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Remarks by Secretary Carter at the Association of the U.S. Army Sustaining Member Luncheon, Washington, D.C.

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Oct. 14, 2015
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Good afternoon.  Please keep -- go ahead and keep eating. I can talk over the clinking, and I've already had mine. 

Thanks, Gordon.  Appreciate that, long-time friend, for that introduction and your continued commitment to the strength of our army. 

And I want to congratulate my long-time friend and fellow former technologist Wes Bush on receiving the John W. Dixon Award.  Much deserved, for all the contributions you've made and all your folks who work for you have made and continue to make to our nation's defense. 

We can't do it without you.  We know that.  We appreciate it.  They're part of the force. 

And I also want to thank my great friend John McHugh -- true friend, valued colleague.  I don't think John's here today, but I want to say a few things about him, and much more will be said in coming weeks. 

I worked for him for most of these years that he has been the leader of the Army.  Six years, in fact, John.  I've worked with him for most of these years, and I deeply admire him, not just for his skill and his vision, but also for his honesty and his civility, which you can't take for granted in today's world, and you can, always, with John McHugh. 

Shortly, he will depart as the second-longest-serving secretary of the Army, having led the Army through a difficult and consequential time toward even greater excellence. 

It's my privilege, also, to work closely with some terrific soldiers, and I want to take a moment to recognize some of them who are right around me every day, starting with my senior military assistant, Lieutenant General Ron Lewis. 

Time after time, whenever I've needed Ron's counsel and vision, I've been able to count on him.  Thanks, my friend. 

I also want to recognize two other consummate professionals in my team: Staff Sergeant April Jones, who works in my Pentagon front office.  Also terrific professional.  And Lieutenant Colonel Promotable Scott O'Neal, who manages our operations and logistical plans on the road. 

Gordon referred to them, and they are indeed complicated, and it's Scott who keeps them on track. 

And, finally and very importantly, I want to recognize our new Army chief of staff, General Mark Milley.  Mark's strength as a leader, his vision as a strategist, and his bottomless care for the troops made him my clear choice, and the president's clear choice. 

I've watched Mark, including as a combat leader in Afghanistan.  Now he's hit the ground running in this new position, traveling around the globe in his first month, visiting our great soldiers and getting a perspective on how the Army's far-flung operations are proceeding. 

I greatly value his insights, his recommendations and his strategic wisdom.  As chief of staff, he's made it his top priority to build and maintain readiness across the total force so that, when the nation calls, our soldiers will be well-trained, well-armed, well-led. 

He's also stressed the importance of investing in the technologies, organization and doctrine to allow us to maintain overmatch against potential adversaries, while retaining also the ability to adapt to yet unforeseen challenges. 

I fully support the ideas he's brought to the table, and I share his ironclad commitment to the readiness of the force.  Mark, welcome aboard, and thanks. 

Today is -- it turns out, is the 125th birthday of another great soldier who knew something about readiness -- namely, Dwight Eisenhower.  And he once said, "guns and tanks and planes are nothing unless there's a solid spirit, a solid heart and great productiveness behind it."  Wise words. 

And that's as true today as it was then.  The readiness of our force depends on many factors, but above all, it depends on the men and women who wear the uniform.  Highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated, proud, committed, Army strong. 

When I became secretary of defense, I made three commitments: the first is to the troops and their families.  To safeguard them, to ensure that they're treated with dignity and respect, and above all -- above all, to ensure that when they're sent into harm's way, it is done with the utmost reflection and care and backing. 

The second commitment is to President Obama, to offer him my best strategic advice as he faces a complex world.  To ensure at the same time that he receives candid, professional military advice, and finally, that his decisions are carried out with the excellence expected of the Department of Defense. 

And my third commitment is to the future, where innovation and technology remain pillars of American strength, and where we continue to recruit and retain the best America has to offer to build the force of the future. 

Today I'd like to speak to you about these three commitments, and how the Army is central to each of them.  Let me start with my first commitment, which is to our people, because it's our people -- it's our people that make America's the finest fighting force the world has ever known. 

Through 14 years of counterinsurgency, countless missions, our soldiers performed with excellence.  No other force -- no other force in history -- no other force in the world -- could have executed or adapted as well as our total Army did, including guard and reserves, in those years. 

