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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Troop Event at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Lieutenant General Terry Robling
August 22, 2013

           Lt. Gen. Terry Robling:  Good afternoon, Marines.  I'm Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, and I'd like to welcome you here today.

           Before we start, I'd like to recognize a few special guests.  We got Senator Mazie Hirono and members of her staff here, Senator Brian Schatz and members of his staff here, Representative Colleen Hanabusa and members of her staff here, and representing Representative Tulsi Gabbard is Mike Miyagi  and a member of his staff.  So, thank you all for being here.

            This is a very historic day for us.  It's the first time we've been able to really meet and speak with our secretary of defense on Marine Corps Base Kaneohe.  But before I introduce him to you, I'd like to introduce you to him.  So when I call out your unit, I'd like you to shout out with an oorah.  Where are my Marine Corps Base Hawaii Marines?

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  How about headquarters battalion?

           MARINES:  Oorah! 

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  combat logistics battalion?

           MARINES:  Oorah.

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  That's it?  combat logistics battalion?

           MARINES:  Oorah.

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  First Battalion, 12th Marines?

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  There you go.  Marine Corps Group 24?

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  First Battalion, Third Marines?

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  And, finally, where are my wounded warriors?

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           LT. GEN. ROBLING:  Okay, outstanding.  Well, I'm very proud of all of you on this historic occasion, and this time I'd like you to join me in welcoming our 24th United States Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Chuck Hagel.

           SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL:  Thank you, General.  Oorah, Marines!

           MARINES:  Oorah!

           SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you for allowing me to first thank you and your families for what you're doing.  And I want you to know how much we appreciate your service and your sacrifice to our country.  I also want to acknowledge your congressional delegation, who is here today, who has already been announced.  I want to thank them for their support.  You have no stronger congressional delegation in Washington who supports you more than your delegation from Hawaii, and they are very helpful to all of us.

           So, senators, congressmen, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.  Thank you. 

           I know something about you all.  I know the kind of work you do.  I know what you mean to our country, but I also know what you mean to our presence in this part of the world.  You are at the front end.  You are at the cutting-edge of security, of stability, of prosperity.  That's a big task.  That's a big responsibility.  And we're very proud of what you're doing.

           I want to particularly acknowledge the wounded warriors for your sacrifices and what you continue to do for our country.

           I'm also much aware of the Lava Dogs, as they have made our country proud with -- with their outstanding performance in the exercises in Thailand and Korea.  Thank you.  The Marine Aircraft Group 24, your exceptional work -- all of you, every day, do so much for all of us.  And I want to acknowledge that.

           I'm on my way to the ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus, which will be held in Brunei later this week.  I'm going to stop first in Malaysia and Indonesia and then Brunei for the ministers meeting and then to the Philippines and then go back -- back to Washington.

           I'm going to try and reinforce much of what your leaders here in this part of the world, and particularly headquarters here, the general, all your commanders, Admiral Locklear, all of our institutions headquartered here in Hawaii are doing to promote our interests in stability and friendship and partnership in this part of the world.

           You're all much aware of our rebalance that President Obama initiated a couple of years ago.  And I wanted to talk directly to some of our friends in this area of the world about that.  I had my first opportunity to directly assess and discuss our rebalancing when I was at the -- in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue, with many of the ASEAN leaders, and other nations, like Russia, European allies, China, who -- some will be in Brunei.

           But this rebalancing is not only about security.  It is not only about our security interests in this area.  It's about a partnership of prosperity for this region of the world.  Over six billion global citizens today.  We are all now a part of one market.  And the threats that confront the world are not unique to a region, to a country, to a religion, to an ethnic group.  These are universal threats, and alliances become even more important than they've been in the past.

           That means coalitions of common interests, partnerships, recognizing that prosperity and a future for all people and freedom depends on many pillars of construction.  Certainly, security is one.  But it's not the only one.

           So this is a partnership that we are working through and enhancing and strengthening in this part of the world.  You are all part of that.  As I said, you are at the front end of that.  You are at the cutting edge of that.  And what you do and how you do it is particularly important as to how the world sees America and how they view our interests.

           But probably more important is how they view our intentions.  And that's always important in dealing with people around the world.  So, thank you again for what you do.

           That's a little bit about what I'm doing out here, other than the congressional delegation, and Governor Abercrombie gave me a visa to come in for a day and 24 hours so I can swim tonight before dinner, and then go on further west.  But it's always a pleasure being here.

