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Remarks by Secretary Carter in a Media Availability En Route to California

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: So let me just do a little orientation here. First of all, thank you for coming. I really appreciate it. You'll see some wonderful, wonderful folks of ours.

The purpose of this trip is to focus principally on readiness and training at the first part. So just to take you through the stops and their significance. The first is Twentynine Palms.

And the importance of the training evolution you will see there is that the Marine Corps, like all of our services, is in the process of this reorientation of training from more than 10 years of a counter-insurgency focus, which we had to have, but was very preoccupying.

That, to full-spectrum training. That takes time because -- it takes money also, by the way, but money isn't nearly as much of an issue as time is because training center capacity is limited. And it -- so there's only so much throughput. And it also takes a lot to prepare the training facility.

You'll see it looks very different from the Twentynine Palms of years ago. And I've been there at the height of Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a very different kind of thing.

So return to full-spectrum, which we need to do in view of the possibility of higher end conflict. This unit will go to the Asia-Pacific after this. And also, parenthetically but importantly, is Bob Neller, our commandant has designated innovative unit, that is it's the one where he is going to try out novel operational concepts.

So that has significance as well. But the main thing is return to full-spectrum training. Then we go down to Randolph and Lackland and BAMC in Texas. And so for Randolph we've got basic training for the Air Force.

This is something that's very important to me and I've been talking to recruiters and going to basic training places out on in Chicago where the Navy does it, where we do in-processing of recruits.

And we are in a competitive situation, we're doing very well, but we compete with the rest of the economy for young people. And not -- and we're extremely selective. And so we need to have access to the widest part of our population possible, which is why I'm trying to get out geographically and demographically so that we get to pick from the widest possible pool.

But you'll see these young -- great young airmen here who have just joined us, a chance to ask them why, what spelled the difference, who influenced them, these things important for me to know because I learn a lot by talking to these kids, about who their influencers are, and what the pros and cons were around the dinner table as they considered military service.

And it's a big deal. BAMC is one of our premier military medical centers, a part that is particularly significant, I think, for the two of you is the focus on wounded warriors and in particular it is our center of excellence for prostheses, which we have learned sadly all too much about.

And I think you'll find it, you know, inspiring what the quality is. And I'll just tell you a story we even get there of when I was here one time before I remember the medical director said something to me that has always stuck in my mind.

And he said, after working with many of these amputees as a consequence of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have stopped trying to answer the question, will I be able to ski, ride a horse? And he says, I have the answer. I've seen so much of people overcoming this that I have -- my answer is now is, if you want to, you will, because my experience is that that's true.

Lackland we'll do training, flight training, including a T-1, which is the trainer on which the Air Force trains pilots of jets like this one, all these guys were trained (inaudible). And obviously our training and our competition for pilots with the airlines and so forth is another thing that's very important to me right now.

We'll go to Florida, the focus is a little bit more operational and -- but at Hurlburt Field is where the air arm of our Special Operations is there. You will get to see some of their capabilities, where we do rehearsals and so forth. So it's a pretty important area.

You won't be able to see everything there, but we do something somewhere, you learn about it, in all likelihood, some of the practicing for it, which we've got down there at Hurlburt.

Eglin is a big focus now because it's where we're doing a lot of our important munitions. We're putting a lot of money into munitions now because having aircraft, F-35 and so forth, doesn't do you any good unless you have good munitions.

So advanced, long-range, highly lethal systems. And Eglin is within the Air Force Materiel Command, the place at which that's done.

So that's the significance of all of our stops. So then let me just stop and each ask a question.

Q: (inaudible) Inside Defense. I heard you this morning, you said the next administration's transition team is going to come over some point later this week potentially. What information and what kind of message is the department prepared to share with that transition team as they -- when they come over?

SEC. CARTER: This is -- we've done this before. We're very prepared for it. I don't know when they'll come. That's entirely up to them. But we're ready to go. And, you know, we've done this now a number of times over the course my own career, I've witnessed it a number of times.

So there's a fairly well-understood template. But the mission on our side is very clear. It's what I said this morning, which is we'll try to help them to get all the information and the perspective that will help them to hit the ground running. That's our objective.

And as I said, there will -- we have a lot of experience in that. We have a lot of people who have done this before, you know, know how to do these things. So we're ready to go. And they'll arrive when they're ready to arrive. But we'll be ready for them when they do.

Q: (inaudible). You know, 2016 has been quite the progressive year, some of the things that we're discussing right now, readiness training to propel us into the future. What are some of the milestones that you plan or want to still hit before the next term is up?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think that we have been working and speaking quite clearly about what we need to do to keep our military the finest fighting force. And I think the logic of these and my experience over years of working in defense is that they will be widely understood.

And I'll just -- OK, the first is taking care of our service members, and their welfare, their families, and just our responsibility to them, and above all, to -- when we employ them, to do so with the utmost care. But we can't do that without risk, but we can do that with great strategic care.

The second is to provide to our policy-makers, beginning with our commander-in-chief, the depth of the advice and experience resident in our department, both uniformed and civilian. And so people who have decades of experience around the world, have seen lots of military operations and so forth.

And that will be made available to our policy-makers. And then when they make decisions, carrying them out as superbly as you're used to seeing the American military perform when it's given a mission.

And then the third part has to do with the future and recognizing that, you know, we're in this 240-year-old arc. And we get to have the best now because our predecessors -- my predecessors as secretary of defense, our predecessors as commander in chief, over many decades have always looked ahead and made the investments that were necessary.

I was talking to you about people, responding to and adapting to strategic change as it occurs, making sure that we're up to date (inaudible) these are all the things that make sense.

And, you know, we've been doing them in my professional lifetime, they've always been done, and I'm confident they will be.

Q: I know also with 2016 being such a progressive year, you just mentioned responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities is we've opened up combat roles to women.

And my question is, are there concerns of that rolling back in any way in the next couple of years depending on how things progress in the Pentagon and beyond?

SEC. CARTER: Well, look, it makes sense. Females are half of our population. And so -- and we're an all-volunteer force. And so we recruit from the population and it makes sense for us to recruit people from as wide a part of the population as possible.

Now they have to be qualified. But it's a benefit to our military to be able to draw from for what is a competitive -- we compete with companies and the whole rest of the economy for good people.

So we want to have the ability to have access to the best people we can. What matters is the qualifications of people who serve in our military. And I think that's a logic that is -- I mean, that's sort of the logic of our all-volunteer force is that we get to pick. That's why our people are so driven.

But to have the very best to pick from, we have to pick from the entire population.

Q: (inaudible)

SEC. CARTER: Oh yes, that's a good point as well. Since that has been done, the services have done an excellent job and put together implantation plans that they have made this transition very smoothly, very professionally, and to the great benefit of the force.

So it has gone extremely well. And it's a good thing for the force of the future. So I'm very confident in (inaudible).

Q: But that integration goes beyond women, also the transgendered and (inaudible).

SEC. CARTER: What matters is whether somebody is qualified to contribute to our military. That's the central thing. That we have to really focus on because it's our people who make us the best. And the way we run our military, we have to -- we get to but we have to pick them from the widest possible portion of the population, the talent of our country as possible.

What matters is the talent, the ability to serve.

STAFF: You guys will have more chances through the course of the trip…

SEC. CARTER: But I will talk about it more, a number of times as we go along. Thanks again for coming.