SEC. GATES: Thank you, Professor Brodhead, for that very generous introduction. And thank you for your warm welcome.
It's a relief to be back on a university campus and not have to worry about football. (Laughter.) The first fall -- the first fall I was president of Texas A&M, I had to fire a longtime football coach. I told the media at the time that I had overthrown the governments of medium-sized countries with less controversy. (Laughter.)
I'd be remiss in not pointing out one major connection between Duke and the military: that Mike Krzyzewski attended, played for, and later coached at West Point. Earlier this year, the Duke basketball team came to Washington to receive President Obama's congratulations for the NCAA championship. Coach K also brought the team by the Pentagon to see the 9/11 memorial and meet with some of the men and women in uniform. I think I can speak for everyone they saw in saying the visit was much appreciated.
For the undergraduates here, I know you're well-accustomed to the challenge of staying awake through long lectures. I promise I won't test your endurance too much this evening.
It does remind me, though, of the time when George Bernard Shaw told a famous orator he had 15 minutes to speak. The orator protested, "How can I possibly tell them all I know in 15 minutes?" Shaw replied, "I advise you to speak slowly." (Laughter.)
As a former university president, visiting a college campus carries a special meaning for me. It was not that long ago that my days and duties were made up of things like fundraising, admissions policies, student and faculty parking, dealing with the state legislature, alumni, deans and the faculty.
In that latter case, as a number of college presidents have learned the hard way, when it comes to dealing with faculty and, I would say, especially tenured faculty, for presidents, it's either be nice or be gone.
Some of my warmest memories of Texas A&M are of walking around the 48,000-student campus and talking to students, most of them between 18 and 24 years old, seeing them out on their bikes, walking, even occasionally studying and going to class.
For nearly four years now I've been in a job that also makes me responsible for the well-being of an even larger number of young people in the same 18- to 24-year-old age group. But instead of wearing J. Crew, they wear body armor. Instead of carrying book bags, they carry assault rifles. And a number of them, far too many, will not come home to their parents.
These young men and women, all of whom joined knowing what would be asked of them, represent the tip of a spear of a military that has been at war for nearly a decade, the longest sustained combat in American history.
The Iraq and Afghan campaigns represent the first protracted large-scale conflicts since our Revolutionary War fought entirely by volunteers. Indeed, no major war in our history has been fought with a smaller percentage of this country's citizens in uniform full time -- roughly 2.4 active -- 2.4 million active and Reserve service members, out of a country of over 300 million, less than 1 percent.
This tiny sliver of America has achieved extraordinary things under the most trying of circumstances.
It is the most professional, the best-educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.
Yet, even as we appreciate and sometimes marvel at the performance of this all-volunteer force, I think it is important at this time, before this audience, to recognize that this success has come at significant cost. Above all, the human cost for the troops and their families; but also cultural, social and financial costs in terms of the relationship between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect.
So for the next few minutes, I'd like to discuss the state of America's all-volunteer force, reflecting on its achievements while at the same time considering the dilemmas and consequences that go with having so few fighting our wars for so long. These are issues that must be acknowledged and in some cases dealt with if we are going to sustain the kind of military America needs in this complex and I believe even more dangerous 21st century.
First, some brief historical context. From America's founding until the end of World War II, this country maintained small standing armies that would be filled out with mass conscription in the case of war. Consider that in the late 1930s, even as World War II loomed, the United States Army ranked 17th in the world in size, right behind Romania. That came to an end with the Cold War, when America retained a large, permanent military by continuing to rely on the draft even in peacetime.
Back then, apart from the heroism of the battlefield, the act of simply being in the military was nothing extraordinary or remarkable.
It was not considered a sign of uncommon patriotism or character. It was just something a healthy young man was expected to do when called upon, just as his father and grandfather had likely done in two world wars.
Among those ended up in the military in those early years of the Cold War were people like Elvis Presley, Willie Mays, move stars, future congressmen, business executives. The possibility of being drafted encouraged many to sign up so they could have more control over their fate. If I can speak from personal experience, the reality of military service and whether to embrace it, avoid it or delay it was something most American men at some point have confronted.