           And before I take your questions, I want to also thank the people of Hawaii.  The people of Hawaii, who have hosted our installations and all of you, the magnificent and gracious hospitality and support they've given us all should be acknowledged, and I want to let the people of Hawaii know how much we all appreciate them for what they have done and what they continue to do for all of us.

           Okay.  General, I'd be glad to respond to questions or any advice that you have for me.  I know Marines are very tentative and bashful, hardly ever say what they think.

           Q:  Yes, sir.  Sergeant Jensen, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, Charlie Company.  My question pertains to the transferring of the Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits to your dependents and whether or not that program will stick around due to all the financial constraints going on.  And additionally, when that service member goes to apply to transfer those benefits to their dependents on the VA website, they're not allowed to do that without committing to another four years' obligation, even though they've already met the regulated terms.  I'm just wondering if that's something that can be fixed on the website or not, sir.

           SEC. HAGEL:  Okay.  Well, that's -- first of all, it's a VA website, did you say?

           Q:  Yes, sir. 

           SEC. HAGEL:  I'll ask Secretary Shinseki about that, since I don't have anything to do with his website.  But I was just with him twice this week.  And as you know, Secretary Shinseki is a former chief staff of the United States Army and a great, great American and great leader and made many sacrifices in Vietnam.  As a matter of fact, he and I served in the same division in Vietnam in the same year.  I didn't know Shinseki then, but we've gotten to be good friends.  I'll find out about the website. 

           Back to your bigger question.  I was one of the four co-sponsors of that bill when I was in the United States Senate.  And we passed that bill in 2008.  It's a piece of legislation I'm very proud of.  I had been involved in that effort for many years before we got it passed. 

           There was a very significant Marine and United States senator at the time who led the charge by the name of Jim Webb, who you all know wrote the first really defining book on Vietnam, won a Pulitzer Prize for it, who has been a good friend of mine for 30 years.  He and I were the two Vietnam veterans that teamed up on that with two World War II veterans, John Warner, another tremendous leader for our country and former secretary of the Navy, and Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, who just passed away a couple months ago. 

           So I know something about that bill, since I helped write it.  That bill was intended to do exactly what you just asked in your first sentence, among other things.  It needed to be brought up to date from the time the Montgomery Bill was passed, because when the Montgomery Bill was passed -- and that was appropriate, I thought, at the time -- I wasn't in the Congress -- but it was a different time.  It was an all-volunteer service, and so on. 

           And, by the way, I used the G.I. Bill when I came back from Vietnam, used it, as did my brother.

           So it was time to do that.  And there were some clear intentions that we had that we wanted that we wrote it, and one was the transferability of benefits.  Now, as to one of the specific parts of your question about our budget issues and sequester, in particular, which has forced us all to re-evaluate programs.  And as you know, we've had to make some tough decisions and choices.

           That bill, that law is one that we want to protect in every way we can, because we think it is -- is the right thing to do for our people.  We've committed to do that for our people.  And we think it enhances our people, it enhances our country.  It's a smart investment in our country.  It's a smart investment in you, in your families.  Education can't be disconnected from security -- from the future of our country. 

           So we'll continue to do everything we can to protect every element and fund every part of that bill.  And I'll check on the website.  Thank you.

           Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  Lance Corporal Stacey from CAS.  My question is, due to the downsizing of the Marine Corps or military-wide, what is the challenges that you face as far as keeping the appearance to the public of our military polished? 

           SEC. HAGEL:  I'm sorry.  The last part -- of our military what? 

           Q:  Just keeping -- as far as the public eye, keeping our military looking strong without any, I guess, lack of confidence?

           SEC. HAGEL:  Yes, I get it.  Good question.  Important question.  In fact, that question is one that I deal with, as well as our leaders deal with every day, for the -- for the very reasons you asked, but the implications that were present in your questions on projecting -- are we projecting weakness and lack of confidence when we -- when we talk about the downsizing and the limitations of financial resources?

           There is a balance to that, and you're exactly right as to how we tell the story.  First, I think it's important that, as always, every leader -- no matter what area that you lead in -- you first have to be honest, and you have to be direct, and you must be clear with the situation.  You couldn't be effective Marines without those things.  First of all, you wouldn't follow a leader who was not clear, direct, honest, if for no other reason you wouldn't trust him.  You would have no confidence in him.

