important firsts for the National Guard team.  I have already mentioned one, the elevation of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to four-star rank. In addition, Lieutenant General Steven Blum was appointed as the deputy commander of United States Northern Command. We are focused on creating a pathway for a Guard officer to take command of NORTHCOM.  (Applause.)

   

                It is recognition long overdue.  America's citizen warriors, more than 450,000 in all, are part of a tradition that began long before the Declaration of Independence. Their service and character follow from the first minutemen and soldiers, like Henry Knox, who went from being a Boston bookseller to the father of American artillery and the first Secretary of War.  That tradition of service carries through to battlefields far from home, where the Guard has transformed from a strategic reserve to an essential part of America's operational army.

 

                In light of this heritage and today's strategic realities, I'd like to address three main areas this morning. First, what our National Guard has accomplished over the past year here at home and around the world; second, the things we are doing to better care for our Guard and their families; and third, how do we, as leaders, better enable these patriots to successfully contribute to America's defense at home and abroad.

 

                This past decade the men and women of the Guard have been, "Always Ready, Always There."  Since 9/11, some 300,000 -- almost 70 percent of guardsmen -- have served in anti-terrorist operations around the world.  As was recently announced, the Second Brigade Combat Team of the Iowa National Guard will deploy to Afghanistan next year.  In all, nearly 65,000 guardsmen are deployed in support of overseas operations.  Further, the Guard's State Partnership Program boasts more than 60 bilateral partnerships between states and foreign countries, creating an enduring presence and fostering security cooperation.

 

                Domestically, the National Guard was indispensable to the smooth and secure transition between presidential administrations and made a life-and-death difference during a number of natural disasters and emergencies.

 

                More than 10,000 National Guard troops from 14 states and the District of Columbia under the commander of General Bolden provided security and logistical support for the swearing-in of President Obama.

 

                The following month, when ice storms knocked out power to more than half a million homes, more than 4,000 Kentucky National Guard troops mobilized and went door-to-door to provide assistance, delivering more than a million meals and two million bottles of water.

 

                When March floods swamped North Dakota, nearly 3,100 National Guard soldiers and airmen from that state and neighboring Minnesota monitored and repaired levees, operated sand-bag centers, and provided security to residents affected by the floods.

 

                In September, after a tsunami struck American Samoa, the Hawaiian National Guard launched search and rescue and medical missions within 24 hours to support relief efforts.  Guard C-17s hauled almost 700,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.

 

                In Puerto Rico, in response to a devastating refinery fire last month, over 300 firefighters from the Puerto Rico National Guard battled and extinguished the flames.  And every day since September 11th, thousands of Air National Guardsmen support Noble Eagle missions protecting America's critical infrastructure and governance sites.

 

                As we've seen, for several years, the Guard has been busy with both overseas deployments and Homeland Security missions, a pace of operations that adds stress to the force and their equipment.  It is our obligation as leaders to make sure that Guardsmen and their families are taken care of, properly equipped, and set up for success, and I'd like to address a few of those issues now.

 

                Something that is of interest to everyone in uniform and their families is the question of dwell time.  Our active-duty force is working to get dwell-time ratios back up to two years at home and one year deployed.  In addition, we have expanded the active Army's end strength by 65,000 since I became Secretary of Defense, and I ordered a temporary increase of another 22,000 soldiers earlier this year.  This growth allows the active Army to rely less on the reserve component, thus reducing some of the demand and the stress on the National Guard.  I know that predictability is extremely important to the members of the reserve component, who balance and coordinate the timing of their service with full-time jobs.  The Air National Guard has used long-range scheduling for predictability and individual volunteerism for flexibility to reach a nearly 1 to 5 ratio in terms of dwell, with the Army National Guard close behind, approaching 1 to 4.

               

                As I have said on a number of occasions, one of my very top priorities is taking care of our men and women in uniform and their families including our citizen soldiers.  Last month, I visited with some of the service's foremost experts on PTSD and mental health care.  We know that parents, spouses, children and caregivers are under compounded states of stress.  During deployment, they run single parent households, all while worrying about the safety of their loved ones overseas, a situation made more difficult by constant updates on the television and the Internet about attacks and losses.  Military members who are irrevocably changed by what they have endured during their combat tour find themselves quickly reintegrated with families that have also evolved and changed during the time apart.  For guardsmen, there is the added challenge that they are scattered across the state or country, lacking access to the full support of military neighbors and a full service military installation.

 

                That is why efforts such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program are so important.  This program provides information, services, referrals and active outreach to soldiers, spouses, employers and youth through every mobilization stage.  From its inception in March in 2008 through May 2009, the program has hosted nearly 100,000 soldiers and 100,000 family members.  This active outreach is key because many troops and their families are unaware of how many resources are at their disposal.