The ethos of service, reinforced by the strong arm of compulsion, extended to elite settings as well. A prominent military historian once noted that of his roughly 750 classmates of the Princeton University Class of 1956, more than 400 went on to some form of military service, a group that included a future Harvard president, the governor of Delaware, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times. That same year, more than a thousand cadets were trained by Stanford University's ROTC program.
The controversy associated with the Vietnam War and the bitterness over who avoided the draft and who did not led to a number of major changes in our military and American society. One of them was the end of conscription and the beginning of the all-volunteer force under President Nixon.
Over the past four decades, after a difficult transition period during the 1970s, the all-volunteer experiment has proven to be a remarkable success.
The doubts -- and there were many inside and outside the military -- were largely overcome.
Indeed, the United States would not be able to sustain complex, protracted missions like Iraq and Afghanistan at such a high standard of military performance without the dedication of seasoned professionals who chose to serve and keep on serving.
Whatever the shortcomings there may have been in Iraq and Afghanistan stem from failures and miscalculations at the top, not those doing the fighting and the leading on the ground. It has taken every ounce of our troops' skill, initiative and commitment to battle a cunning and adaptive enemy at the front while overcoming bureaucratic lassitude and sometimes worse at the rear.
A key factor in this success is experience. Consider that according to one study in 1969, less than 20 percent of enlisted Army soldiers have more than four years of experience. Today it's more than 50 percent. Going back to compulsory service, in addition to being politically impossible, is highly impractical given the kinds of technical skills, experience and attributes needed to be successful on the battlefield in the 21st century. For that reason, reinstituting the draft is overwhelmingly opposed by the military's leadership.
Nonetheless, we should not ignore the broader, long-term consequences of waging these protracted military campaigns employing and reemploying such a small portion of our society in the effort. First, as a result of the multiple deployments and hardships associated with Afghanistan and Iraq, large swaths of the military, especially our ground combat forces and their families, are under extraordinary stress.
The all-volunteer force conceived in the 1970s was designed to train, prepare and deploy for a major and quick conventional conflict, either against the Soviet Union on the plains of Central Europe or a contingency such as the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991.
In that instance -- and I remember it well, as I was the deputy national security adviser at the time -- more than half a million U.S. troops were deployed, fought and mostly returned home within one year.
By contrast, the recent post-9/11 campaigns have required prolonged, persistent combat and support from across the military. Since the invasion of Iraq, more than a million soldiers and Marines have been deployed into the fight. The Navy has put nearly 100,000 sailors on the ground while maintaining its sea commitments around the globe. And the Air Force, by one count, has been at war since 1991 when it first began enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq.
U.S. troops and their families have held up remarkably well given the demands and pressures placed on them. With the exception of the Army during the worst stretch of the Iraq War when it fell short on recruiting targets and some measures of quality declined, all of the services have consistently met their active, recruiting and retention goals.
In some cases, the highest propensity to reenlist is found in units that are in the fight. When I visited Camp Lejeune last year, a Marine Corps base about 150 miles from Durham, an officer told me about one unit whose assignment was switched at the last minute from Japan to Afghanistan. And as a result, about 100 Marines who were planning to get out of the military decided to sign up again so they could deploy with their buddies.
The camaraderie and commitment is real, but so is the strain -- on troops, and especially on their families. I know. I hear it directly during my trips to Army and Marine bases across the country, where spouses and children have had their resilience tested by the long and frequent absences of a father, mother, husband or wife.
There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure of repeated deployments, especially when a servicemember returns home often permanently changed by their experience. These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children; increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began; and most tragically, a growing number of suicides.
While we often generally -- speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeated deployments and exposure to fire -- above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground-combat and support specialties. These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close. They've lost friends in combat. Some are struggling psychologically with what they've seen and heard and felt on the battlefield. And yet, they keep coming back.
This cadre of young regular and noncommissioned officers represents the most battle-tested, innovative and impressive generation of military leaders this country has produced in a very long time. These are the people we need to retain and lead the armed forces of the future. But no matter how patriotic, how devoted they are, at some point, they will want to have the semblance of a normal life: getting married, starting a family, going to college or graduate school, seeing their children grow up -- all of which they have justly earned.