           So I start there in answering your question.  We've got to be honest with the American people.  We have to be honest with the Congress.  The Congress has to know our best assessment as leaders of our national security institution, what and how our capacity, our capabilities would be affected with large cuts in our budget.

           Second, can we do things better?  Can we do things more effectively, more efficiently?  It is a different world.  We've just come out of one war in Iraq; we're winding down the second war in Afghanistan.  Doesn't that mean that resources will be freed up?  Yes.  We've been through this kind of downsizing in the history of our country before, as we have unwound from Desert Storm and Vietnam and Korea and World War II and so on.

           But we've made it very clear, as direct and honest and clear as we can be, whether it's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, or your leaders here, or leaders all over the world in this institution, that even with these cuts -- and they are severe -- and they may be even more severe -- that there is no question, America has the most significant military capability in the world.  There is no military close to this military.

           And we have made it very clear to the American people, to our friends and allies, and to our adversaries that that is the case.   And we are not without resources.  We are not without capability.  And you can measure that by any metric.  You start with the strength of any institution, first, is your people.  You are the best-trained, the smartest, the best-led, most professional military force this country's ever had, and that is not to minimize the service of every generation of military men and women who've served the United States of America.  That's not to marginalize their service at all.

           What I've just said is a fact.  Our NCO Corps -- is a corps enlisted like no other armed force in the world has.  No one is even close to having an enlisted NCO corps like we have in our institution.  The technological superiority, every element of that, no one's even close to it.  Even with our downsized budget, and projected to even more downsize, there's not a country in the world even close to our military budget.  We have alliances which don't diminish our strength and our interests, but they enhance our strength in our alliances. 

           So when you look at the balance sheet here, we are going to be the best, most capable, strongest military force in the -- in the world for a long time to come.  At the same time, as I said, we've got to be clear and direct with the reality of the consequences of continued significant budget cuts and how fast those budget cuts are coming, because they give us very little flexibility in the tough decisions that are going to have to be made.

           Institutions as big as our Defense Department -- I don't know of one bigger in the world -- but any institution is constantly re-evaluating -- has to -- its effectiveness, its efficiency.  How can you do it better?  And there are different threats in the world.

           I mean, 10 years ago, how many of us would have thought too much about cyber warfare as a threat?  Cyber warfare represents one of the greatest threats to the security of America of any threat out there.  Certainly, nuclear war is a clear and large and overwhelming threat, the damage a nuclear exchange could do. 

           But cyber is this quiet, insidious attack on our systems, our country.  Without any nation firing a shot, invading us, sailing a ship against us, putting a bomber in the air against us, sending a missile against us, my point is, the threats are changing, the challenges are changing. 

           Ten years ago, yes, terrorism was a threat, but what's going on today in the Middle East, for example, what's going on in North Africa, elements of terrorism and the coordination of the coalition of terrorist groups is -- is now something we've never seen before.  That's going to require different kinds of strategies and thinking. 

           And that doesn't mean we're going to not need our Army or our Marines or ground forces, for example.  We'll always need those forces.  But it's new strategic thinking, new strategic reviews.  And we'll get there.  We'll come out of this stronger and better than we went in.  Thank you.

           Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  Lance Corporal Wasser, HMLA-367.  Last month, you gave a speech at the Pentagon on the topic of sequestration.  And in your speech, you brought up ideas that you had on making major military cuts to all the branches.  So to go off of basically all of what you just said, how soon are -- do you expect us to be reaching the goal of the cuts that you've been talking about, sir?

           SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I think reductions, realignments, all that go into what we just went through in a 90-day exercise, which I noted in that speech, the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which gave us some sense of what the realities are, based on three budget options, how that would then direct our choices, how that would direct our cuts, how that would direct reductions and consolidations, as we prepare for our budget year, as we move into the fall, as we present to the Congress a new budget early next year, as well as the quadrennial review, which is mandated by Congress every four years to essentially red team and put in a group of experienced, respected experts to come in and take a look at what we're doing, how we're doing it, and come up with suggestions and ideas as we move forward.

           And I just met with the group this week, as a matter of fact, and present that to the Congress and to me and to our leaders.  It all flows right into the same intersection.  To answer your question, we're making consolidations and reductions now.  Part of that is as a result of what the Congress mandated over the last couple of years on reduction of forces.  We are bringing our force structure down with Marines, with Army.  That's not new.

