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Remarks by Secretary Carter at the Global Response Force Troop Event at Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
July 10, 2015
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Good morning, everyone.

And thanks, Steve.

I should tell you now, from the number of hands that went up, I know how long you have been at it, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as Steve indicated, in support of you, I have, too, for quite a while. And I've admired and worked with General Townsend over many years now, and I'm delighted to see him here, appreciate him and his wife taking good care of us and welcoming us here.

And to you all, two things. The first is thank you for what you are and what you do. I know people can't say that enough, but I want you to know that you are what I wake up to every morning. You're what I'm thinking about all day. It's your welfare, your effectiveness, your safety and making sure that when we ask you to do things, we've thought it through with the utmost care.

So, for me and my wife Stephanie here our hearts are with you every single day, with your families. And I hope you take that home tonight and tell them that -- how much we appreciate what you do.

The second thing I wanted to say is a little comment from my perspective, and really your nation's perspective, on what you are doing right here. Because you are - right here at Bragg - the tip of the spear of the new strategic era that we're entering. We have, as you know very well, been understandably, totally, and very successfully focused on Iraq and Afghanistan for these 15 years.

And those have been really difficult things, and whatever your views of how we got into them or how we -- or how they went, from the point of view of the proficiency and skill and dedication of you, there's no question. It was a spectacular and remains a spectacular performance. This is the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

Now, we're taking you and moving into a different direction in the future, where we try to capture what we learned -- and we learned a lot in the course of those two wars. And to turn that skill and that experience to the kinds of conflicts that are going to determine our future. They are full spectrum.

They are all the way from the possibility, which no one welcomes, of high-end conflict with high-end opponents. They're not as high-end as we are, but they get better and better in every year. And so we need to continue to get better and better every year, right down to the sort of ISIL-type threat that poses a different set of problems, but also calls upon the agility, the rapid impact of airborne forces and special forces and the other units that are represented here at Bragg.

So you are what we're counting on to help us turn the strategic corner to the future and orient our armed forces, resting on the spectacular foundation of what you did over the last 15 years to make our strategic future, whether it's in Europe with NATO, with our concerns about Russian -- the possibility of further Russian aggression there; whether it's in Iraq, Syria, North Africa, Afghanistan, where we continue to fight terrorism; whether it's in the Asia-Pacific, which is quiet, but we want to keep that quiet because that's where half of humanity lives and half the economy of the world lives.

And I could go on and on and on because America still is what most of the world depends on for its security. It's us. It's us. We end up protecting not only our own country, but because of who we are and how comfortable we are -- other people are working with us, we're the country that has all the friends and all the allies.

And you know, sometimes that feels like a burden. And we say, "Why are we doing all this for everybody else?" And I'm sure every once in a while you ask that. Maybe a family member asks you that.

Well, the foundation is protecting America and making sure that we're safe and that we give a better future to our children in our country. But at the same time, we have the mission of safeguarding much of the rest of the world in part because if we don't, that will come back to the homeland, but also in part because we have values that we stand for and that very few other countries can combine the kind of principles and values that America, that we all stand for with the kind of awesome combat power that you represent.

So you right here at Bragg, you're the pointy end of the future for our Army and for our armed forces.

And so I am immensely proud of the way people, starting with Steve, and then all of you who raised your hand, are able to pivot now from the kind of operations we asked you to conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring all that skill, all that dedication, all that training, all that technology, to a new kind of fight in the future.

So you -- I want you to know that you have, and this kind of force, has a very bright future in our armed forces. So we're counting on you a great deal. We're immensely proud of you, but I'm completely confident in your ability to carry us into the future.

So, first of all, tell your folks, your family, your spouse, your kids, whatever, how grateful we are for what you've done already. And number two, take it in your own mind that your future here is the future -- it's the heart of the future of the American military.

And the American military is what's going to keep our country safe and secure, and allow our citizens who don't do what you do -- they watch it. They admire it. But they don't really know it because they can't because they haven't done it, but they count on you to create an environment in which they can do all the things that normal people want to do, right? They want to get up. They want to take their kids to school. They want to have a job they like. They want to have a family they love. They want to have a house they like to come home to. They want to have dreams that they can dream.

