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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event, Stuttgart, Germany

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; General David Rodriguez, commander, U.S. Africa Command
June 4, 2015

GENERAL DAVID RODRIGUEZ: Well thank you very much for coming out today.

We have a special treat for you today. The 25th secretary of defense, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is on a 10-day trip from Hawaii to Singapore to Vietnam and to India. And his tail part of the trip, he's stopping in here and he has a lot to say to you.

He also will of course thank you for all you've done. And let me -- before he says that, let me say thank you for all you've done.

Sir, what you have here is about 200 people from the AFRICOM leadership and crew here that works. Half -- part of them are civilians, because we have about half a civilian crew here, and then family members from both military and civilian side.

So without further ado, the 25th secretary of defense, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: First of all, let me thank -- Rod is a -- a colleague of long standing: a great friend. Jenny, Jenny also here. It's wonderful to be with you all, and including spouses, and I say that especially because my -- honey, stand up. This is Stephanie, who's my wife, my better half, by far and away. (Applause.)

Everybody who has a better half understands what I mean. But anyways, Jenny and Steph, thanks for being here, and thank you all for being here. I -- we'll do some Q&A here and hear what's on your mind in a minute, but let me just say a couple things that are on my mind as I travel 19,000 miles to get here, number one is you.

When I became a secretary of defense, I remember specifically when the president nominated me back this last December, I said I had three things, major commitments as secretary of defense, and the first one was to our people. Because you are what make us -- what makes us the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. I mean, it also is true that we have really good equipment. It's true that we have a great country that we represent that stands for great things, so a lot of people like us and want to work with us. And we have friends and allies around the world, and that's a force multiplier. More on that thought in a minute, because AFRICOM, that's a big thought for AFRICOM.

But it is you. And it's not just the servicemembers, it is the family members. And we have a million spouses of our servicemembers. We have three million family members. So they're all part of the family as well. And to the civilians, you're a part of the (AUDIO GAP) and I'm very proud to be a part of it, and my first commitment is to you.

We -- you -- you deserve so much, and to me that means first of all making sure that particularly those of you whom we are putting at risk, but also everyone who makes a sacrifice, a professional sacrifice to be part of this wonderful enterprise, we owe the utmost care in where we put you and how we use you.

And so when I advise the president about the use of force and our role in the world today, once again, I make sure that I am keeping my pledge to myself to make sure that you come first, that yourself -- your safety, your welfare, your dignity are always respected as long as you're part of this great institution. We try to compensate you as best we can. Obviously, we have budget limitations and so forth. And we try to balance compensation with everything else that we need to do to make you great, so we -- we want the best people, and that's you, and we need to keep getting them.

As the economy picks up, as labor markets change, as generations change so that we continue to have the very best, and we need to make sure that when we put you in action, you have the best equipment, and we need to have adequate resources to do that. We never ever want to put anybody in a risky situation without training who's not fully ready. And so readiness is an important requirement.

And we want you to look to your left and right and find a colleague, to say it differently, we have to be big enough that we can accomplish the mission.

So in all those ways, we are trying to use the resources that we wish were more generously provided of course by the Congress, but it is what it is, but we try to use them as wisely as we can so that the total investment is the force that the country and really the world so desperately need, and that's you. It's not a game. This is serious business. This is what -- what we provide people, which is security, is what allows them and much of the rest of the world to do everything else that human beings want to do in life who have not given their -- dedicated their lives to security like we have. They want to have dreams, they want to raise children, they want to hand off a world and a country to their children that's better than the one they lived in. None of that is possible without security. It's the bedrock of everything.

It's -- I just say that because it's easy for people who aren't in our business to forget that it all rests on that. If you don't have security, you wouldn't think about anything else all day. I would say security's like oxygen. If you have it, you don't pay any attention to it. If you don't have it, it's all you can think about.

And sometimes, you know, we feel that we're not appreciated enough maybe. And when I get in that mood, I say to myself, "you know Ash, that's a good thing. It means that we must be doing something right, if people feel so safe that they begin to take us for granted." I mean, in a sense, that's the definition of success.

But we can't let that get too far out of control or we're not going to make the investments that we need to keep ourselves safe and much of the rest of the world safe. And there are of course -- course there are parts of the world where they don't have enough oxygen, and that is what they think about all day. And fortunately, our country is not and will never be like that if those of us in this room can help it.

AFRICOM. You, what you do, I just want to foot stomp how important your mission is. I've been talking to Rod and his team about it since I arrived. AFRICOM is a new command, but it's done so much and has proven its worth so thoroughly in the short -- its short lifetime that it's one of those things that now you wonder how we ever did without it.