Measures such as growing the size of the Army and Marines, increasing what we call "dwell time" at home, drawing down in Iraq, and beginning a gradual transition next year in Afghanistan should reduce this stress over time. Properly funded support programs to help troops and families under duress of the kind championed by our first lady can also make a difference.
But in reality, the demands on a good part of our military will continue for years to come. And it begs the question: How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we as a military, as a government, as a society, continue to place on them?
There's also a question -- and it's an uncomfortable and politically fraught question -- of the growing financial cost associated with an all-volunteer force. Just over the past decade, fueled by increasing health costs and pay raises and wartime recruiting and retention bonuses, the amount of money the military spends on personnel and benefits has nearly doubled, from roughly $90 billion in 2001 to just over $170 billion this year out of a $534 billion budget. The health-care component has grown even faster, from $19 billion a decade ago to more than $50 billion this year, a portion of that total going to working-age retirees whose premiums and co-pays have not been increased in some 15 years.
To be clear, we must spare no expense to compensate or care for those who have served and suffered on the battlefield.
That is our sacred obligation. But given the enormous fiscal pressures facing the country, there is no avoiding the challenge this government -- indeed, this country -- faces to come up with an equitable and sustainable system of military pay and benefits that reflects the realities of this century, a system generous enough to recruit and retain the people we need and to do right by those who've served, but not one that puts the Department of Defense on the same path as other industrial-age organizations that sank under the weight of their personnel costs.
Political resistance to confronting these costs is understandable, given the American people's gratitude toward their countrymen who have chosen to serve. The nation has come a long way from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when too many returning Vietnam veterans were met with sullen indifference and often much worse, especially in cosmopolitan or academic enclaves.
Today in airports all over the country, troops returning or leaving for Afghanistan or Iraq receive standing ovations from other passengers, welcome-home parades, letters, and care packages, free meals, drinks, and sports tickets, all heartfelt signs of appreciation large and small that bridge the political divide. Veterans of our wars are also welcomed at campuses all across America as they return to school.
It is also true, though, that whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction, a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally.
Even 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.
In fact, with each passing decade, fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or socials circle. According to one study, in 1988, about 40 percent of 18-year-olds had a veteran parent. By 2000, the share had dropped to 18 percent and is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future.
In broad demographic terms, the armed forces continue to be largely representative of the country as a whole, drawing predominantly from America's working and middle classes. There are disparities when it comes to racial composition of certain specialties and ranks, especially the most senior officers, but all in all, the fears expressed when the all-volunteer force was first instituted -- that the only people left willing to serve would be the poorest, the worst-educated, the least able to get any other job -- simply did not come to pass.
As I alluded to earlier, that group would be hard-pressed to make it into a force that's on average the most educated in history, a force where virtually all new enlistees have a high school diploma or equivalent, about 15 percent more than their civilian peers, and nearly all officers have bachelor's degrees, many have Master's, and a surprising number, like General David Petraeus, have a Ph.D.s.
At the same time, an ever-growing portion of America's 17- to 24- year-olds, about 75 percent, are simply ineligible or unavailable to serve for a variety of reasons, but above all health and weight problems in an age of spiraling childhood obesity.
Having said that, the nearly four decades of an all-volunteer force has reinforced a series of demographic, cultural and institutional shifts affecting who is most likely to serve and from where. Studies have shown that one of the biggest factors in propensity to join the military is growing up near those who have or are serving. In this country, that propensity to serve is most pronounced in the South and the Mountain West, and in rural areas and small towns nationwide -- a propensity that well exceeds these communities' proportion of the population as a whole. Now, currently, the percentage of the force from the Northeast, the West Coast and major cities continues to decline. I'm also struck by how many young troops I meet who grew up in military families, and by the large number of our senior officers whose children are in uniform, including the recent commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq whose son was seriously wounded in the war.