And -- but you can't do that if you don't have safety and security. That's fundamental. It's foundational. You provide it. And you're the ones who are going to carry that security into the future.

So, thank you very much and congratulations for being a part of the next strategic wave for the United States.

I've got some time here, and I want to get a chance to look each and every one of you in the eye and thank you personally. But first, I -- they've got some mikes distributed around here. And anybody who wants to either ask me something or tell me something -- something that's on your mind that you think I ought to know, or a question, and I'll try to answer it.

Any subject, doesn't matter.

Q: Sir, good morning. Specialist Buchanan, Brutal Company 2-508.

My question is with the inevitable fight with ISIL and the increased Russian aggression, coming at a time of a 40,000 troop drawdown, do you feel that we're prepared to fight another war on two fronts?

SEC. CARTER: I don't know if everybody could hear that, but the basic question was: Are we going to be able to do two things at once? And it was a specific reference I think to the downsizing of Army end-strength from 490,000 to 450,000.

So let me take the second part first -- the downsizing first. The -- the Army end-strength reductions are the ones that -- are the ones that we embarked on about five years ago that were planned in association with the winding down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it's a reshaping of the force.

We're trying to do it in a measured and steady way, but that's where we're going. And we're doing it for strategic reasons because we want to reallocate resources in other ways. And I'll come back to that in a minute.

But to get to the answer to your question, yeah, we can do more than one thing. We have to be able to more than one thing at a time. Now, do I wish we had more money and could absolutely do, and that's a whole other story about the future and the need to get our country to come together behind a budget future for the federal government that's not the gridlock that you've seen over the last few years.

But that's one thing. Another thing is the strategic change. And so General Odierno, Secretary McHugh, the whole leadership has been trying to change the shape, as well as the size of the force. You represent a key part of changing that shape. And we have a given number of resources and we're balancing between paying you well -- a whole other subject, but we also want to do, and you deserve; having enough of you for all the needs that we have.

Also making sure you have the best new equipment. And last, that there's enough money that you're trained to the high level of excellence and readiness, that on-tiptoes posture of this particular place in particular requires. You can't do what you do if you don't train on it all the time. That takes money, too.

So those things are all part of having a capable force. And we're trying to shape them, balance those four things and also move the force from a large rotational COIN force to the kinds of things we'll need in -- for the very real possibility that there may be more than one thing that happens at the same time. We're going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time. When we do, we need a force that's not only big enough, but well enough trained, well enough equipped, and well enough compensated that we get good people and keep them to meet those two emergencies.

Q: Good morning, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Right -- oh, there you are. Hi.

Q: Private First Class Les (inaudible) with the 28th Combat Support Hospital, 44th Medical Brigade.

My question for you, sir, is: Since Iran has a history of not complying with prior signed treaties, what are your thoughts on them complying, if we were to sign a new nuclear treaty?

SEC. CARTER: Good question. I don't know if everybody could hear that. It was basically: Could you trust the Iranians if you get a deal with them, because their history isn't, let us say, spotless in that regard.

Good question. And it's a good question. And so -- so what it really takes you to is: What does that mean if they're -- I don't know as I stand here right now whether there's going to be a deal done or not. The president said he doesn't -- he only wants a good deal. And so they're talking and we'll see.

But a good deal has a few things I must have within it. One of them, it has to be verifiable. That is, it has -- we have to be able to know that the Iranians are taking the steps that the agreement calls for to not get a nuclear weapon. That's -- we can't do that based on trust.

Just like back in the old days of the Cold War when we had arms control with the Soviet Union, we didn't trust the Soviet Union either. And we wanted to make sure that all the agreements are verifiable. So that's a critical thing. And if it's not verifiable, he's not going to -- we're not going to agree to it. And that's one of several things that are critical to it.

Whether the Iranians will agree to everything we're requiring that regard, I don't know. If they don't, there won't be a deal because it can't be based on trust.

Q: Good morning, sir. Captain Erin Nash, 44th Medical Brigade.