   

                During these difficult economic times, we must also do everything we can to safeguard the job security of the guardsmen who deploy.  Toward that end, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program has attracted more than 4,700 volunteers supported by staff throughout the United States and its territories.  Employer-documented support over the past few years has grown from 20,000 participants to over 50,000.  This provides peace of mind that an individual who is called to duty by their country will have that job upon returning home.

 

                You've made great strides in all of these areas to reduce stress and improve the quality of life for the force, but don't let up.  Our current engagements will keep forces on foreign soil at some level for years to come.

                               

                In addition to caring for guardsmen and their families, we also need to make sure that the National Guard has the right policies and institutional support, especially relating to funding, equipment, training and mobilization.  With a four-star at the table, the Guard now has more bureaucratic weight to throw around when it comes to the Pentagon's budgetary process, which as you know is not always the most edifying spectacle.  In recent years this department's leadership has pushed to provide the men and women of the National Guard with access to the best equipment possible.  As you know better than anyone, what used to be the norm was a hand-me-down process of passing older equipment from the active force to the National Guard.

 

                Everyone in uniform, regardless of component, should have the finest equipment possible, especially when called to deploy overseas. To this end, over the last three years the department has committed nearly $16 billion total for the Army and the air -- for National Guard procurement.  And over the period leading to FY '13, my hope and plan has been that we will spend a total of about $40 billion between FY '07 and FY '13 in terms of providing top-line equipment for the Guard.  The equipment on hand rate for the Guard, which averages about 70 percent historically, has improved from just under 40 percent in 2006 to nearly 80 percent by the end of this fiscal year.  And our objective is to reach roughly 90 percent by 2015.

 

                A few words on the Punaro Commission, whose recommendations continue to be a high priority for the department.  The staff is working the 53 committee recommendations that I approved in my November 2008 memorandum.  While much still needs to be accomplished, there have been several high points.  This includes establishment of the Yellow Ribbon program and significant progress on the oversight of equipment readiness and transparency of Reserve Component procurement funding.

 

                Finally, I'd like to address what I know is a top-of-the-mind issue for many of you -- contiguous mobilization.  Earlier this month, at the request of General McKinley and the state adjutants general, I granted the Secretary of the Army the authority to allow for contiguous training in certain cases.  I really wrestled with this, worried that our soldiers would see it as breaking faith with my decision in January 2007 to limit mobilization to 12 months.  But I was persuaded that contiguous training may lead to improved combat preparation for our RC service members.  Just as important, I was told that, by grouping training together immediately before federal mobilization, reservists, their families and their employers may realize more stability and predictability within the deployment cycle. (Applause.)

 

                I appreciate that, because that truly was a difficult decision for me.  And I want to emphasize that I do remain committed to our 12-month mobilization policy.  Further, this exception to policy is limited to one year until we have hard data on its impact and effectiveness.  Contiguous training alone will not completely solve the core issues relating to pre-and post-mobilization training.  During the next six months or so we will be gathering information to support an analysis that we hope will provide a clear way ahead.  I am thankful to the leaders who brought this issue to my attention and I am pleased that the process we followed was deliberate, with well-considered solutions proposed and fully vetted.

 

                In closing, please convey to your guardsmen my thanks for their significant contributions to our national security.  Their selfless and rapid response to every contingency and mission is a great testimony to their patriotic service.  Further, with the policy changes and continued commitment to modernization, we have guaranteed their ability to contribute to our nation's security for many years to come.

 

                The service guardsmen render to the nation in the cause of freedom around the world represents the best America has to offer.  When fate sows destruction on our own soil or the nation sounds the call to arms, you, like your predecessors, leave your homes to aid those in need and secure the freedom we all hold so dear.  For your service and your dedication, I salute you.

 

                Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thanks.

 

                We do have 15 minutes or so for some questions and there are microphones here in the center aisle, so let's give it a go. 

 

                I used to say when I was the director of CIA, you could ask any question you wanted and I'd answer any question I wanted.  I'll try to be more forthcoming than that. 

 

                Q     Sir, I'm General Ron Chastain, an Arkansan Guardsman assigned at U.S. Army Forces Command.  And I would like to know with the war focus shifted to Afghanistan, would you please comment on the roles that you see in Afghanistan for the Reserve Component?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I've already approved a number, as I mentioned earlier in my remarks, the Iowa National Guard is going to be sending a brigade to Afghanistan in 2010.  I expect that the Guard will continue to play a significant role.  And to tell you the truth, there are some areas beyond combat where I think that the Guard may be able to make a real contribution.  Most of the agricultural development teams that we send are from the Guard.  And I will tell you that the reaction that we get, and not just in Afghanistan, but from other countries when we send guardsmen with this kind of experience, it has a huge impact.  And so I think the Guard will continue to play a quite varied role in Afghanistan ranging from combat to providing some of the assistance in terms of development and rule of law and governance that are so important to our success there.             