           What is new is the abruptness and the steepness that we'll be forced to make those reductions if we're not allowed to bring this down year after year and give us some time to strategically plan for it.  So we're making the reductions now.  We're making some decisions now.  They'll continue to be made as we -- as we flow out.

           One of the other biggest problems we have is the uncertainty of what our resource base is going to be.  I don't have to ask the members of Congress for clarification on this.  They are as frustrated, I suspect, as I am in our leaders.  We don't know what kind of budget we're going to get next year.  Is sequestration going to play out, which is now the law of the land?  That means another $52 billion to $54 billion cut in the next fiscal year for us, if that continues.  So we have to plan for that.  That is the law of the land, unless something changes. 

           Will there be an adjustment made by a budget -- a new budget agreement by the Congress and the president before that occurs?  I don't know.  Will we have a continuing resolution based on the numbers for this fiscal year?  Next fiscal year begins in about six weeks, October 1st.  I don't know. 

           You can't turn an enterprise like the Defense Department, as big as this is, around in a -- in a year or two or three months or four months.  So that uncertainty is -- is as big a problem for us as anything else. 

           We're not whining about it.  It's -- it's what it is.  And what the Strategic Choice Management Review was all about when I directed that a few months ago, let's get on with it.  These are the realities.  Life's tough.  I wish I controlled more things than I do.  So do you.  But I don't. 

           And so I'm living in a world of reality.  I'm not living in a world like you all, either.  You're not living in any -- any world but what is the real world, not the world that you wish it would be, not the world that you hope it would be, or not the world that maybe you think will be.  It's the world of what it is.

           So we have to plan for that.  And I -- and I think this is going to make you stronger.  I have tremendous faith in our people, in our culture, in the commitment of all of you, and people all over the world to our values and who we are as a people and as a nation.  So we'll come out of this stronger than we went in.

           Q:  Thank you, sir.

           STAFF:  One more. 

           SEC. HAGEL:  One more question?  Okay. 

           Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  Sergeant Okimsy, Headquarters Battalion.  My question was actually going to pertain to sequestration and cutbacks, but now I ask about, what does the future look like in retirement in the military since there are talks of changes to that?

           SEC. HAGEL:  Well, thank you.  You see, that's the advantage of being a former senator -- and no offense, senators -- is that when you get one question, you take the opportunity and you just answer six or seven, whether you're asked or not.  So I'm glad I was able to answer part of that question that you had.

           But the future for retirement, there's no question that -- not unlike our entitlement programs in the United States, Social Security and Medicare -- they are unsustainable with the path they're on, for the reasons I suspect most of you know.  Now, that doesn't mean that we're going to cut off retirement benefits, but if we address those adjustments that are going to be required out into the future, just like in Social Security or Medicare, if we make some adjustments now and we're smart, then we can adjust what we need to adjust and assure that the benefits that you've earned that we've promised are going to be there.

           For all of you, when you retire, your benefits should not be impacted by whatever tough choices that we're going to have to make, but there are things we can do now with TRICARE.  Health care benefits for retirees, for example, are -- are the biggest part of the increases that are growing year by year by year, not unlike in the civilian world.  So how do we adjust to that and assure those benefits?  The people have earned them, and we've committed to them.  We're do it.  They're going to be there.

           But we're going to have to adjust and make some changes on how we come at it in the out-years on the formulas used.  They won't hurt anybody.  You can make these kinds of things whether it's in social security -- I had introduced over the years in social security bills on just a cost-of-living allowance.  If you just take that for social security, for example, and you make some adjustments there, it's astounding how many billions of dollars you save over the course of just a few years, if you make just a tiny adjustment there, take one index or another.

           Now, I'm not going to play games with you on saying that your benefits are going to increase.  They're probably not going to increase.  But you're not going to be hurt.  You're not going to be hurt.

           Okay.  Thank you very much. 

           STAFF:  Thank you very much.

           STAFF:  Thank you.

           SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you.

           All right, now -- first of all, I want you to know I want to get a picture taken with each of you, but you don't have to have your picture taken with me.  It might -- it might hurt your reputation.  So if you want a picture taken with me, it would be my honor.  And we'll line up over here.  Thank you.  Semper Fi, Marines.  Thank you.

           MARINES:  Oorah!