They learned hard-fought lessons, and they adjusted, and today, this Army is embarked on a great transition to full-spectrum conflict.  Though it's the soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who are training Ukrainian security forces as we speak to defend against aggression in Europe, though it's the 8th Army that stands on the Korean peninsula, where "fight tonight" isn't a slogan -- the mindset that they have to carry with them. 

It was the soldiers of the Big Red One who arrived to advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces confronting the barbarous ISIL.  It was soldiers of the 25th Infantry who reinvented forward deployment as part of Pacific Pathways, enhancing cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, which is the region most consequential to the world's future and America's future, and which holds seven of the 10 largest armies on earth, as it happens. 

In a complex, unsafe world with increasing global demands on American leadership, it's our people, our soldiers and their unmatched ability to seize and dominate physical and human terrain -- that's what soldiers do; shape the strategic environment and prevent conflict.  That's what it's all about.  And it's our people, our soldiers who ensure that our Army is feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies.

But to continue to meet those demands, we must continue to invest in the skills and capabilities of our soldiers because readiness cannot be bought back.  It's our sacred, solemn obligation to our nation, to our soldiers and their families, to never send a single one of America's brave sons or daughters into combat ill-prepared to succeed, to fight, and to win.  We owe them that.

Our responsibility and my commitment extends further to all generations -- to our veterans, to our wounded warriors, the fallen and their families, as well as to those on the front lines today.  Through our partnership with AUSA, General Sullivan, we've made tremendous progress in recent years.  And I'm grateful for the contributions of what is a truly wonderful organization.

Now, the greatest families stand behind the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  We have a million spouses of our service members.  We have three million family members.  And we never forget that they serve, too.  That's why we're committed to the School Liaison Program, the Lending Closet, two programs which help military families ease the transition of moves, just as one example.  And that's why we're committed to doing everything we can for our military families before, during and after deployment.

We've also made sure that soldiers treated for mental health conditions can continue their care as they transition to the VA.  And we're upgrading our transition assistance programs so benefits like counseling and financial planning are interlaced throughout service careers rather than tacked on at the end.  Because as the leaders from the private sector with us today already know, veterans make great employees, and the hiring, training and promotion of veteran employees is good business. 

My second commitment is to provide the president with candid strategic advice and to implement his decisions, as I said, with the accustomed excellence of our military.  Every strategic decision we make should be a step towards keeping us safe, protecting our country, giving our children a better life, and strengthening our allies and friends.

I just returned from another week working with allies in Europe, for example.  They're rightly concerned about serious challenges emanating from their periphery.  Some of these challenges are new -- large waves of migrants fleeing conflict in the broader Middle East; terrorism inspired by conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

But another serious challenge is more familiar to them and to many in this room, including -- who've been doing this for a while, including me personally, and that's Russia.  Russia has used political, economic, and military tools to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring countries, flouted international legal norms, and destabilized the European security order by attempting to annex Crimea and continuing to fuel further violence in eastern Ukraine.

In response, as I discussed with our NATO allies last week, and in the months before that, we're taking a strong and balanced strategic approach.  We'll take all the necessary steps to deter Russia's malign and destabilizing influence, coercion and aggression.  This is the new reality for us strategically, but it looks like it's here to stay.

And we will continue to make it clear that if Russia wants to end its international isolation and be considered a responsible power, it has to stop its aggression in eastern Ukraine; end the annexation -- it's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea; and live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreement.

The 20th century NATO playbook was successful in creating a Europe whole, free, and at peace.  But the same playbook would not be matched in the 21st century.  We have to write a new playbook, which includes to counter new challenges like hybrid warfare and cyber; better integrating conventional and nuclear deterrence in Europe; as well as adjusting our posture and presence to adapt and respond to these new challenges and threats.

And the Army -- the Army is at the center of that strategy.  That's why we deployed the 173rd Airborne to train Ukrainian security forces under Atlantic Resolve.  And that's why additional units of the 173rd trained alongside our allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.  It's why we've moved Stryker units and brigade-sized elements from the 2nd Cav. through 1,800 kilometers of eastern Europe, alongside our allies from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.  That's why the 3rd Infantry, whom I had the honor of speaking with at Grafenwoehr, Germany a short time ago, trained alongside 10 NATO allies and three partner nations as part of Combined Resolve.  And that's why we'll continue to need the Army's posture and presence in Europe, reassuring allies and reminding adversaries of our unmatched capabilities, strength, reach and readiness. 