Sir, last week, the secretary of the Navy announced that effective immediately, women in the Navy and the Marine Corps will now have 18 weeks of maternity leave. Sir, I think this is a great strategy to retain some of our best leaders, as many of our women leave the military to raise their family. Do you think that other services will follow this policy change?

SEC. CARTER: Yeah, it's a good question. And I want to leave others to think it through themselves. But I -- I think they will. But -- and I'll go and even say more, which is that this is just one of a number of adjustments that we need to make to make it practical for today's families to continue to serve.

We want really good people. We need really good people. But really good people also want a life. Sometimes they're two-career families, many times today, unlike two generations ago. There'd be two service members or a service member and a non-service member, each with their own jobs, their own careers, their own thing. Then you add kids to that. Then you add deployments to that.

Well, we've got to be flexible in that regard because that's a more complicated world than, let's say, when I started in this business, when we were hardly ever deployed. It was more of a garrison life. Most couples were, you know, one serving, one at home. And it was a different world. Families aren't like that today.

And I'll just -- so that is one thing. Day care is another thing. Flexibility in hours is another. There are all kinds of things we can do that don't compromise the effectiveness of the force at all, but that just make common sense adjustments that make it more practical for people to do it. They're committed to do it, and we love them doing, while living a life that -- I mean, military life will never be like life elsewhere. You make a sacrifice because you love the country and you love being part of something bigger than yourself. But we don't -- we shouldn’t make that sacrifice bigger than it has to be.

So it's a more general answer to your question. I think others will follow in the specific matter you raised, but the more general point I'm make is we've got to keep thinking, sensing and adjusting and not just living with old regulations that hearken back to a different era.

Q: Good morning, Sir. My name is PFC (Figueroa) from the 35th Signal Brigade. How are you doing?

SEC. CARTER: Good. Thank you.

Q: My question is: Despite being -- despite taking the lead in a supportive role such as bombing ISIS base of operations and providing training to a selective amount of Middle -- I'm sorry -- excuse me -- Middle Eastern troops, why aren't we dedicating a force to taking on a very clear threat?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Question was, you know, basically why don't we just go in and take out ISIL and -- and that's a -- very good question, a fundamental question. By the way, I have no doubt that this force could take out ISIL.

The tricky part comes with getting defeat to stick, getting a defeat of ISIL that lasts. That we can't do. That there have to be local people who hold territory and ultimately govern territory. That's the tricky part. We learned that in Iraq. We learned that in Afghanistan, where I think we've done a pretty good job of training Afghan -- many of you have been there. I've been there many times. Steve and I have been there.

Training Afghan forces so that they can keep it together after we leave. That's the trick in Iraq and Syria today. And that's our approach because we don't believe -- I mean, I think it's obvious after the experiences we've had over the last decade, we can have a defeat of ISIL by America, but we can't have a lasting defeat of ISIL except through local forces, which we train, we enable, and we're going to do that.

It's going to take some time, but that's the only way to make their defeat stick. So that's the strategic objective is a lasting defeat of ISIL. And the path to the strategic objective is to create capable, dedicated, committed, motivated local forces.

And the last thing I'll say is, and you know, unfortunately that's not an easy task in either of those countries because -- many of you know about Iraq, but Iraq is -- has many sects. It's a multi-sectarian place. And one -- I mean, the fundamental reason why ISIL got ground in Iraq was because Prime Minister Maliki, and I'm going to be really just blunt with you all, governed in a sectarian way.

So people in western Iraq, particularly Sunnis, they weren't going to fight for that government anymore. In fact, they were in many cases willing to cooperate with or collaborate with or give territory to ISIL. So it has to start back in Baghdad with a government that can behave in a multi-sectarian way.

We have that now in Prime Minister Abadi. He wants to do the right thing. I have no doubt about that. But there are other forces in Baghdad that are contesting him. So we'll have to see how it goes. But I think -- and likewise in Syria, it's even more complicated because it has the government of Assad, who has to go, and a number of different forces fighting against them.

So we try -- we are identifying capable ground forces that we want to back because they're not radical, and that with some help from us, can take and hold territory.

So that's basically the strategic approach. It takes longer. It's more complicated. It's kind of a bank shot, if you like, but that's -- we're doing it deliberately. If it were only a matter of whacking ISIL, that would be easier. But then you have to say: Well, what happens the day after that? And you come back here, it will just descend again.