The Marines' own -- the military's own basing and recruiting decisions have reinforced this growing concentration among certain regions and families. With limited resources, the services focus their recruiting effort on candidates where they're most likely to have success with those who have friends, classmates and parents who have already served. In addition, global basing changes in recent years have moved a significant percentage of the Army to posts in just five states: Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, and here in North Carolina. For otherwise rational environmental and budgetary reasons, many military facilities in the Northeast and on the West Coast have been shut down, leaving a void of relationships and understanding of the armed forces in their wake.
This trend also affects the recruiting and educating of new officers. The state of Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Army -- has 10 Army ROTC host programs. The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs. And the Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has three.
It makes sense to focus on places where space is ample and inexpensive, where candidates are most inclined to sign up and pursue a career in uniform. But there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend.
I'd like to close by speaking about another narrow sliver of our population, those attending and graduating from our nation's most selective and academically demanding universities, such as Duke -- in short, students like many of you. Over the past generation, many commentators have lamented the absence of ROTC from the Ivy League and other selective universities, institutions that used to send hundreds of graduates into the armed forces but now struggle to commission a handful of officers every year. University faculty and administrators banned ROTC from many elite campuses during the Vietnam War and continued to bar the military based on the "don't ask, don't tell" law, with Duke being a notable and admirable exception, with your three host programs.
I'm encouraged that several other comparable universities, at the urging of some of their most prominent alumni, including the president of the United States, are at least reconsidering their position on military recruiting and officer training, a situation that has been neither good for the academy or the country.
But a return of ROTC back to some of these campuses will not do much good without the willingness of our nation's most gifted students to step forward Men and women such as you. One does not need to look too hard to find Duke exemplars of selflessness and sacrifice.
Consider the story of Jonathan Kuniholm, currently a Duke graduate student in biomedical engineering who lost part of his arm as a Marine in service in Iraq. Now he's putting his experience and expertise to work designing new prosthetics, work that will help other amputees in and out of uniform.
There's Eric Greitens, Class of 1996, Rhodes scholar, Navy SEAL. After narrowly missing injury himself during a mission in Iraq, he came back home and founded a nonprofit, The Mission Continues, to help wounded troops and veterans continue serving in some capacity.
And last year when it came time to reshape and reform the half- trillion-dollar defense enterprise known as the Department of Defense, the person whose counsel I relied on to make the toughest budget decisions was Lieutenant General Emo Gardner, a career Marine Corps aviator, Duke Class of 1973.
No doubt when it comes to military service, one can't hide from the downsides: the frustration of grappling with a huge, frequently obtuse bureaucracy, frequent moves to places that aren't exactly tourist destinations or cultural hubs, separation from loved ones, fatigue, loneliness and fear on a distant, dusty outpost thousands of miles from home. And then there is the danger and the risk.
Next to the sidewalk between your chapel and the divinity school, there is an unobtrusive stone wall. For decades, the only names on it were your alumni killed in World War II. Last October, 54 names were added to the wall for those Duke men and women who died in the wars since then, including two who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq: Matthew Lynch, class of 2001, a champion swimmer, following in his father's footsteps as a United States Marine; and James Regan, class of 2002, son of an investment banker, turned down offers from a financial services firm and a law firm to join the Army Rangers.
But beyond the hardship and heartbreak -- and they are real -- there is another side to military service, and that is the opportunity to be given extraordinary responsibility at a young age, not just for the lives of your troops, but for missions and decisions that may change the course of history.
In addition to being in the fight, our young military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan have, to one degree or another, found themselves dealing with development, governance, agriculture, health, and diplomacy. They've done all this at an age when many of their peers are reading spreadsheets and making photocopies. And that's why, I should add, they are often in such high demand with future employers and go on to do great things in every walk of life.
So I would encourage you and all young Americans, especially those at the most selective universities who may not have considered the military, to do so.
To go outside your comfort zone and take a risk in every sense of the word; to expand what you thought you were capable of doing when it comes to leadership, responsibility, agility, selflessness, and above all courage.
For those for whom military service is neither possible nor the right thing for whatever reason, at least consider how you can give back to the country that has given us all so much. Think about what you can do to earn your freedom -- freedom paid for by those whose names are on that Duke wall and in veterans cemeteries across this country and across the world.