But it's clear we could never do without it. And you have risen to the cause. Whatever the cause has been affecting the people of Africa, but ultimately, indirectly, our own security. And obviously there's Ebola and other public health things which sprung up and which made you and our country big heroes in the eyes of people. That's important. Saving lives is obviously important, but showing what we stand for and who we are is also important, because we'll need that in a pinch when we need people to understand who we are. And why do we need this continent in a pinch? Well, we're in a counter-terrorism pinch. That's no joke.

And the evil of ISIL and lots of other things, narcotics, corruption, organized crime, all that stuff rife in Africa and ultimately will come home to roost if we don't combat it there. And that's what you all are -- are doing so ably and getting tremendous value out of working with and through others. That's always -- that's the American secret sauce, right? Everybody likes working with us because we're decent and we treat them decently and we stand for things that they want to stand for, and so good people around the world like working with us. Bad people fear us, and that's a pretty good place to be. And it also means that when we're successful, as you have been so much successful in Africa, we only have to do a little bit to stimulate a big response.

And that's the key. That's what our alliances and partnerships in the security sphere have always been about. We're a big power, but we can't do everything in the world. We can't do everything for everybody. We need people to do it for themselves. And that's very true in Africa. And you represent a hugely successful application of that strategic theory.

So you are theory put in practice, for all the people who talk about building partnership capacity and all that, it's not an abstraction out here. It's not a theory. You make it work.

So we appreciate it every day. We -- you're in our thoughts every day because of who you are, the point I started with, but your mission is in our thoughts every day and with great admiration from all of us back in Washington who witness what you all do. So congratulations and thank you.

And with that, let me -- I'll take some questions and then I really want to do is get a chance to look each of you in the eye individually, shake your hand, and thank you myself. And we'll get a little picture and a coin with that.

But let's get some questions now, and just -- and anything is fine. I need -- I love to hear from people, what's on your mind, what can we do better for you? Floor is open.

STAFF: For the questions and answer period, please raise your hand and a microphone will be brought to you.

Q: Sir, Lieutenant Commander Andy Young, sir.

Thank you for being here. Appreciate being able to come out.

Just wrote down a little question here.

So, the president addressed the Coast Guard at the academy, and he mentioned at the Coast Guard Academy, when he mentioned that climate change and environmental issues were a huge national security concern of his, and one of the questions I had was given the rise of aggression in the Pacific, the resurgence of Russia, the threat of terrorism, things like that, where does environmentalism sort of fit on the priority scale, and how do you anticipate the DOD should get after that?

SEC. CARTER: Well, two -- two things that are I think are reflected in the president's speech. First of all, this is something that is going to affect the security landscape within which we work. That's the principal way that we'll be involved. Get -- we play a small role perhaps in prevention and control. I'll get to that in a moment, but I think the larger point is if -- if when it comes to increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters or opening up sea routes that used to be ice-locked or causing migrations of people or droughts that make places ungovernable and therefore ripe for terrorism, it changes the -- our strategic geography in ways that we have to take into account.

So, just take an example, far -- far from Africa, the Navy is going to have to take -- our Navy has to take into account that in decades in the future, if this all comes to pass, we're going to need a kind of naval presence and a (inaudible) presence in the Arctic of a kind we didn't need before. There will be parts of the world whose basic geography changes, because some of them will be submerged. Unfortunately, some of that could be parts of the United States, too. That's not our mission, but.

So, I think that his speech is a -- signifies to us that as in everything we try to do, we try to be far-sighted, think about what the threat -- threat structure is going to be in the future and take into account all the ways that the world could change. This is one of them.

As far as prevention is concerned, which I don't -- we don't have a big role in that. I mean, we are trying to do things like make ourselves more fuel efficient. And partly, that's just to be more efficient and save money. And so we're working on more efficient jet engines. If we -- that's good for us. If it's successful, then it can be used by others also. We're working on modular power sources, which if successful, would be important elsewhere.

So, we do lots of things for our own purposes that might have spinoff potential into energy more generally, but it's not our mission per se to prevent climate change. It is very much our mission to take it into account when it comes to the accomplishment of our security mission.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Lieutenant Commander Nick (inaudible). Based on the kind of recent changes in the current global strategic environment, do you see any need to maybe slow the strategic rebalancing going on and maybe focus more on the near term on getting near-term resources closer to Africa and Europe?

SEC. CARTER: Well, good question. And this is a -- this is the whole question of having strategic perspective on where we make investments, and I think that the -- I mean, the Asia-Pacific is a terribly important theater. It's important to continue to play the role we've played for so long, where half of humanity lies, half of the economic future in a growing part. So, that is an important commitment of our country.

At the same time, so also is Europe. And Africa in a different way. Let me just take Europe first. I mean Europe is first of all a place where people who are long-time friends, we have them in Asia too, but we have many, many long-time friends here in Europe who -- with whom we share a lot in how we think about things and how we see what is the right kind of human future.

