SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: At ease, everyone. And you can even sit down.
I think that's okay, isn't it general?
LT. GEN. SALVATORE ANGELELLA: Sir, you (inaudible).
SEC. HAGEL: Whatever the general says.
Well, first, thank you for giving me a couple of minutes today. I appreciate an opportunity to say hello, but I most importantly appreciate an opportunity to thank you for what you’re doing.
And, general, I appreciate also having some of the Japanese Self Defense Forces here to thank you all for what you do for your country and for our partnership, in helping keep peace and stability in this part of the world.
So thank you, and I know how proud all of our men and women are to serve with you, and we look forward to a continued long and prosperous partnership over many, many years, and you're all helping build that, and you're also helping ensure that with what you're doing here.
I just flew in from Hawaii, a terrible place, I know, you probably -- some of you have been there. But I'm glad to be here.
We had interesting two days in Hawaii. I had about a year ago invited all the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] defense ministers to Hawaii for an ASEAN defense ministers meeting with the secretary of defense of the United States. We've never done that before, and I was very pleased that the ministers all agreed to do that, and we spent two days together. Admiral Locklear and the Pacific Command hosted us and did a tremendous job.
And Admiral Locklear and all of your pals in Hawaii send their regards and to, again, thank you. I know you see Admiral Locklear often, and I know, general, you and your team talked with him a lot, but he, like all of us, are very proud of you all, and what you're doing.
I want to also pass my thanks to your families. Please give them our regards. I bring you greetings from President Obama, who said to thank all of you for what you’re doing, and tell you how much he appreciates, like all Americans, what you're doing out here.
I know it's not easy to be a long way from home, but many of you have your families here, and we're happy about that, and I know your families make a lot of sacrifices for our country, so please give them my regards and my thanks as well.
As I said, I just came from Hawaii. I'll be here in Japan for a couple of days. Later this afternoon I'll meet with Prime Minister Abe, and then tomorrow we've got a full day of meetings with the defense minister, and foreign minister and Ambassador Kennedy and others, so we'll have a full day.
And then finish up some work here in Japan, and then on to China for a couple of days. I've been invited to China by the Chinese defense minister, and as many of you know, most of our chiefs of our services, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey, have been in China the last 12 months.
That relationship is an important one; we all know that. I know it's an important one for Japan. We have many common interests, all of our countries. We have differences. And the only way to deal with differences is straight up, honest, talk about it and deal with it.
We want to assure in every way we can that there is no misunderstandings. We don't want miscalculations. You all live in an area that has some challenges, and you all know that, because that's your job every day to deal with those challenges, and it takes steady wise, firm leadership and commitment, as you all are demonstrating by your service here, and in our long partnership and friendship with Japan and the Japanese people.
So thank you all very much.
I also just want to add one other thing, and that is too that one of the reasons I'm in this area, this is my fourth trip to Asia Pacific since I've been secretary of defense, is to, again, reassure our allies, our partners here in this part of the world of our commitment, of our continued commitment, to our partnerships, our friendships, and our treaty obligations. We're serious about that, as you all know.
And I want to do everything I can to reassure all of our allies here that that's our position.
As you know, President Obama will be here later this month. He'll be here in South Korea, also Malaysia and the Philippines. He's looking forward to being here and spending some time as he knows and understands how important this part of the world is, and how important your mission is.
So just recommitting and making sure that everyone understands that America is a friend, is a partner, and we've been a Pacific power for a long time, and we're going to be a Pacific partner for a long time to come, and we're committed to that.
General, I'd be glad to respond to any questions that any of your guys have, advice, or wise counsel, anything you need to tell me. I'd appreciate that. But again, thank you for everything you do. We're very proud of you.
So if you can find a microphone, or scream at me or send me a note, whatever works, and I'll try to respond to your questions.
LT. GEN. ANGELELLA: Mr. -- thank you, Mr. Secretary. Come on, I know you have some questions out there.
Q: Sir, welcome. Colonel Mark Van Wert here, and just a question, what do you see as your biggest challenge right now as the secretary of defense?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, as you all know, having an opportunity to serve our country is (inaudible), is quite a privilege. And that's the way I look at this. And I know you all feel the same way or you wouldn't be doing this, or you wouldn't be here.
