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Remarks by Secretary Mattis at a Troop Event in Naval Base Kitsap, Washington

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Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
Aug. 9, 2017
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(UNKNOWN):  Good afternoon, Kentucky.

TROOPS:  Good afternoon, sir.

(UNKNOWN):  So, guys, I'd like to introduce the honorable Mr. Mattis, the 26th secretary of defense.  I absolutely got to show him what we do.  I'm glad to see the pride on everybody's face.

And general -- Secretary Mattis is here to say a few words to us.

Sir?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Thanks, commander.

And, young man, I'm only going to say a few words, because here in just a minute I'm going to ask you to ask me questions and find out what's on your minds, because that's the only way I really know what you’re thinking about and what's important.  I've gotten so senior.  I've grown remote from those of you who matter.

And we stand here in this beautiful corner of the country, and we're from all over the country, but you just think about you're -- (inaudible) -- think of the freedom that you grew up with that you want your kids, your little brother, your little sister to have.

And I'd like to stand here and tell you that we've finally found a way after a couple of thousand years on this planet of living in peace.  And we may have, one of these days.

But one thing's for certain, the number one priority of the Department of Defense is that we maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent so we make certain those weapons are never used.  If they are, that fight is over with very, very quickly, as we try to restore some kind of health to this planet.

And the seriousness of what you all do, and the attention to detail, and watching out for your shipmate on the left and right, and taking care of each other, and living up to a standard that I'll you right now 90 percent of your country could not live up to (inaudible) screening test.  They could not pass the qualifications once they were in.  They couldn't live by a code of honor.  That means you do the right thing -- (inaudible) -- someone's watching -- (inaudible).

And the only reason that this experiment that you and I call America is still alive this long in a world that does not appreciate freedom, that too often does not, the kind of freedom you and I sometimes, oftentimes, take for granted, is that every generation of Americans willing to fight for it.  And you're part of a very proud, silent service.  And I know -- (inaudible).  Sometimes on the most important missions I sign the orders for it.  It goes on.  Secretaries of defense come and go, but the silent service keeps performing quietly.  You know how to keep secrets, unlike a lot of people -- (inaudible) -- and you guard this country.  You guard this country very well.

And I've come out here, really, to pay my respects to you and to learn what's on your minds.  Everyone of you, if you qualified for this program, could get out of the Navy today, could make a lot more money, and you don't spend any months at sea, where you don't know what's going on with your wife or your sister's wedding, or something like that.  So, I've got to come here and just tell you thank you.  I know that I haven't met you personally, but I do know you.  I sense I know you, because if you were not willing to sacrifice for the country, if you weren't willing to keep a little spirit of adventure and take that boat out every couple of months, then this country would not exist without your kind of service.  It's just that simple in this imperfect world.

So thanks for sticking with the Navy.  For those on your first -- (inaudible) -- you can get out the Navy after -- (inaudible).  You'll still miss it.  You'll miss it like the dickens, and you'll be changed for the better for the rest of your life.  So you'll never regret, but you will have some of the best days of your life and some of the worst days of your life in the U.S. Navy, you know what I mean?  That says -- that means you're living.  That means you're living.  That means you're not some pussy sitting on the sidelines, you know what I mean, kind of sitting there saying, “Well, I should have done something with my life.”  Because of what you're doing now, you're not going to be laying on a shrink's couch when you're 45 years old, say “What the hell did I do with my life?”  Why? Because you served others; you served something bigger than you.  

And I'm not here to give you a re-enlistment lecture.  I wish -- I was I was young enough to go back out to sea, although I will admit it takes a special kind of person to be in submarines.  I was in the Marines, and there's a world of difference between a submariner and a Marine, you know what I mean? (Laughter.)

I spent seven days underwater once on a submarine so small it'd fit in half of this thing, and I was never so happy as when I got back to the surface, you know what I mean?  (Laughter.)

So, I do admire you.  I have a little sense of what happens and all that stuff when you go down, but I got nothing like your experience, and I just stand here in respect of every one of you.  Some of you aren't even old enough to drink a beer, and yet you're the only reason I came back to work in the Department of Defense, was to serve, in some way, you guys, because you know, frankly, that's best paycheck in the world.  

