Deputy Defense Secretary Speaks to Children at Education Seminar

June 29, 2016 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work understands the needs of military children -- he was one.

He also understands the needs of military parents -- again, he was one.

The deputy secretary answered questions posed by a panel of children from military families during the Military Child Education Coalition’s 18th annual National Training Seminar here yesterday. The students asked questions from the children of military families from Guam to Hayfield High School, Virginia, and all points in between.

Work grew up in a Marine Corps family. “By the time I got to sixth grade, we had made four moves, he said. “I went to schools on base; I went to schools off base. When I got to seventh grade, my dad was based at the Marine Barracks Rota, Spain, where I finished out high school at a DoD school in Europe.

“I went to the University of Illinois in the ROTC program and became a Marine for 27 years, … so I just want to tell you that I understand what it is like to be in a military family. I understand what it is like to be a military spouse, and I understand what it is like to be a military father,” he said.

The deputy secretary said he understands the stresses of moving. He understands just how much pressure is put on military families to do what they do. Work said he is firmly on the side of military families, especially for the educational needs of military children.

Best Advice

The students asked Work what stays with him about growing up in the military. They also wanted to know the best advice he was ever given.

“I took for granted what was happening,” Work said. “I wish my mom and dad had told me just how difficult and stressful it is on military families.”

The deputy secretary stressed that it is a family decision to serve the nation. “It is not just mom and dad who commits to a life of service, it’s the entire family.” he said.

“Even though I grew up in a military family, I wish my mom and dad would have said, ‘Look, if you are going to embark on this course, you really have to think about how you are going to go about being a good father and a good husband and keep the family in the center of what you are going to do,’” Work told the students.

The deputy secretary said that two things his father told him are as true today as they were 40 years ago. The first was to treat everyone else the way you would want to be treated, Work said.

“My father also said, because I would get a full head of steam behind me and I’d tell him how wrong he was, he’d say, ‘Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean you’re right,’” he said.

As deputy secretary, Work said he deals with many people passionate about many things. “I have to listen to all these passionate people and then be dispassionate about all the decisions we have to make,” he said.

Future of the Military

The students were curious about where the deputy secretary sees the military being in 50 years.

The entire DoD leadership has spent a lot of time contemplating just this, Work said, and discussed two key components. The first is what Defense Secretary Ash Carter calls the Force of the Future. “How do we make sure that we continue to attract the beast and the brightest young men and women to serve in … the Department of Defense?” the deputy secretary said.

Millennials are different than past generations and the department has to change to attract the new generation, he said. “Think of the military kind of like an escalator and you are getting promoted and going up,” he said. “Many young people today just don’t want to get on that escalator and stay for the ride: they want to have more flexibility.”

Many want to jump off the escalator and do a fellowship and then jump back into the military, Work said, while others may want to jump off and spend time with their families. Still others may want to jump off for an educational opportunity and then jump back on, he added.

The department is looking at a wide variety of options to provide more opportunities to service members of the future, the deputy secretary said. “We’re also looking at doing talent management differently,” he said. This means seeking out people with specific skills and putting them in places where they can excel, Work explained.

On the technology side, the deputy secretary said, there is a lot of thinking about artificial intelligence and autonomy that are technologies entering the marketplace now. “Many of you probably have a car that has autonomous parallel parking,” he said. “A lot of people look out 50 years and say, ‘My gosh, we’re headed for Terminators and Skynet.’ That’s not our vision of the future.”

DoD wants to use artificial intelligence and autonomy to empower service members. “Fifty years from now I expect the degree of human/machine collaboration to be much, much more advanced,” Work said. “And I have to say that the kids that grew up in the ‘i-world’ accept this readily.”

The bottom line, he said, is that over the next 50 years DoD wants to continue to attract world-class service members who will operate world-class technology to protect the United States and its citizens.

Students’ Thoughts

The deputy secretary then reversed the tables on the students, asking them what they thought of DoD’s push to give all qualified Americans the opportunity to serve in the military.

The students said they agreed with the policy changes that open all career fields to women and the decisions affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The students also said they feel encouraged by the changes, but anticipate some growing pains -- which they said should be “no big deal.”

These decisions “are so personal, it takes a long time to work through the practical realities,” Work said. “What we will always come back to … is if we do make a change what will it do for military effectiveness -- which is our No. 1 concern -- and military readiness?”

Work thanked the young men and women for what they do and encouraged them to keep involved and keep striving. He said military families are an important part of the joint force.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)