Q: I am Staff Sergeant (inaudible). I am a motor section leader for Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th, Airborne Infantry Regiment.

Former Secretary of Defense Panetta said that the Army's integrated (inaudible) and Ranger Corps are part of an ongoing and military-wide assessment of the remaining barriers to full gender integration throughout the military. My question to you is: What barriers have been identified at this point? And what actions are being taken to overcome those barriers?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Question was basically, with the women in service and gender barriers within the -- the services. So -- so here's the situation as I understand it, the way I think about it. You quoted Secretary Panetta, who I think what he said makes a lot of sense.

But we are looking now at the standards that are required, and nobody wants to change standards, but we're looking at the standards that are required in some specialties -- infantry, artillery, armor -- as it affects the Army, which -- for which participation by women is still restricted.

And we're looking at, and this is something you actually have to think about a little bit, and so we're thinking about it and working on it. And by year-end or so, I think we'll close this chapter in looking at which -- which, if any, MOSs should be restricted to (sic) women.

So we need to wrap that up. And of course, over time, we've come down very substantially in the number of MOSs for which women were not -- were not allowed, but as it turns out were quite qualified once we gave them the opportunity.

So, I'm really committed to seeing this through. And I'll tell you why. Because there are two big opportunities in here. First is the opportunity where we can be successful without diminishing standards, to give women access to these MOSs, it's a huge new pool of talented people from which we can pick.

Now, I'm the one who -- who is responsible for trying to identify, recruit and retain super people like you. Where I can have another half of our population be in that recruiting and retention pool, that's a pretty good deal for the department. It's just a whole new pool of people, namely females, that we can use. So it's like doubling the population of the country in that sense.

The other thing -- the benefit, I think, we'll get from doing this is -- it gets back to the earlier question -- is thinking through what family life, what gender life and everything, you know, means in practical terms, to having a really good fighting force in today's world. And just make sure that we're thinking -- that we're keeping up.

One of the things I'm really proud about about the Department of Defense, you know, we're the most awesome fighting force in the world. We're also the most -- the best learning organization in America. When we take on something, we take it on open-eyed, big-time. And think about what you all did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who the hell thought we'd be doing things like that?

I've got to tell you, I didn't. I didn't -- to be quite honest, I don't -- maybe you all are in the same boat -- I didn't know a lot about those places. And then suddenly we're there and you've got people like you doing things way beyond what their forces were originally conceived to do. Why could you do that?

Because you're creative. Because you constantly learn, sense and adjust. And you know, we as an institution are fantastic at doing that. And I think when it comes to family issues and gender issues and so forth, we're creative, too. And we -- we, you know, think things through, act objectively, march forward, reach objectives in that way.

I -- I think we do that better than any other part of American society. And actually if you watch them, frequently -- frequently they're following us. They're following in our lead and they're saying, "Well, if it's good enough for the American military, probably good enough for me, too."

So, both for the women in service effort and all the other things we do, I'm really proud of the way that we're constantly thinking through how to make the best use of people and how to have the best people come in and go. Because -- and that's a good note to end on. I know I need to stop.

People is (sic) the critical ingredient to the finest fighting force the world has ever known. I always tell people, you know, we have wonderful technology. We're a very high-tech country, a very inventive country. But what makes our military the best in the world is you. We have the best people.

And I -- I want to make sure that as the decades go on and my successor and my successor's successor can say the same thing I can, which is we have the finest fighting force in the world, and it's because of the people we have.

And that's something we've got to keep working on, because people change, careers change, society changes. But we can't change in the sense that we have to have the very best.

You represent that very best. And so I -- I think we're using the best of our brains to think about your future and the future of your successors and just -- we also use all of our hearts to think about you every day, to appreciate what you do, to care so much about each and every one of you and your welfare.

Thanks for what you do. I'd like to say I hope we don't have to call on you to do what you do, but I think that's most unlikely we will. We do. We have all the time. And you are carrying us into our strategic future, after having done everything you've done for the last 15 years.

I'm very grateful and the whole world admires you.

(Applause.)