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Media Availability with Secretary Gates at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
August 13, 2010

                 SEC. GATES:  (In progress.)  This is obviously a very welcoming community for our men and women in uniform.  And I would just add that it's really moving to see these new Marines and Marine trainees and what they go through and how sharp they look when they're done. 

                 And knowing that they'll be going into the fight and the fact that they're all volunteers is very moving.  And I expressed the gratitude of the American people to them for signing up. 

                 So with that, I'll take a couple of questions.  Let me take a couple from the local press.  And then I'll take a couple from others. 

                 Yeah. 

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, obviously concerning your remarks you made at the Pentagon on Monday, we were kind of wondering here in San Diego how that might impact us, to sort of streamline what's going on there at DOD? 

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I got asked by the sailors, one of the sailors in front of all of his shipmates yesterday, what the impact was going to be on them.  And I said, well, if it works out the way I intend, they'll get the money. 

                 I want it to go into our force structure.  I want it to go into modernization, investments in future capabilities.  And I'm especially concerned to make sure that we don't have inadvertent consequences, as this is implemented up and down the line, of people making cuts that make these Marines and sailors and others that I've been visiting with -- that make it harder for them to do their job. 

                 I want the maintenance guys to have the tools and equipment they need.  I want the trainers and recruiters to have what they need.  So the whole purpose is really to slim down on overhead and bureaucracy and large staffs and try and convert that from tail to tooth for the long term. 

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that to the Marines today that they -- that you think of them as your sons.  This has always been something very personal for you. 

                 SEC. GATES:  It is.  I've spent between three-and-a-half and four years in this job.  I never expected to be in it in the first place.  I never expected to be in it this long. 

                 And I think going from being a university president to this job has actually made it harder.  I spent four-and-a-half years watching 18- to 25-year-olds walk around campus in flip-flops and shorts and t-shirts and backpacks and having fun and going to class.  And then in an instant I was watching kids exactly the same age, 18 to 25, in full body armor in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So I -- it is very personal for me.

                 Q     Secretary --

                 Q     Sir, if you could, could you talk a little bit more about the force review structure that you ordered for the Marine Corps?  And how do you answer critics who say it's kind of a -- you know, a means to an end to get rid of the EFV?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, that's not at all the case.  In fact when I interviewed candidates for the new commandant, the first question I asked them is, how do you -- what do you think the future mission of the Marine Corps is?  You don't want to be a second land army.  And you've been in a fight for nine years, where you have been a second land army.  And you're heavier than you want to be.  You have probably some more people than you want or can sustain over the long term.

                 And so I don't want to -- I don't know what the outcome of the review will be.  As I said last night, in San Francisco, I think that the future mission has to be true to the maritime tradition of the -- and expertise of the corps.  I think that it has to be expeditionary.  I agree with General Conway that it needs to be lighter.

                 So there is a future for the Marine Corps, but it isn't as a second land army.  And that's what the new commandant is going to have to address.

                 Q     Secretary, could you --

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question about the initial recommendations the services made for cuts that came in July 30th?  Were you happy with what you saw initially so far?  I know they're under review for -- (off mike).

                 SEC. GATES:  Yeah, I met and got an update with -- from the service chiefs and the service secretaries a couple of days ago.  And I think the initial look is that they're all taking this very seriously.  I think they're leaning forward.  I think they see it -- because they get to reinvest the savings, I think they're highly motivated to make this work.

                 And I've asked them for a list of the -- you know, I want to know what they are going to invest in, in terms of future capabilities and force structure, and the savings they find; but the savings that I find, I want to know what -- how they would spend that.  If I were able to give the Navy a billion dollars more a year, what's their highest priority for spending that money?  Is it shipbuilding, or what?  And the same way with the other services as well.

                 So I would just say without getting into the specifics, I think the services are taking this very seriously.  I think that they have some very ambitious plans and very aggressive plans, and they look good to me.

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, can you -- can you reflect on the increasing casualties --

                 Q     (Off mike) -- in Camp Pendleton serving in Afghanistan right now.  What is it going to take to achieve our military objectives, and do we need to build?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, we're very close to having the maximum number of troops in Afghanistan that we will have.  We will have about 98 percent of the 30,000 surge in Afghanistan by the end of this month.  The only remaining piece is a -- is a headquarters that will go in, probably in October -- couple of thousand people.  So we're pretty close to having the surge end. 

                 But, you know, as people look at how things are going in Afghanistan, it's worth remembering that the surge -- the full surge only now is getting under way, because only now are all the troops getting in there.  We have a -- we'll have close to 100,000 troops there.  Our allies and partners have about 50,000 troops.  And I will say they are very much in the fight.  Most of the national caveats have gone away.  And so they are full partners with us in this.  And I'm cautiously optimistic that this is going to work.

                 Q     Secretary, can you comment on the increasing casualties in Afghanistan and what the capacity is to absorb that and to deal with it and --

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, we -- you know, this is not a surprise for us, unfortunately.  I mean, from the very beginning, when the president made his decision to send 30,000 additional troops, and with the decision even before that, last year, to send the Marines into Helmand, we knew that as we became more aggressive and went into places that the Taliban -- where the Taliban had been undisturbed, sometimes for several years, we knew that the casualties would be higher.

                 And we warned everybody last January and in testimony all through the spring that it was just inevitable that the casualties will be higher.  My hope is we will see what happened in Afghanistan what we saw in Iraq, and that is that early in the surge the casualties rose as we were in the thick of the fight, and then as we began demonstrating success, the casualties began to decline significantly.  That's my hope. 

                 But it's why these kids are so brave, in my view, and why their commitment is so significant, because they know that they're going into battle.

                 Q     Secretary Gates --

                 STAFF:  Last one.

                 (Cross talk.)

                 Q     Locally, San -- locally, San Diego is a military town.  How this recommendation -- (off mike) -- is going to affect locally this county of San Diego?  And specifically because the economics in Oceanside and San Diego depends a lot from the military, how's that going to affect in the -- (off mike)?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I can't speak specifically to San Diego, because frankly I don't know what the impact of some of the decisions the Navy will make will have on San Diego.  But I will tell you that if it involves ships, readiness, force structure, weapons programs, future capabilities, those are all areas that I'd like to see get more money.  On the other hand, if you have an overstaffed headquarters, you might have a problem.

                 Q     Secretary Gates --

                 SEC. GATES:  Okay.  Thanks.

                 STAFF:  Thank you.

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