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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks' Virtual Remarks at Foreign Policy for America (FP4A) NextGen Initiative's "A Conversation With the DSD" (As Prepared)

To each of you: Thank you for joining today's conversation. While I can't see all of you at once, I had the opportunity to read about your varied backgrounds, and I'm blown away by all that you bring to the table. 

I know that some of you are interested in becoming diplomats one day, while some of you have been inspired to explore and champion gender equity issues. I think we might have some economists in the audience today, while some audience members are cybersecurity professionals and policy experts and more. You all play a deeply important role in the national security ecosystem.

It is such a pleasure to see so many of you not only interested in tackling national security issues and pursuing public service — but also to know that so many of you are already embarking on careers in this field. It's impressive, and gives me even more hope for the future.

I look forward to learning more about you, and engaging with your questions later in our time together. 

And, no matter what your particular interest is, I am so grateful that public service is on your list. There is no better time to pursue such a calling than now.

I can tell you that having first worked in the Pentagon in my early 20s, I'm still struck each and every day by how remarkable and vast this place is and the remarkable work that goes on inside these walls. 

So, what exactly do we do here at the Department of Defense? 

I know DoD can seem like a gigantic and mysterious place. So, I'm happy to explain what keeps us grounded and focused day-to-day. 

Secretary Austin has focused our work around three priorities: defending the nation; taking care of our people; and success through teamwork.

First, defending the nation. 

Our pacing challenge is the People's Republic of China. It's the only strategic competitor on the global stage with the will, and increasingly the wherewithal, to reshape the entire international order. We're focused every day on deterring aggression by the PRC — in the immediate present and well into the future. 

We're also addressing the acute threat that Russia poses, as well as other persistent regional challenges coming from North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations.

And, we're doing our part to address challenges that transcend national and regional borders — from climate change to pandemics like COVID-19.

To overcome these challenges, it's critical that we continue to innovate and modernize. It's key to building our enduring advantage — a core pillar of our National Defense Strategy. In August, President Biden signed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act — historic legislation that will make significant investments in energy innovation and supercharge America's semiconductor research, development, and production. 

We must continue to invest in advanced capabilities, and we must continue to instill a culture throughout DoD that embraces rapid experimentation and implementation. To accomplish this goal, we must draw upon America's incredibly vibrant innovation ecosystem — as we have for generations. 

Our second priority is taking care of our people. 

We cannot win the challenges that we're currently facing and those ahead of us without our civilian and military personnel. We simply cannot.

The United States has the world's preeminent fighting force because of our people. And it's critical we maintain that advantage. That's why we endeavor to be a workplace of choice for all Americans who are willing and qualified to serve.

Through bipartisan legislation, we also received the biggest expansion of healthcare and benefits for veterans and their families in decades. That's a prime example of what it means to take care of people.

So, here are a few things that we're doing at DoD to take care of our people and ensure a competitive edge as an employer:

…we're seeking pay raises for military and civilian personnel… 

…we're investing in child care for military families…

…we're continuing the fight to end sexual assault and sexual harassment…

…and, we're advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across DoD.

Building our workforce and investing in our people is foundational to defending the nation. So, we're working tirelessly to make DoD an ideal workplace for all.

Third, we must succeed through teamwork. 

Civilian control and oversight has always been a hallmark of the U.S. military. Within the Pentagon, teamwork means ensuring that we have meaningful civilian-military cooperation. It means working with other federal departments and agencies, with industry, and with Congress.  

You probably have seen examples in the news of this teamwork in action. During the war in Ukraine, we've been working closely with our network of friends and allies around the world to bolster Ukraine's self-defenses, by sharing intelligence and providing security assistance. It's pivotal on the battlefield. 

And we've been working closely with our defense industrial base, for example, to increase munitions production and secure supply chains — so we have combat-credible forces ready to deter and if necessary defeat aggression today, tomorrow, and long into the future. 

If any of this seems exciting to you… if public service is always something you've wanted to pursue… If you're eager to solve our nation's and world's toughest problems… I encourage you to consider DoD.

I know there are many ways and places to make a difference in the world today. Admittedly I'm biased, but I do think one of the most impactful ways is public service.

You can serve in uniform. Or you can serve as a civilian, as nearly one-third of our total force does. Or you can choose a little of both by joining the Reserves.

With global challenges as robust as I've described, we need problem solvers of all kinds to sort them out and confront them. We need engineers and academics; data scientists and dentists; policy wonks and prolific writers. 

Whatever you're passionate about — history, foreign policy, artificial intelligence, languages, culture, science and tech, economics, or climate change — at DoD, we've got something for practically everyone. And our mission is second-to-none.

Again, I have a little experience on this matter and some skin in the game — I know how rewarding it can be for bright and talented young professionals like yourselves to grow and develop your careers here. And, in turn, I know all too well how much we need your ideas and your skills.

You don't have to work in government your entire career. It's not unusual to move from sector to sector to advance your career or to try something new. 

Over the past 30 years, I've had different jobs in and out of DoD. And the truth is we're stronger when we have people who bring their knowledge and expertise to bear from all sectors — industry, academia, non-profits, other parts of government, and elsewhere.

And as I've said, it's a chance to apply what you know, and what you're good at, to make a positive difference… To ensure a better future… And to make the world safer and more secure for everyone.