And on top of their behavior in Ukraine, Russia's behavior in Syria is concerning and cross-wise to a sensible course of action.  Instead of engaging in a political transition in Syria which is needed in that long-suffering country, Russia has chosen to double-down on their longstanding relationship with Assad, committing additional military hardware capabilities and personnel.

Now, the Russians originally said they were going to fight ISIL, al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations.  However, within days of deploying their forces, the Russians began striking targets that are not any of these groups. 

This is a fundamental strategic mistake -- one that will inflame and prolong the Syrian civil war, fueling the very radicalism that Russia says it fears, and I think it has reason to fear. 

We have not, for our part, and will not agree to cooperate with Russia as long as they continue to pursue a misguided strategy. 

We are including an agreement on air crew safety and professionalism in view of the fact that we're both operating in airspace above Syria. 

We've seen some unprofessional behavior from Russian forces.  They violated Turkish airspace, which we strongly affirmed in Brussels last week, is NATO airspace. 

They've shot cruise missiles from a ship ion the Caspian Sea without warning.  They've come within just a few miles of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles.  And this agreement, when concluded, will address these safety issues. 

Russia's also initiated a joint ground offensive with the Syrian regime, shattering the facade that they're there to fight ISIL.  This will have consequences for Russia itself, which, as I said, is rightly fearful of an attack on Russia. 

Now, Russia has the opportunity to change course, rejoin the track towards genuinely fighting extremism rather than fueling extremism, and participating in a political transition in Damascus.  I don't know if they will. 

For now, from the Kamchatka peninsula through South Asia, into the Caucasus and around to the Baltics, Russia has continued to wrap itself in a shroud of isolation, and only the Kremlin can decide to change that. 

I made it clear to our NATO allies that, despite a strategically mistaken action by the Russians, we, for our part, will continue to prosecute the counter-ISIL campaign with the same determination and in the same battle space as we have since it started in Syria. 

In Iraq, that means our soldiers will continue to provide training and support for Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi security forces.  We continue to adapt the coalition and our strategy to achieve what we have to do and will do, which is inflict a defeat -- but a lasting defeat -- upon ISIL. 

And that, in turn, depends upon having capable and motivated local forces on the ground.  That takes time and effort to build.  That's essential to a lasting defeat.  That's the right strategy, and we will continue to adapt our tactics in support of that strategy, and do more because we have to defeat ISIL, and we have to defeat it quickly. 

With regard to our strategy in Afghanistan, the United States is taking three actions to build on the remarkable work -- the remarkable work -- that so many American soldiers -- many in this room, many I worked with personally -- performed since 2001. 

The first was the president's decision made in March to maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015.  Second is to formulate options for 2016 and beyond, and make adjustments to the planned U.S. presence based on current circumstances. 

It's not a question of whether, but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan, and last week, it became clear that our NATO allies feel the same way, as they told me.  Many of my counterparts made a point of reaffirming their commitment, too. 

And third, when I submit my 2017 budget, I will include critical financial support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to help it sustain its force levels of 352,000 troops in 2017 and beyond. 

It's important to say these things because the narrative that we're leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating.  We're not.  We can't, and to do so would not be to take advantage of the success had to date. 

Thanks in large part to the Army's work through Resolute Support, Afghan forces have proven themselves to be very capable fighters who are able to provide security in Afghanistan.  They performed admirably through two tense elections, clearing operations in northern Helmand and countering the Taliban's spring offensive. 

That said, Taliban advances in parts of the country underscore the reality that this is, and remains, a difficult fight.  We understand that Afghanistan still needs assistance, and Resolute Support is working closely with the ANDSF and Afghan security ministries to ensure that they're prepared to set the conditions for Afghan-led stability in this vital region. 

No one can do this better than the Army, which has learned a lot about counterterrorism operations, local forces training and related operational skills over the course of two wars, and is best equipped to establish a lasting and effective platform in Afghanistan. 

And that brings me to my third commitment, which is to the future of our country and the great institution that I now have the privilege to lead.  To stay the best, we have to embrace the future. 

That has several dimensions.  We'll always have to be ready to fight and win our nation's wars.  We need, therefore, a 21th-century personnel system to match a 21st-century military. 

We have to be open to a wider world of technology, and we need a sensible long-term budget that does right by our military and our taxpayers. 