Now I'm not going to leave until you ask me some questions.  And it's going to get real weird if I'm sitting here looking at you and you're looking at me and no one's asking questions.  

So -- ah, there we go, right back in the back.  You got someone to take the lid off here.  Go ahead.

Q:  Yes, sir. Good afternoon, sir.  Lieutenant (Bynum), the navigator operations officer.  

My question is: Is the current U.S. strategic deterrent capability sufficient to stop the North Korean government from using their nuclear weapons against United States, South Korea or Japan?

SEC. MATTIS:  OK, so you're getting into something that's non-quantifiable.  

(BREAK)

SEC. MATTIS:  What else is on your minds?  You're not getting off that easy, folks.  I've got to hear what's on your minds.  It'll -- (inaudible).

Q:  (off mic) from the -- (inaudible) USS Kentucky.

Do we expect to maintain all three legs of the nuclear triad, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, that's a great question.  Now, are we going to maintain all three legs of the triad?  You know you're the most survivable.  So long as you can run this boat quietly, you'll stay survivable.  

Then of course we've got the bombers, and we need the bombers because they address a different target set, and they give us a different mode of command and control.

And then we've got the ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles).  

Now coming into the job I've been three years out of the Marines.  I was the infantry for a long time, and I had time -- when I was living down at a university, down at Stanford University south of here, and I studied this, and I had a lot of questions.

I believe as I got done with each of the three legs, yours is sacrosanct.  You and your mission, that you know, and it's because of how good you are. If we didn't have control over the Naval reactors, you didn't -- weren't able to run those right, if we had a lack of managerial integrity -- you and I call it small-unit discipline, if we didn't have that, it wouldn't be the same thing.

But I can look you in the eye and tell you, that nothing is more certain than if you have a sailor son of yours going to the Navy one day, he could very well be doing the same thing falls if he falls in his father's footsteps.  You'll be here.  

Bombers will still be here.  We've got to give them some standoff capability.  We got that.  They'll be there.  

The ICBMs, because an enemy would have to shoot so much to take them out, you know because their dug in underground, it's going to soak up a lot. 

I think we're going to keep all three legs of the deterrent.

However, we've got a review going on right now.  I've got the smartest people I can find.  And it's Republican and Democrat.  It's men and women.  It's old people.  It's young physicists.  It's people who studied history.  There are people who know what they're doing.  And then I brought in a whole bunch of old Navy admirals who've gone through your program, and people like that, Air Force generals, and they're going to review what those smart people are doing.  And when we get done we'll have a good posture set for us.

And it really goes back why we need you, answering the first -- the lieutenant's question.  And I think we need the other two legs.  But I've got to wait until the posture review is done.  

But you're safe in terms of your job -- you'll have a job even if you stick around in the Navy, 29, 30 years, OK?  And for those of us who went for 40, we were just slow learners, all right. (Laughter.)

Who else has a question?  This is the silent -- strong, silent side over here.

Oh, here we go, right here.

Q:  Yes, will the SSBNs (Sub-Surface Ballistic Nuclear) continue to carry the majority of the nation's nuclear arsenal?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, will the SSBNs continue to carry most of the weapons.  In a short answer, yes, they will.

I do want to look at some novel ways to ensure that the nuclear arsenal stays very safe and effective, but that will not change at all -- (inaudible).  That will not change anything, as far as the overall split.  It will be a variation on the same theme.

Any other questions about anything?  You can ask me about anything -- (inaudible).

Go ahead.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, sir.  Lieutenant English (off mic) assistant.

Sir, with the ever-increasing complexity of global economics and instantaneous information, do you feel that our place is still with the level of involvement we've had post-World War II, or should we get back to our isolationist roots?  And if we maintain our level of involvement, do you feel we should increase the manning and capabilities of our fleets, in terms of all more ships in the waters, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  OK, about three points there.