I would leave you with one of my favorite quotes from John Adams. In a letter he sent to his son, he wrote, "Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not. If honest men refuse it, others will not." Will the wise and honest here at Duke come help us do the public business of America? Because if America's best and brightest young people will not step forward, who then can we count on to protect and sustain the greatness of this country?
Thank you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: The secretary has time for some questions.
So if you'd come to the microphones, and I will call on you.
And while they're coming, I want to ask you a question. You observed the one statistic, the very small percentage of Americans serving. The other statistic that's remarkable is the -- that the military's the institution, the public institution in which the general public has the highest degree of trust -- more so than any other public institution. Are those two facts related, or are they just coincidental?
SEC. GATES: I think they're mainly coincidental. I think it's -- it is the recognition and principle of -- by the public of people who are willing -- I would put it in two respects. People who are willing to put their dreams on hold to protect the dreams of their other -- of other Americans, and people who are willing to risk their lives to protect this country. I think -- I think those are the foundations of the -- of the high regard in which the military is held.
I also think, in general, that there is a broad sense in the public of the selflessness and integrity of men and women -- in uniform.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question here.
Q Thank you, Secretary Gates. My name is -- (inaudible). I'm a student at UNC Chapel Hill. I had a question. I understand that the policy for our -- the tribal regions of Pakistan deals with dismantling, disrupting and defeating al Qaeda. But it seems that we're stuck on disrupting, and we haven't really explained to the country what the plan is for the long-term vision of those tribal regions. Could you explain what the long goal is and how we're going to reach that?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, the long-term goal in the -- in the western part of -- northwestern part of Pakistan obviously is -- or those kind of -- those parts of the country to have enhanced governance and development.
Yesterday, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner; the head of AID, Raj Shah; and the head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and I rolled out a new broad development strategy. And the reality is, you can't have development without security, or security without development. And what I have argued for a long time is that our own civilian resources need to be increased in this area, because the military ends up doing things that are really the province of better- trained and more professional experts in this area in the civilian world.
What we see in the tribal areas and in the eastern part of Afghanistan is increasingly an unholy syndicate of terrorist groups working together: al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. A success for one is a success for all. And until we and our 47 allies and the Afghans and the Pakistanis can bring these groups under control and end their ability to wage terror on both Pakistanis and Afghans and, more distantly, Europe and us, development will not be able to take place. So we have to establish security first.
But I think one of the key aspects of the president's strategy is to narrow our focus, to not pretend to ourselves we're going to bring Afghanistan in the next five or 10 years into the 21st century in a significant way, but focus on those things that are necessary to accomplish the security mission. Because then we will be committed to help Afghanistan and Pakistan for a much longer period of time, when the civilians are in charge and doing development.
That is in -- that is, though, a very long-term process.
Q Thanks. Mr. Secretary, my name's Logan Mehl-Laituri. I served in the Army as an artillery forward observer from 2000 to 2006, first at Fort Bragg, just south of us, and then at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I deployed in support of OIF 2 in January '04. I returned with three combat decorations in February '05, after which I came to the point, as a noncommissioned officer, where I -- for religious, moral and ethical reasons I could no longer carry a personal firearm.
In response to my application to be a noncombatant conscientious objector to my unit, for which I earned the titles of "coward" and "traitor," I was involuntarily but honorably discharged in 2006. And I now speak to you as a divinity student, actually as a master of theological studies. Hopefully I'll graduate in 2012 with a master's degree.
My question -- oh, my -- my question is, as a Christian, I'm concerned that I'm not able to respond to my -- the denominational body that I belong to when they deem certain wars to be unjust, as was the case with the Iraq war in 2003.
Furthermore, I -- as a Christian, I also must oppose this -- a slavery of moral ambiguity that we put our service members in. We're on the one hand telling them that they forfeit their moral agency to the commanders and the officers that are appointed above them, but then on the other hand they're required to refuse to obey these, quote-unquote, "unlawful" orders, which are nowhere defined in the UCMJ, leaving an incredibly important, you know, juridical concept to a commander's discretion.
So I'm wondering what your office might do to correct this -- you know, this tarnishment on our national integrity, but also what can be done --
MODERATOR: I think we have that question. It's as hard enough as it is to answer right now.