To build the force of the future, we have to attract and compete for  and retain the best talent from a new generation.  We have an all-volunteer force, so for us to keep recruiting and retaining the best, the military has to continue to be recognized for what it is: the most rewarding and honorable place a young person can work and serve. 

We're aligning our personnel management system with 21st-century trends.  With the cutting-edge brought about in part by the digital revolution in talent management.  We must also understand the reality that some young Americans aren't satisfied with traditional career tracks. 

Another principal way we continue to keep our edge in the future is to keep innovating and investing in the best technology.  In recent times, we've been using high-end technology against relatively low-tech capabilities. 

But today and in the future, high-end military technologies long possessed by advanced nations are finding their way into the hands of non-state actors and militaries previously much less capable.

Meanwhile, nations like Russia and China are trying to close the technology gap with them, developing platforms to thwart our advantages in power projection and freedom of movement.  They're fielding new aircraft and ballistic, cruise, anti-ship and anti-air missiles that are longer-range and more accurate.

So our imperative is clear.  We must innovate to stay the best-equipped and prepared, so we can ensure the skill of each soldier is wielded in the most effective and safest way possible.  That takes strategic planning and strategic planning takes budget certainty.

As you know, Congress has failed to pass the defense appropriations bill in time to start the fiscal year for seven straight years.  And for the past four, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, for that matter, have been struggling against the impacts of sequestration -- cuts that were never meant to be implemented, but ironically were supposed to catalyze Washington to come together and reach a budget agreement.

The Department of Defense has done its best to manage through this prolonged period of budget uncertainty, making painful choices and tradeoffs between size, capability and readiness of the joint force.  We cannot as a nation allow this to become the new normal.

In today's security environment, we need to be dynamic.  We need to be responsive.  What we have now is a straitjacket.  Continuing resolutions and sequestering impede our ability to plan strategically.  We're forced to make irresponsible reductions when our choices should be considered carefully and strategically. 

At the same time, where we proposed measured, smart decision about force management to generate vital savings, Congress has repeatedly advanced defense policy measures that reject these hard decisions, further exacerbating the challenges we face -- a double whammy of budget turbulence, budget cuts on one hand, and denied change on the other.

Making indiscriminate cuts is managerially inefficient and therefore -- and this is truly ironic -- actually wasteful to taxpayers and industry, the very taxpayers who are concerned about where their tax dollars go.  It's dangerous for our strategy and, frankly, it's embarrassing around the world, and dispiriting to the talented people and their families who serve us, who deserve to know better what their future holds.

We need to innovate.  We need to continue to attract the best people and develop the next generation of capabilities, and to meet a current generation of threats.  Our military's excellence isn't a birthright or a guarantee or something to be treated casually.  We have to earn it again and again.

Failure to come together on a stable way forward makes this unnecessarily difficult for us and could give a misleadingly diminished picture of America's great strengths and resolve to both friends and foes alike.  We can't allow that to happen.

The Army has been and always will be integral to the joint force.  But the excellence of today's Army, like the excellence of our military as a whole, is not a birthright, not a guarantee.  It has to be earned again and again by continuing to innovate, to attract the best people and develop the world's best leaders and develop the next generation of capabilities that meet a current generation of threats with ready and agile forces.

That's why this organization is so important.  You honor the missions of the past by ensuring the strength to complete the missions of the future.  AUSA remembers and AUSA reminds. 

Ladies and gentlemen, when my staff and I were traveling last week to the NATO ministerial in Brussels, one of the vans in my motorcade was driven by a local volunteer -- a local volunteer in Brussels, an older man from northern Belgium.  He said he'd recently taken part in a battle reenactment.

Now, here in the United States, we associate battle reenactments primarily with the Civil War and the American Revolution.  But in Belgium, it's different.  This man said that he, along with a score of other Belgians and Dutchmen, dressed up in the World War II fatigues of the U.S. Army's 113th Cavalry, proudly marching with the red horse insignia on their sleeve.

They reenacted the liberation of Maastricht, the moment when the long-suffering Dutch people first saw soldiers of the United States Army.  They did it to remember and honor what those young Americans did for them 71 years ago and what the United States continues to mean for them today.

The United States was indispensable when those red horse uniforms entered Holland in 1944, even more so today in a tumultuous world that still relies so much on America for its security.  And the U.S. Army is its indispensable backbone.

That's why we must all be part of the effort in preparing our force to, in the words of your conference theme, win in a complex world.  That's our opportunity.  That's our obligation.  That's how we will continue to ensure that our Army, our military, remains the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thanks.  Please.  I appreciate that.  Thank you.