If we were standing here in 1945, let's say, December.  It's Christmastime.  You guys are coming back in from all over, places called Japan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Philippines.  You've taken the Army and the Marines all over.  You've landed on the islands yourselves.  You're Seabees and corpsmen. You've set up logistics dumps, and you look around.  Now you've grown up in a depression, when you're dad didn't have a job and he couldn't find (work no matter what.  You've just gone through a war that cost us hundreds of thousands killed and wounded, and over -- (inaudible).  We're not sure how many millions – 40 million -- people dead.

And they looked around, and they said, what a crummy world.  And they've just come through a war, and some of you know what that's like.  

And they said, like it or not, we're a part of that world, and they did something.  They made the United Nations.  Never had a place where everybody came together and talked before.  It's still not perfect.  A lot better than nothing.  They made NATO.  

The Australian ambassador to the United States once told me -- (inaudible) -- was the single most self-sacrificial act in world history when -- (inaudible) -- Americans said, instead of turning their backs on Europe, two World Wars in 30 years.  They could have said, “We're through with you; we're going to work with Latin America and (inaudible), with the Middle East.  We're just not going to put up with anymore of your crap.”  Instead, we put in NATO, sent U.S. troops over, and we said a hundred million Americans may die in a nuclear war, but we're going to stand with you NATO, all of Europe -- Western Europe.  You're not going to fall to the Soviets.

We put together something called the International Monetary Fund, so people for economic reasons wouldn't be driven to elect a guy like Hitler -- you what I mean? -- as the answer.  

And by the time they got done, they created a new world order, and every nation on Earth -- (inaudible) – has actually benefitted.

So, do we return to our isolationist roots?  We could only do that if we forget the example, forget the example, Lieutenant English, of the Greatest Generation.  And we ought not forget that example.  They're not called the Greatest Generation for no reason, OK?

The second thing is, then, what do we do about, you know, the size of the fleet and that sort of thing.  We're going to have to grow the fleet. That's all there is to it.  But also what we're going to do in strengthening the military by making certain the new Columbia-class (submarine) is at the top of her game.

And the other things were going to do here make the military more lethal.  We're also going to have a second line of effort that's going to be that we're going to build stronger alliances.  We're going to do more with our allies.

Now you probably will not be involved in that very much.  You are a unilateral, quiet -- know everyone knows you're there.  And frankly, if you're one of our friends, they love you.  They don't know you, but believe me, I can walk into rooms and then they will ask me, does your extended -- (Laughter.)  Yeah, well, it happens, right? (Laughter.)

But the bottom line -- (inaudible) -- be separate, but we will try to get more other navies to carry more of the load, but we'll also have more folks in their armies and air forces.  Right now, for example, to take down Mosul, we have had two Americans, I think it is, die, around 20 wounded, to take Mosul.  We had over 6,000 Iraq (inaudible) and over 1,200 killed.  (Inaudible) what we’re doing -- we're working with them.  We're bringing Navy airplanes in over -- (inaudible).  We've got Marine artilleryman firing for them.  We've got special forces calling in air support, but we're going to do it by, with and through allies.

And the number one thing is you, believe it or not.  It's not the speeches of a secretary of defense; it's volunteers who join the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Coast Guard.  They volunteer.  They look past all the hot political rhetoric, and they rally to the flag, OK?  You send a message -- you send the message, and all I do is convey it.  It's your example that sends the message.  

If we want to turn over a world to our next generation -- and every generation of Americans have to do that -- we can't learn the lesson the Greatest Generation learned the hard way.  

That answer your question?

Q:  OK.

SEC. MATTIS:  (Inaudible) OK.

How about over here?

All right, listen, you guys have had enough time standing underneath these seagulls.  I've been a little worried here for a minute, you know? (Laughter.) 

Thank you.  Again, I came here to pay my respects to all you fine young men.  And as you sail out next time, my thoughts and prayers will be with you.  Bring her home safely, but stay ready while you're out there, you understand?  Because if we've got to turn something off in a hurry we're counting on you to turn it off in a hurry, OK?  

All right, so long shipmates.  Thank you.