When President Obama asked me to do this job, I appreciated the opportunity to be part of his government, and take on some responsibilities to the American people, and maybe even help make some contributions, and make our Defense Department stronger. I think, as everyone in this room who has responsibilities for leadership, and you all do, at different levels, you know in the end, that's all that matters, is how you leave. Is the institution better and stronger than you found it, and that's why we have built the greatest Department of Defense, I think, in history.
And I know every country feels the same way about their institutions. So when you ask the question about what is my biggest challenge, I see my job as yes, a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities. Challenges come with the territory. You all know that. I don't know of anyone's life that's without challenges, regardless of their professional career, but it's how you respond to challenges, that's the history of our world.
When you really isolate down on the responsibilities of the secretary of defense first, the responsibilities are large in scope, but there is but one responsibility, and that's the security of the United States of America, and assuring our citizens of that security. Just like any leader of any nation, it's the same.
So as I try to do my job every day, as -- like you do, as well as you can, you're dealing with many things and many challenges every day, from different directions, in all parts of the world, institutionally, and so there's not just one or two, but many challenges, and you have to frame it all up in how you divide your time everyday and how you focus every day.
But one thing that leaders must learn early, all of you know this, and I don't know of an institution in the world that does it better than the military, and that is you have to rely on each other. And I could not do my job if I didn't have the kind of people, the men and women, who are represented here in this hangar. It's too big. All of our jobs are too big. And you've got to rely on each other, and that's the greatest privilege for me, and I think you all feel the same way in doing what you're doing.
So I try to do the best I can every day, recognizing the challenges and the threats, but also the opportunities, because there are opportunities, how we can do things better, how we can partner closer.
I think this is a defining time in our world. I think history is going to be very clear on that, when history is written of this time. You all are making that history. You are part of that history. You are defining the future of the world.
And I don't know how any of us could ask for more of an opportunity in our lifetimes than to be doing something so important than what we all have an opportunity to do.
So thank you for the question.
Q: Good afternoon.
SEC. HAGEL: Where are you?
Q: Right here, sir.
SEC. HAGEL: Oh -- (Laughter.) -- hi.
Q: Hello, sir. Staff Sergeant (inaudible) here. I was wondering in your opinion, how the force drawdown is affecting the worldview of America's capabilities, offensively, defensively, and our ability to affect peace in our various areas of operation.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, that's an important question, and it's a relevant question, because it does, as we deal with our budget restraints, as we drawdown force posture, it does amplify a larger optic and question that is in the minds of the world, and especially our allies. That's one of the reasons that I'm here. It's one of the reasons I've been out here four times in the last year as I travel all over the world, is to reassure, as I've already noted, our allies, that yes, we are going through budget restraints, yes, we are drawing down some of our force posture.
But make no mistake, we're not retreating from the world. We still, and we're going to have, continue to have, 400,000 men and women forward deployed, stationed, assigned, outside the United States in 100 countries.
We still have by far the largest defense force in the world, biggest budgets in the world. We're working, maybe in a little different direction through capacity building and partnership work, which we've done over the years since World War II with many of our countries in -- that we're associated with, our partners and our allies. Japan is a good example.
But we're trying to do more of that, as we help build capacities of partners all over the world, and help make them stronger through training and through sharing of technology and through joint exercises.
We're doing a lot of that, and more and more each year in this region of the world, as you all know because you all participate in a lot of it.
But your question is an important one, because it does -- it does question a lot of people about our commitment, and because we are coming down. Does that mean that the United States is still going to stay committed to its obligations in the world? We are.
But I think too, when you look at history, remember, we're coming out of 13 years of constant large landmass security operations, two wars. That's unprecedented in our history. We've done that with an all-volunteer force. That's unprecedented. After every war the United States has been in, we always drawdown our forces.
Now we must be smart and learn from history here, not a captive of history, but learn from it, but you can't take it down too far. The world's still dangerous, and I fear it's going to continue to be dangerous.
So we think what we are doing, we think the force posture we have, our defense structure and our capabilities, and our readiness and our capacity, still is more than sufficient to fulfill the missions and the objectives that we have to protect the United States, stay committed to our allies around the world and protect America's interests around the world.
Q: Good afternoon, sir.