SEC. GATES: I would -- I would say, first of all, this goes to the heart of my remarks tonight and an all-volunteer Army.
One does undertake a contractual obligation when enlisting, but there is certainly no obligation to reenlist. And one should know, anyone who has joined the military since 2002 has known that they would be going into war, with all of the moral challenges that that can face people with. So I think ultimately it has to be the choice of the individual.
MODERATOR: Up there in the balcony.
Q Hi. My name is Zack (inaudible). I'm a student at UNC -- (inaudible). First of all, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for coming here.
During your time as DCI [Director Central Intelligence], you held an office that had a lot more power and responsibility than it does today, after the creation of the office -- or the Director of National Intelligence. Given your time as DCI and your perspective on that, do you feel the creation of that office helped to streamline the intelligence process and promote intelligence sharing among the intelligence community and agencies outside the intelligence community that require said intelligence? And also, what steps do you believe are needed to further promote intelligence sharing?
SEC. GATES: I opposed the creation of the Director of National Intelligence job in 2004. I wrote a long paper for the Senate government operations committee on how I felt that the then-director of Central Intelligence job could be strengthened without disrupting the intelligence community or distracting it during a time of conflict. You can see what kind of influence I had. (Laughter.)
I was then -- it was then a dilemma that I faced, because then- President Bush asked me to be the first director of National Intelligence. And after weighing it for a -- for a couple of weeks, I decided to turn it down. Partly it was because I had what I thought was an important unfinished agenda still at Texas A&M, but also I thought that there were too many inhibitions for the person in the job to be able to get the job done.
When the president was considering a replacement for Admiral Blair as the DNI, I told him that I thought it was important that people change the way they think about the DNI job; that people tend to think of it as a CEO and as the big boss. And I said the reality is there aren't those kinds of powers in the law. So you need to think of that job more like the chairman of a powerful Senate committee, who has a lot of inherent power, but essentially has to have persuasive powers as well to bring people together. And that's why I recommended to him my undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, retired General Jim Clapper, who I had first known when he was the director of the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency]in the early '90s, and who I think has the right temperament to be a strong leader but understand that people have to be brought along.
So I think that it has added bureaucracy, and I think that one of the things that General Clapper is looking at is how he can -- how he can reduce some bureaucracy that's been built up in that office. But there was an easier, simpler (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Up there in the --
Q Mr. Secretary, I'm Yakov Schulman. I'm freshman year with Duke. To what extent do you feel that your role as secretary of Defense has changed since your transition from serving for the Bush administration to the Obama administration?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think it -- in significant ways, with respect to the wars, it really hasn't changed at all.
I would say that one of the consequences of this additional lease on life, if you will, has been to give me the time and the opportunity to begin to tackle some of the structural budget and priority issues relating to acquisitions and management at the Department of Defense. And so I have -- the thing that I have spent a lot of time on over the last couple of years, the last 18 months or so, that I really didn't do much of the first -- the two years I was under President Bush has been to focus on trying to make significant changes in the -- in the defense budget to get rid of programs -- to stop programs where the military said we have enough; to cancel programs that weren't working or were so costly or so overdue that they were not likely ever to come to fruition; and then the effort that I'm engaged in now to try and move significant dollars from overhead into real military capabilities.
Q Hello, Secretary Gates. My name is -- (inaudible) and I’m a freshman here at Duke.
I want to know, as the past president of a university, if you think it is morally equitable or just that the primary mode of scholarship in America is military based, whereas in other countries, such as Britain, all the students who academically qualify can be funded through a college.
SEC. GATES: I'm sorry. I didn't quite understand the question.
Q So in Britain or other countries, all students who are active and qualified are funded in college, whereas in America, the primary mode of scholarship is military based. I want to know if this is morally equitable or just.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think it's both morally equitable and I think it is just. This is -- ROTC programs and the National Guard are the ways we keep our military grounded in our communities and in our states. We are at state universities as well as private universities. And this is the way we ensure that we get a broad cross-section of people from across America who serve in our military. It is our officers' commission to ROTC though the National Guard that we remain connected to this 99 percent of the American people that aren't in the military.