I think we have some time now for some questions, also.

STAFF:  Yes, sir.

Mr. Secretary, based on a revanchist Russian regime, it seems like --

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF:  Try to begin again.

Mr. Secretary, based on a revanchist Russian regime, it seems like we we're in serious competition impeding our NATO alliance and our U.S. national security interests.  What does the U.S. Army need to capitalize on?  What capabilities does it need to develop to support assurance and deterrence?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, with respect to particularly Europe and the resurgent Russia, which I think is the -- if I caught the early part of your question, the reference there.  This is where the idea of a new playbook comes in and where the Army fits into the new playbook.  This isn't going to be the Fulda Gap.  This is a different kind of conflict today.

And that's why Mark and his colleagues and John McHugh and others here are thinking about a different kind of campaign to deter Russian aggression in Europe. 

By the way, let's just remind everyone, that's something, for a quarter century, we didn't think about, much -- we didn't think we had to do.  We all remember doing that back in those days, and it's now, obviously, an unwelcome development that I wish would change, but I frankly don't expect it to change anytime soon. 

So we have a need to do that, and it needs to be a different playbook, and to get to your question, it needs to rely on new kinds of mobility, on highly ready forces that can respond very quickly and be moved very quickly. 

Forces prepared for traditional combat, but also for the kind of hybrid warfare or "little green men" kind of activity that we saw in Ukraine, and that are enabled in new ways -- space, cyber and so forth -- that the Army's also climbing on top of. 

So it's a very different playbook, and again -- you know, wish we didn't have to do that, but that becomes yet another mission for us, on top of all the other things that we're asking our army to do.  This one, in the last year or so, has developed into something which is clearly an enduring and taxing commitment. 

So we're trying to adjust to it, but it's going to require a consistent and innovative effort, and the Army's up to it already. 

STAFF:  Another question from our audience: given ISIL's continued threat in operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as in increased operations of the Taliban in Afghanistan, what's the probability of a slowdown, of the reduction of conventional ground forces in Afghanistan, and to the possible reintroduction of ground forces into Iraq? 

SEC. CARTER:  Okay.  With respect to Afghanistan, I do think that we are committed to an enduring presence in Afghanistan that makes good on the promise of the tremendous effort and the incredibly skilled effort that we've made to date. 

And it's natural that we are -- that the president considered, back in March, making changes to the plans that were first set out two and a half years ago -- that's a long time ago. 

In the meantime, don't forget there was about eight months' -- about an eight-month period in between President Karzai and President Ghani where political development, and therefore, some of the development of the Afghan security forces -- essentially stood still, and that's time that needs to be built up. 

So there are various new realities associated with the new times, and that's why the president considered, then, and is still considering, making adjustments to a plan that is two and a half years old.  And, again, just to repeat what I said, it's not a question of whether, but how to make good on that commitment going forward. 

And just a reminder that money speaks, and that while our presence there -- to train, advise, assist, conduct counterterrorism operations and so forth -- is crucial and will stay crucial, it is very important that not just we, but all of the countries of the coalition that has fought in Afghanistan stick with the funding of the Afghan security forces and with the Afghan government to develop the country. 

Because none of this is -- is irreversible, and we need to stick with it. 

With respect to Iraq, our basic strategy is to enable -- support -- a capable, motivated Iraqi security force.  That's a trick in Iraq, because, as you know, Iraq is a deeply divided country. 

And so getting it to behave and to field a truly multi-sectarian Iraqi army -- one that, for example, contains enough Sunnis that it's a credible clear-and-hold force in the western part of the country -- that's difficult to do. 

And yet we know that we could defeat ISIL, but it's keeping them defeated that's the trick.  It's the "lasting" part of "lasting defeat" that's the trick. 

And for that, we can't substitute for capable and motivated local forces.  We can enable them.  We can make them successful.  And we are prepared to do that. 

We are doing that, and by the way, you mentioned people on the ground -- I mean, we have people on the ground, but not only in Baghdad, but in Iraqi Kurdistan and a number of locations like Taqaddum and Taji and so forth, out in the west, which are precisely devoted to the purpose of training, equipping and enabling -- especially out there -- Sunni forces. 

But we're still waiting for the Iraqi government to assign and pay those forces in adequate numbers.  And we continue to count on Prime Minister Abadi to do that. 