SEC. HAGEL: Good afternoon.
Q: Chief Petty Officer (inaudible) from NAF Atsugi.
Sir, I believe the level of sacrifice required to qualify for the combat action ribbon by engaging the enemy in combat should warrant issuance of corresponding medal and -- and rate higher than Defense Meritorious Service medal, the Navy Marine Corps Com, the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
As you know, sir, combat not only leaves physical scars, but it also can leave mental ones.
My question to you, sir, would -- is would you consider moving the Combat Action Ribbon, order of precedence, to directly behind the Purple Heart, and also possibly making it a corresponding medal.
SEC. HAGEL: Well your question is a very good one, and it is a question that has come up in different forums, in different ways, in all of the services since I've been secretary of defense, and I've been secretary of defense a little more than a year.
But it's a constant question, especially in light of the 13 years of war we've been at it and particularly your point about the psychological scars that are left. And no man or woman ever goes to war and comes back the same. I mean, it's just -- and that just didn't start; that's been since we've known war.
What is an appropriate recognition of services and sacrifices in medals, and I strongly believe, by the way, in medals and awards.
So what I've done is I've ordered a re-evaluation of our entire awards and medal system, and the people in charge of that will report back to me later this year on recommendations. The chiefs of all of the services are involved. Senior enlisted of all the services are involved. All of our senior leadership are involved. We're asking junior enlisted and junior officers for their input in what is appropriate?
Does the current structure serve the purpose? And does it really fulfill the kind of commitments that you make and you should be recognized for? Is it attuned to modern warfare? Are we recognizing the right people for the right reasons? Those are big questions, and I think they deserve a comprehensive review of everything we're doing, every medal, every honor, and that's what we're doing now, and I have great confidence that we'll come up with the right system here as this panel reports back to me later this year.
LT. GEN. ANGELELLA: Mr. Secretary, I think we have time for one more question, and then I’d like to give you an opportunity to shake our hands.
SEC. HAGEL: Good.
Q: Our service members hands before I have to take you downtown to see the prime minister.
SEC. HAGEL: Okay, well, I'll look forward to shaking your hands and saying hello, and we'll take another question.
Q: Yes, sir, this is Captain (inaudible) from the medical group. I just had a question concerning sequestration. It seems to me that the way in which we can cut the budget is primarily focused on force reduction and readiness. Is there a way that you can see that that can perhaps change in the future without an act of Congress?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, you just mentioned sequestration, which has driven the budget restraints that we're living under.
The budget that I presented, the president's budget, along with Chairman Dempsey, about a month ago to the Congress that we will be constantly presenting in different reviews, different panels in the Congress, that budget for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016 was agreed to in the bipartisan budget agreement in December.
After fiscal year 2016, sequestration, which I think you're all generally familiar with, it kicks back in; it is the law of the land. And what that means is, for example, last year we took about -- the Defense Department -- a $35 billion cut, in addition to the almost $490 billion cut over a 10-year period that we started on two years ago. That's law as well.
This year we're going to have another $30 billion-plus reduction. Next year it'll be more than that. Then we'll go back to sequestration, unless as you say, the Congress changes the law, which would mean a $50-plus-billion cut in fiscal year 2017.
So we have requested, in our budget requests, additional funding in what the president has asked for; $26 billion additional funding for this fiscal year, and then over the next four years, a $116 billion increase over sequestration budgets.
If the Congress does not change that, if they don't change sequestration, then what the chairman has said, what I've said, what all the chiefs have said, all of our senior leaders have said in testimony -- and that testimony will continue is that we will face more risks in the future, because we are presenting budgets to the Congress, to the American people that we believe, the senior leadership of the Department of Defense, is required, order to fulfill the commitments that we make to the American people, to keep them secure, and accomplish the objectives.
Now we're going to do that. We have enough money to do that whether it's under sequestration or otherwise, to fulfill the basic commitments, but it will be with additional risk, with additional risk, if we don't get those increases in spending.
So your question is a good one.
But also I think it's important that we maintain the balance, not just for the American people, but for the world to know, we'll have the capacity, we'll have the readiness, we'll have the resources to do the job. But if we do not get increases that we've asked for then that will come with more risks.
Okay, so we're going to do it up right here?
Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause.)