And I would tell you that most universities have instituted programs -- most of the big universities have instituted programs -- that ensure that students particularly who come from lower-income families can attend those universities on a combination of scholarships that avoids them having to rack up dramatic debt. And I think this is a huge step forward.
Q Hello, Mr. Secretary, my name is Christopher Jones and I am a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. The question I wanted to ask is, in the past -- in the current administration and in the past administration, we've seen intensification of the trend to turn military into a more professional, highly trained generally smaller, more efficient force that can be deployed faster, use of course network-centric warfare and the like. You've spoken at length today on how the military is becoming disconnected from American society at large. And the question I want to ask is, is that not an inevitable consequence of the transformation we're seeing in the military?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't think so. I mean, I think it is more a function of the size of the military compared to the overall population of the country and the geographic concentration that I talked about. One of the things that I find extraordinary -- my brother was a high-school principal for many years. And my wife is the sponsor of a nuclear attack submarine. She may be the only woman in America who has both a child-care center named for her and is the sponsor of a nuclear-attack submarine. And she is trying to put those two together.
But my brother toured that submarine when it was commissioned and talked to the enlisted men on that submarine and was completely blown away by their technical expertise, by their professionalism and their familiarity with the most high-tech-possible kinds of equipment.
So I think that the training programs that we have, the kinds of people that we're getting out of high school these days, I think give us the ability to deal with 21st-century technologies; and then we have to worry about and see if we can't do something about the geographic concentration.
MODERATOR: Up in the balcony. Yup.
Q (Inaudible) -- I'm a Fulbright scholar. I'm a Fulbright scholar from Afghanistan, and I'm honored and privileged to be here at Duke pursuing my post-graduate studies.
I'd like to ask you a question regarding Afghanistan. After nine years, our people have experienced more than one America -- have experienced one side of America who has sent our children to school, helped our farmers with their crops and have saved many lives. And we're grateful for it.
But at the same time, we've experienced another side who have carried out military operations with little discretion and have demonstrated that it's not a priority if Afghan lives are lost. That's the public opinion.
So my question to you, Secretary Gates, would be, do you see two Americas in Afghanistan, or two contradictory policies? And if you do, do you see a reconciliation?
SEC. GATES: No, I don't, because, in many cases, it's the same soldiers doing the -- doing both.
I will tell you that one of the changes that was started by General McKiernan, was significantly changed by General McChrystal, and has been reinforced by General Petraeus, is the effort to avoid civilian casualties. The rules of engagement have been altered; more attention to paying day-to-day respect for Afghans, the Afghan people, whether it's convoys going through their towns or anything else. But above all, avoiding civilian casualties -- innocent civilian casualties.
The challenge that we face is that now about 75 or 80 percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan are being caused by the Taliban, who often mingle with civilians when they attack. They often use civilians as shields. But I would tell you that our commanders and our troops in the field, right down to the lowest- ranking officers and NCOs, are very much preoccupied and focused on the need to avoid innocent civilian casualties.
The good news in Afghanistan is that all public polling shows that only about 9 (percent) or 10 percent of Afghans want the Taliban to come back. About 60 to 65 percent -- it varies about 10 percent -- are pleased to have the United States and the other allies in, helping Afghanistan.
I spoke quite a while back that, as long as the Afghan people see us as their partners and as those who are helping -- trying to help keep them free and to preserve the gains that they have made in terms of women's rights and health and education, then we will be successful.
If, on the other hand, the Afghan people come to see us as occupiers, then we are lost. I believe that the gains we have made in underscoring our role as partners and as friends of Afghanistan is why we are beginning to make some real inroads.
MODERATOR: That will have to be our last question. There's only enough time remaining for us to thank you for your service to the country, your service in a difficult time, but also your special service to Duke.
And we have a way of noting that. There's -- it's our tradition to give the coveted American Grand Strategy t-shirt, which we hope we'll see you photographed in at some point. (Laughter.) But Duke also has its own secretary of defense, and he's signed that basketball for you, and we hope you'll display that proudly.
Thank you so much, sir. (Applause.)
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