 

                Q     Good morning, Mr. Secretary, Major General Tim Lowenberg, adjutant general of the state of Washington.  In your prepared remarks, you referred to the DOD budgetary process and many in this body are concerned about an apparent disconnect between DOD policy and doctrine commitment to homeland defense as America's top priority and resources that follow.

 

                Could you comment please on if homeland defense really is our top priority, when will we begin making programmed budget commitments and resources?  And when will those resources follow?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, we're in the middle as you probably are aware of the Quadrennial Defense Review and of the four general themes in the QDR, homeland defense is clearly a top priority.

 

                One of the things we're trying to do this year is with this QDR, one of the criticisms that I've been told about going back 20 years is a disconnect between the QDR and resource allocation.  And one of the things we're trying to fix this year in the QDR is to make sure that the themes that are being emphasized in the QDR make an appearance in the FY '11 budget. 

 

                And so I think in terms of the programming for this, we're going to have to deal with the issue that you raised to make sure that we have the long-term capability and long-term procurement programs to give the Guard what it needs in this arena.

 

                Q     Thank you.  We are deeply appreciative of the funding we've received through the supplementals for the Mission Essential Ten, but our concern remains program budgetary commitments and resource investments for the future years.  So thank you, Mr. Secretary, for that.

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, based on past history, your concern is clearly warranted.

 

                Q     I'm Brigadier General Deborah Rose from the great state of your home state, Kansas.  As you know, there is no such thing as purple money and working in a joint force headquarters, there is a need for funding that we can use for our domestic, our unique National Guard role of domestic operations.

 

                Do you see a way ahead for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to receive funds that are separate from the Army or the Air Force that might be used for that purpose?

 

                SEC. GATES:  This issue has not been brought to my attention before.  We will certainly take a look at it.

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, over here to your left, stage left.

 

                SEC. GATES:  Oh, okay.

 

                Q     Good morning, sir.  Steve Danner, adjutant general of the state of Missouri.  We were the first ones to put the agriculture development team into Afghanistan in Kandahar province.  You stated in an article that you wrote earlier this year and I'll quote here, "Apart from the Special Forces community and some dissident colonels, however, for decades, there's been no strong, deeply rooted constituency inside the Pentagon or elsewhere for institutionalizing the capabilities necessary to wage asymmetric or irregular warfare or conflicted to quickly meet the ever-changing needs of forces engaged in these conflicts being Iraq and Afghanistan."

 

                Sir, I'd like maybe a comment on the think tanks in Washington now talk about a civilian surge.  And it’s been my opinion that we've had a civilian surge in the sense that the citizen soldiers of the National Guard are your civilian surge with those special civilian capabilities to bring governance and infrastructure, reconstruction programs to Afghanistan. 

 

                And I'd like your thoughts about a formal structure of the agriculture development teams and PRTs and those entities that are working on more of the peacekeeping and governance programs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

                SEC. GATES:  The Secretary-General of the U.N. many years ago, Dag Hammarskjold in referring to peacekeeping said, "It's not a soldier's job, but often only a soldier can do it."

 

                I think that there's a question of sequencing here when we have -- and it ties in with the capabilities we can bring -- when the security situation still is not stable enough for civilians to be deployed.  It seems to me what's really important as we clear, hold and build that the build -- that these are not sequential.  We have to hold and clear or clear and hold, but we need the development assistance.  We need money like the CERP funds [Commander's Emergency Response Program] in there not when security is completely established, but right after we've cleared. 

 

                We need people as General Petraeus did in Iraq, as soon as we've cleared an area literally the next day or the same day, we need somebody in there with some money and some capability that begins putting young men to work and putting a shovel or a broom in their hands instead of a gun.  And it seems to me that's often the situation where the Guard and the expertise in the Guard can provide the initial response in areas in Afghanistan until the security situation is stabilized enough for the civilians to come in.

 

                Now, the truth of the matter is as I've said for almost two and a half years now, the civilian elements of our government that were expert in these areas have been neglected for a very long time.  When I retired in 1993, the Agency for International Development had about 16,000 employees.  It was an expeditionary agency.  Most of those people had the kind of expertise in agricultural development, rule of law, governance, water systems, irrigation systems and so on.  And they expected to be deployed to developing countries.  They expected to live in primitive conditions.  And they expected to have situations that were occasionally dangerous.  And that was part of their career and that was part of what they wanted to do with their lives.