We also have, and this is why I'm actually here, we have something that has taken a sad turn recently, which is Russia. And that's not something that 20 years ago we foresaw. We were actually hoping for something different. But it appears that Vladimir Putin is taking his country in a different direction. I don't think that's a good way for Russia. And at some point the Russian people will wake up to that, but they're not showing a whole lot of sign of that right now. So it is what it is.

And it means that the situation here is not as rosy as it might have seemed in years past. And so to your point, we have to reconsider what we're doing here in Europe, absolutely.

In a somewhat different way, ISIL and just in general, the way terrorism is particularly beginning to affect the southern flank of Europe and very much Africa, Rod and I were talking about that earlier, once again, a change in the environment which is much more near-term than any climate type thing, this is right in front of us, that's something to look at in our strategic future. In our strategic present is Russia, terrorism.

And so I think to your question, we are taking another look at what we're doing here. That's why I'm here. I brought -- bringing together all of our military leadership from the region which turns out to be pretty broad, so I've got AFRICOM, but also PACOM, believe it or not, SOCOM, and so forth. Because what happens here has tentacles everywhere else.

And bringing both our political and our military, and by political, I mean policy, the small p, policy people. Ambassadors and our commanders, because I always try to get our whole teams together from the entire region and exactly what we're going to be talking about is hey what's our future here?

Russia, NATO, what our partners are doing. The southern flank and connections to the rest of the world. So, an excellent question. And it is time, it's necessary at this time, let me put it that way, to take a relook. And that's exactly why I'm here.

Got a question?

Q: Afternoon sir, Major Paul (inaudible).

I've read advocates for a new round of base realignment and closure. I'm recently stationed in Korea. I know we have major consolidation going on there. Some in Europe as well. Thoughts on the future of that at CONUS specifically? Would we see something like that, reconsolidation?

SEC. CARTER: Yeah, I'd be very -- can be very short there. We need BRAC. It's unpopular, I get that. But I couldn't not be for BRAC and be the leader of this institution. We can't let tail and not tooth eat our budget. And so where we have unneeded infrastructure, and BRAC obviously pertains to unneeded infrastructure in the United States, we've got to get after that.

Now of course, nobody likes to do that. But I -- that's -- it must be done. So, I am in an ongoing argument essentially with the Congress over this necessity, and we have proposed, the department has proposed and the president has strongly supported BRAC authority. And you know, we just keep coming. We have not gotten it now two, maybe even more successive years. But we're going to keep trying.

And I think at some point we'll get there. But the -- it -- tooth to tail is an issue for us. It's one of many ways that we can't afford to be inefficient and do all the things that we have to do all around the world.

One more. (inaudible).

Q: Sir, good afternoon, sir.

Sergeant Major (inaudible). I work down in operations.

I have a question for you because many people describe our time here in AFRICOM as a deployment, only we get to go home at night. So I look at that as two things: OPTEMPO and manpower. Well, OPTEMPO we're not going to change. If anything, that's going to get more than what we have right now. Manpower, if you look at all the other combatant commands, we're a lot smaller than all the rest of them.

Has there been any thought to actually increasing the size of AFRICOM as a footprint or manpower capabilities?

SEC. CARTER: Yes, of course.

We're always -- we're constantly looking at the resource questions. And it depends a little bit -- my thoughts on it depend a little bit on what you mean by AFRICOM. I -- if a headquarters element -- if -- we're trying to go in the other direction.

Operational capability. So, per your question, headquarters element, we have to look about tooth to tail. Per your question, we have to do more over here. And I'm sorry, by here I mean Africa. And we're getting a lot for an economy of force approach. But there are limits to an economy of force approach.

So, I think in terms of the marginal return on the marginal investment, AFRICOM is probably the best value in the department, and that's why working with Rod on exactly the question you are -- and the answer to the question you're -- you're suggesting, there's more we can do and we can do it in a very efficient and economical way, both because of how effective we are, and the point I made earlier about working through others, which has been so effective in Africa.

And let me just close on that point. What you all have done is stunning. I mean, Africa is a very complicated place. You know, and you know it very well, it's a diverse place. But we have -- it would be a lot worse off without the efforts of this place, and it's been done very economically in terms of not only treasure, but blood. And so if you compare it to say the Middle East, where we have expended so much, and is still you know, really, really complicated. We have had some successes in Africa that are stunning. Now, we've had setbacks there also. We've all had some real successes.

At any rate, that all is thanks to you, and we do thank you. Thanks very much.

Now, I'd just like an opportunity to look each one of you in the eye and say exactly that.

Thank you. (Applause.)