But -- and I'm confident that that will happen over time, but it is a necessary step that depends upon political action in Baghdad that can be -- how to say this -- frustratingly slow. 

STAFF:  What do you think will happen to the National Defense Authorization Act?  Do you think the president will veto it? 

SEC. CARTER:  He has said he will, over a number of provisions there -- I'll just name a few, and this has, I think, been spelled out very clearly. 

One is the OCO issue, and the president's insistence, which I believe in deeply, that we need a normal appropriation here.  We've got to stop this herky-jerky form of budgeting. 

And what I very much hope is that everybody -- and this is not something the secretary of defense is involved in. 

I don't participate in these conversations on the Hill, and so all you can do is hope, you have to hope, as somebody with the responsibilities I have to our people, that our country can come together behind a overall approach to the federal budget that has all of the pieces that we all know are necessary to do it right. 

And -- which is not just the discretionary part of the budget.  Look, do the math.  It doesn't pay -- it doesn't pay the bills.  And yet all the attention goes on the discretionary part because I realize that the other parts are difficult to deal with. 

But you can't deny the reality that's right in front of your face, which is that that is what needs to be done.  And I just continue to hope that that is done.  And that is part of the reason why we need to really -- we can do better than this.  We need to insist upon a real budget and I think that's important.

By the way, as a member of the National Security Council, as well as the secretary of defense, I can't be indifferent to the other folks who contribute to national security in today's day and age -- the State Department, the intelligence community, law enforcement, Homeland Security.  These are all part of the game in today's world.

So it's us, very importantly, and of course that's where my heart is, but in your mind, you know it takes the whole enterprise to make a strong, safe and healthy country.

And then there are other things in there that have to do with, for example, the Army's aviation restructuring initiative and other things that I object to.  And I've advised the president to object to also, that are standing in the way of us making change that we have judged is the lowest risk way of making adjustment to a budget circumstance we all deplore.

So we apply our analysis.  We apply our professional judgment to that.  And we say this is where we think we need to make changes to do the best we can under the circumstances.  And when it comes back to us and they say no, we want you to keep spending money where you know it is less effectively spent than elsewhere, that's enormously frustrating. 

We need to get serious about investing in defense.  As I said before, it's not a game and it's not a birthright.  It's serious business.

STAFF:  Last question, sir.

Could you comment on DOD initiatives with respect to acquisition reforms, not only impacting deployment, but the future force?

SEC. CARTER:  Absolutely I can.  As some of you may know, I was once under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.  And I feel passionately about acquisition reform.  And it goes back to the thing we've just been discussing.  You can't go to your, you know, cousin and with a straight face advocate for more money for defense if you can't, in the same breath, explain how we're making best use of every dollar we get.  The two things have to go together.  You have to twin those two ideas to win.

So we have to show that we're better at spending money, at the same time we ask for more money.  And so, it's essential.  And of course, we owe it to the force because every dollar we spend doing something that's lower priority is a dollar that isn't used for readiness; that isn't used to equip their successors with better equipment; that isn't used so that there are more of them to their left and their right in the line.

And acquisition reform is just part of that, by the way.  There are things like BRAC, that is infrastructure reform.  That needs to occur, too.  That's not exactly winning the popularity contest around here either.  But I would be a liar if I didn't stick up for it.  It's the right thing to do.

In terms of acquisition reform, just a couple of comments.  The discipline and a constant dialogue with our industry partners is the critical thing here.  It's important that we have program managers who are experienced, who are knowledgeable about the needs of industry; who can work well with our industry partners; who are good managers and that we stick up for them.

And another thing I'll say, there are many, many dimensions to this.  Another one I'll just mention since Mark is here, is that I am one of these people who very much welcomes the greater involvement of the uniformed side in acquisition.  That is something there hasn't been enough of now for some decades.

I'm not a fan of all proposed ways of doing that.  I'll be candid there also.  But I think it's the right direction.  I have my own thoughts, which I've proposed, along with Under Secretary Kendall, about how we can make that happen.  That would be a very welcome adjustment and I think would strengthen us as well.

So there are a couple of thoughts on that.  But the main thing is we've got to keep at it because that's the key to retaining the confidence of the taxpayer, that we know that it's their money.  It's not our money.

STAFF:  Thank you very much, sir.  Let's have a warm round of applause for the secretary.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you all very much.  Thank you.