 

                The Agency for International Development now has about 3,000 employees and it's mainly a contracting agency.  So we've lost that civilian capacity that played such an important role for us in the developing world all through the Cold War.  And so I think that until, and it is beginning to change under both Secretary Rice and now under Secretary Clinton and with the support of two successive presidents and the Congress, the State Department is beginning to get the kind of funding that is necessary for -- to rebuild these capabilities.  But it's still a ways in the future and, in my view, there has to be a role.  There will be a role for us and particularly as one of the central themes in the QDR is the development of partnership relationships with other partner relationships with other countries so that we can help them build their capacity so we don't have to send soldiers in there.  Part of that will be helping them with some of their development and I think the partner relationships that exist between a number of our state Guards and these others countries and I will tell you ever time I meet with a minister of defense of a country where we have those kinds of relationships, they bring it up with me.

 

                So I think that there will be an institutional role for the Guard in this arena, but I will tell you I don't think it's a function we should take over as a long-term significant mission of men and women in uniform.  I think this is basically a civilian task and we ought to be there to help them.  We ought to be there when we're in a situation like Afghanistan where the security may not be as strong enough for civilians to go in, to have people in there working on agricultural development and so on as the first phase so that we aren't waiting too long to begin showing people ways in which their lives can improve on a daily basis. 

 

                My own view is we need to be very cautious about some of the big projects that people think about for development.  That reminds me of the way the Soviet Union did business.  What we need and what works, in my view, is to do things that can be done quickly and that in a small village can show people that their lives have actually changed for the better by ISAF troops being there.  And it can be a well.  It can be an all-weather road for local farmers.  It can be a little bridge.  It can be a one room schoolhouse.  You can do a lot of these small projects within the framework of the dollars that we have available.  But the most important thing about them is that the Afghans see them and the local Afghans see their lives getting better because we're there.  The first stage of doing that, I think, can be done by our military forces and especially by the National Guard, but longer term, that mission has to go to the civilian side of the government.

 

                Q   Thank you, Mr. Secretary, we appreciate your leadership.  (Applause.) 

 

                Q    Mr. Secretary, Major General Ride, I'm the TAG [state adjutant general] of Pennsylvania with regard to the C-27 Joint Cargo Aircraft, sir. 

 

                You changed this program from a joint mission to a single service Air Force mission.  Can you explain your reasoning for phasing out the Army Fixed Wing Direct Support Mission?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, this was a very interesting development because it actually took place at my conference table, but in a conversation between General Schwartz and General Casey, and they made the arrangement right then at the table that the Air Force would take over this mission. 

 

                Now, this is going to require some cultural change on the part of the Air Force in terms of being responsible for that kind of a mission in support of the Army, and these two chiefs of staff are working that out right now.

 

                With respect to the C-27s, the answer is pretty straightforward:  We have a finite budget.  We have significant unused capacity in our C-130 fleet.  The capabilities, the C-130 can use 95 percent of the runways that the C-27 can, maybe more.  They obviously have about three times the capacity.  And so we just need to make better use of the C-130 fleet.  We've got about 430 or so C-130s in our fleet, less than 50 of those are dedicated to Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

                We have significant excess capacity in the C-130 fleet.  There are about 200, 220 of them that are in the category of available.  And so to spend the money on the C-27s, we're still going to build a certain number of C-27s, but we're going to limit that by and try and make better use of our C-130 fleet, but at the same time, that will require the Air Force changing the way it does business in terms of insisting on full loads and things like that to provide the kind of day-to-day support for the Army that Generals Casey and Schwartz are talking about.

 

                Q    Mr. Secretary, Colonel Kevin Gerdes, J1 from Minnesota. 

 

                First of all, thank you for your support of the Yellow Ribbon program.  This has truly been a program that has -- (applause) -- this program has truly touched the lives of many service members and their families.

 

                Mr. Secretary, the challenge that we run into is, again, going back to the previous question about purple money, the policy encourages us to make these joint workshops and conduct joint events, yet fiscal policy presents a restraint on how we can conduct that with purpose violations when we try to incorporate Marine Corps Reserve, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve into an Army National Guard program. 

               

    And sir, I just ask for your support on possibly looking at ways that we could alleviate this policy or change policies, especially in the fiscal arena to support this. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it's important for one reason that I've been talking to the leaders of the Reserve Component, both the reserve and the Guard for the last couple of years.  If we are to create a pool of general officers that are qualified to take command of a combatant command, one of the prerequisites for that is joint experience.  We have to create an effective pathway that provides the opportunity for that kind of joint experience so that that pool of leadership can develop and genuinely become qualified to take one of these combatant commands.  Now, I'm sure there are a lot of other reasons why this would be a good idea, but let me, again, this is one where the fiscal policy issues haven't been brought to my attention and I'll take a look at it.

 

                Q     Thank you.

 

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