Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks to the Sailors of USS Stennis


Thanks, everyone.  

I appreciate the introduction, and you should know that you've got great leadership here.  I've known the Admiral for a long time, got a lot of regard for him and for all of you and what you do, and I'm here as always for you, and to say thank you.

And I'm going to do this a little bit more formally than normal, and the reason for that is that I have with me the Defense Secretary of the Philippines, Voltaire Gazmin, a good friend of mine, a great ally, great partner, and so in view of that and in view of the importance of your mission, my  remarks are going to be a little bit formal okay, but bear with me, it's about your mission and its importance, so it's worth listening to.

And then when I'm done I'll take questions from you and find out what's on your mind or what you think I ought to know, or a question, and then I'll give an answer.  Okey-doke?

First of all I want to say something about my counterpart here, Voltaire Gazmin. For 65 years now our two nations have been standing together, the United States and the Philippines, and America's commitment to the Philippines, I need to say this, remains ironclad, and Voltaire came out to see you and your shipmates in action.  

He's going to say a few words to all of you in a moment, but he's been a longtime friend and colleague, of not only mine, but of the United States, and of this entire region, and, of course, a great defender of the Philippines. 

This has been a very busy and productive trip.  I visited India, where I saw some of your shipmates on the USS Blue Ridge, which was on port call in Goa.  We continued to make major advances there in the growing U.S.-India defense partnership, also important.

And I was in Manila for meetings yesterday with Voltaire and other Philippine leaders, including the President.  Here also my visit was the occasion to inaugurate a major new era in a longstanding alliance, through the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, first of all, and our new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, second of all.  And as a result I'm proud to say this alliance is as close as it's been in years.

But one of my most important opportunities on this trip is to come to see you and to thank you.   And I want to thank your families also for their support during this deployment and the rest of the year.  I never forget that families serve, too.  Thank you for what you're doing here in the Asia-Pacific, and what you're doing with your lives, because what you do, which is defending your country and making a better world for our children is one of the noblest things you can be doing with your life.

I want you to know you should be proud of yourself, and how proud we are of you, not just in the Department of Defense, but the entire country.  I'm so proud to be in this Department with you.

Every time I travel abroad, in conversations with counterparts like Voltaire and others, I always hear about how they like working with our folks, with people like you.  And when I ask why, they always say because of the values that you bring, the way that you conduct yourself, which is not only competent, awesomely competent, but it's respectful of other people, and they're right, and I want to thank each of you, not just for what you're doing, but perhaps, very importantly, how you're doing it.  You play an essential and pivotal role in this region, which I'll discuss in a moment, but you and the rest of the American military do that, and everything else around the world, in a principled and respectful way.  You don't intimidate people, coerce people or exclude people.

Instead the American style has always been to include people in protecting us all.  That's what you're doing right now.  You've deployed for over 90 days, but I'm sure none of you are counting — although he is, I know — you've steamed over 20,000 miles.  You've flown over 4,000 sorties, you've participate in exercises like Balikatan.  You've excelled in the 3MI and you've performed other important duties.  You've worked near the Republic of Korea, through the Sea of Japan, in Guam, and now in the South China Sea.

And this is not the Stennis' first time in these waters, or your last stop on this deployment.  The Stennis has sailed, not just here in the South China Sea, but all around the vast Asia-Pacific over many years, has been deployed, in the region six times just in the last several years, and this summer you'll take part in RIMPAC, which is the largest international maritime exercise in the world.  

All of that you've done with the excellence expected of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  And as you continue to do so you're part of a long line of Americans, men and women, sailors and Marines, soldiers and airmen, uniformed and civilian, who've played an essential and pivotal role in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific right here remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper.  That's been American policy for decades.  Regardless of what else was going on at home or in other parts of the world, during Democratic and Republican administrations and time of surplus and deficit, war and peace, through all of that, the United States had played a pivotal role economically, politically, and military in the Asia-Pacific.

Along with a wide variety of partners and allies like the Philippines, the United States has for decades stood tall for enduring rules and principles, including the peaceful resolution of disputes, the ability of countries to make their own security and economic choices, free from coercion and intimidation, and freedom of navigation and overflight.

And Americans like you help provide the necessary security and stability for this nation and this region to thrive with our strong defense engagements here.  The United States has long provided the necessary reassurance, an attractive and appealing reassurance, and worked to keep the peace here in the Asia Pacific.  And the results, as you know, have been extraordinary.  Since World War II millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, have been lifted from poverty and into the middle class here.  And even though there's still room for improvement, democracy and freedom has spread to places across the region, and economic miracle after economic miracle has occurred in the region.  First Japan, then Taiwan, then South Korea, Southeast Asia, where we are now, all rose and prospered.  And today China and India are doing the same.

That progress creates opportunities for the region and for America to continue to grow, because we, after all, are a Pacific power, too.

But, of course, those big changes can also produce some negatives.  And recently not all of the news out of the Asia-Pacific has been positive.  Indeed in the South China Sea, China's actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.  

In response, countries across the Asia-Pacific, both long-standing allies and new partners, are reaching out anew to the United States, to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive.  And we're answering that call.  We're standing with those countries.  We're standing up for those rules and principles.  We're making important new investments in defense technology, and we're continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we always will, thanks to you.

America's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, which President Obama announced five years ago now, aims to sustain the progress occurring all around this region.  As part of the rebalance we've revitalized our economic, political and military engagement in this, this right here, which is the single most consequential region of the world for America's future.

Militarily, the Department of Defense is operationalizing the next phase of the rebalance and cementing it for the long term.  We're bringing our best people, people like you, and our best platforms, like the Stennis, forward to the Asia-Pacific.  We're making new investments in key capabilities and platforms, and we're deepening up our lateral relationships, strengthening long-time alliances, like our relationship with the Philippines and deepening ties with newer partners, like India.

But, in a large and interconnected region we're taking an additional step.  As the region changes the United States is networking our bilateral relationships with trilateral and multilateral arrangements, weaving these partnerships together to more effectively bolster American and regional security.  This is the network, peaceful, principled, and inclusive, that America continues to stand for and stand with.  It demonstrates the United States’ commitment to remaining an essential and pivotal leader in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.  

And I never forget what makes all of that that possible, and that's you.  You play the essential and pivotal role here.  You are operationalizing the rebalance.  You are making our growing security network work.  With every deployment and cruise by the Stennis, with every sortie, every exchange and port call, every time you participate in an exercise like Balikatan anywhere in the region, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region's security network.

You know, it's said that security is like oxygen: when you have enough of it you pay no attention to it.  But when you don't have it, that's all you can think of.  You, your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, provide that oxygen, the security that allows millions upon millions of people, not just in America, and not just here in the Asia-Pacific, but in so much of the world, to be safe, to raise their children, to dream their dreams, to live lives that are full.  

That's what it's all about, and we will continue to stand up for our safety and freedoms, for those of our friends and allies, and for the values, principles, and rules-based order that has benefited so many for so long.  Because we do so, because each of you does do, we all will continue to ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper for generations to come.

Thank you all for what you're doing out here.