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Remarks by Secretary Mattis at the Association of the U.S. Army Exposition on Building Readiness in Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Thank you.  Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.

And thank you, General Ham, old friend of many years.

It's an absolute delight to be here with you all, and I do appreciate being invited to something like this.  I can probably find no place in Washington, D.C., today that I feel more at home than here, amongst all of you.

Acting Secretary McCarthy -- we first met each other in those very uncertain days after 9/11 and Afghanistan, and we've served together for many years after that.  Thank you for coming back to the colors, sir.  It's a pleasure to serve with you once again.

General Milley, we've served together.  We know each other over many years.  You have the DNA of Iwo Jima in your veins.  You bleed red, white and blue, and the Army could not be in better hands right now.

Sergeant Major Dailey, besides deciding to go out on the obstacle course this morning, that Army 10-miler yesterday, I guess, was just your warmup for it this morning.


So in the truest traditions of Army non-commissioned officers, where you lead from upfront and put yourself in difficult circumstances voluntarily, thank you for your leadership, as well.

After that presentation, I'm going down to the recruiting office and I'm going to sign up for another 40 years, I guarantee you.


But it was also something to remind us about the priorities that Secretary McCarthy and General Milley have made very clear in their time in office, and that is for readiness, and we will talk more about that.

But I'm going to be very pleased to take some questions at the end of this, and so let's see if I can close the gap between a secretary of defense and all of you out there for a little bit.

I would just tell you that I recognize that whatever ranks we wear today, or we once wore, in this room, we are all coequal in our devotion to this wonderful, magical experiment that we call America, and to protecting our people and our Constitution.

And we are coequal.  That is one thing that American forces have always had in their ranks:  a sense of coequal devotion.  So I'm honored to be here with you today, you, who hold the line in this world.

And I want to mention something about the veterans.  In my talks with soldiers on the front lines -- I've just returned from Afghanistan a few days ago -- the only thing I think they would ever fear is letting down you and the legacy that you bequeath to them.  Because they know, based on what you've been through, that they can do the job, because it can be nothing worse than what you faced in your most difficult days.  And that builds their confidence.

And especially from me, on a personal level, a thank you to the Vietnam veterans who stayed in -- as we heard in the presentation this morning -- stayed in the Army, rebuilt the Army.  They were the veterans who raised me in the Marine Corps, and made me the Marine I was.

So to all veterans, and especially the Vietnam veterans, you have my deepest affection for what you've committed to our country.


Thank you.  Thanks very much.

To our Medal of Honor winner, and to all of you who have been decorated and recognized for valor in combat, I just want to say to you, in great deeds something abides.  Regardless of which war you earned the respect of your fellow warriors, your example of courage echoes today down through our ranks.

To our Gold Star families who join us here today, as General Chamberlain of the 20th Maine said years after the Civil War, "We pray daily to be worthy of your sacrifice."  Thank you.


As your secretary of defense, I am honored to join you.  I am grateful to serve once again alongside soldiers of the greatest army, the most trusted army on Earth; to serve once again among the disciplined, ethically capable, high-spirited soldiers whose character I have seen rise to every occasion in the worst possible circumstances; soldiers who are always at their best, when the times are at their worst; soldiers who General George Washington would be proud of.

For 242 years now, you have set the standard.  For you are the soldier descendants today of ragged Continentals who left bloody footprints at Valley Forge; you who from Lexington to Bastogne to the Korengal, generation after generation you have carried our flag in your hearts and the patriot's fire in your belly, a fire that keeps alive our experiment that we call America, an experiment to determine if a government of the people, by the people and for the people can long survive.

A united army, united in commitment that stands as a model for our fellow citizens of what Americans who stand united can do.  And our Army's ranks today are filled with willing, high-quality patriots, all volunteers.  And again I am very proud to serve with you.

The international situation is the most complex and demanding that I have seen in all my years of service, and that's over four decades.

In the Mideast, terrorists continue to conduct murder and mayhem, despite significant and accelerating losses.  One state sponsor of terror in the Mideast cannot hide behind its nation-state status while in effect it is actually a destabilizing revolutionary regime.

In Europe, for the first time since World War II, we've seen national borders changed by the force of arms, as one country proves willing to ignore international law, to exercise a veto authority over its neighbors' rights to make decisions in the economic, diplomatic and security domain.

In the Pacific, we've seen North Korean provocations threatening regional and even global peace, despite universal condemnation by the United Nations.

So this is the reality that faces our Department of Defense and our like-minded allies, and we must have militaries fit for their purpose, fit for their time, in these days of emerging challenges.

For these challenges include new domains of conflict, in space and cyberspace, and in ways that involve deniable attacks even on our democratic processes.

Your Department of Defense is adapting, because we do not want to be dominant and at the same time irrelevant.  And I offer this problem statement for what must guide our efforts:  How do we maintain a safe and effective nuclear deterrent so these weapons are never used and our nonproliferation efforts can be recharged?

Second, how to maintain a decisive conventional force at the same time as that nuclear deterrent, one that will include space and cyberspace capability, to deter war or end it decisively if conflict occurs.

And third, we must at the same time maintain an irregular capability so we can fight across the spectrum of conflict.

This is our problem statement:  how to maintain a safe and secure nuclear deterrent and maintain a decisive conventional force that can also fight irregular warfare.

Our department has three lines of effort to address these issues.

First, everything we must do must contribute to the increased lethality of our military.  We must never lose sight of the fact that we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield.

Secretary McCarthy and General Milley are examining every personnel policy, our training time, our organization and more to ensure they contribute to make us the most lethal joint force in the world.

Even as our competitive edge over our foes and adversaries decreases due to budgetary confusion in this town and the budget caps, I am among the majority in this country that believes our nation can afford survival.  And I want the Congress back in the driver's seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator's seat of automatic cuts.


I have great confidence in the U.S. Congress, but I have no confidence in automatic, mathematical budget cuts.

Second line of effort:  We are following the example of the Greatest Generation coming home from the tragedy of World War II and who looked around and they said, "What a crummy world.  But we're part of it whether we not -- whether or not we like it.  And we're going to do something about it."

And in that spirit, they built alliances and partnerships.  In the same spirit today, we are strengthening alliances and building new partnerships, whether it be NATO, the counter-ISIS coalition, the 39 nations standing together in Afghanistan, or extending friend and partner bonds in the Indo-Pacific region.

Secretary of State Tillerson's defeat-ISIS coalition is only one example of what this looks like in practice:  69 nations banded together plus four international organizations -- the Arab League and NATO, the European Union and Interpol -- all working in concert to defeat ISIS.

But we also stand with our traditional allies as well as building new coalitions as we work together to defend our values.

And to our allies here in this room today, I will tell you I had the honor of fighting many times for America.  I never once fought in an all-American or solely-American formation.  It was always alongside allies.

And I will just tell you, from NATO in Europe to the Pacific, the message to our allies is, we are with you.


Under Deputy Secretary of Defense Shanahan, our new deputy secretary and full of vigor -- under him lies most of the continuing work for line of effort number three, and that is the keen direction that he is helping to provide Secretary McCarthy and his fellow appointees to rework our business practices to gain full benefit from every dollar spent on defense.

We are taking aggressive action to reform the way we do business, and to gain and to hold the trust of the Congress and the American people, that we are responsible stewards of the money allocated to us, and that it translates directly, every dollar, into the defense of our country and what we stand for.

In all of this, the Army's importance is absolutely fundamental.

Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once wrote, "You may fly over a nation forever, you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life.  But if you desire to defend it, if you desire to protect it, if you desire to keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground the way the Roman legions did:  by putting your young men in the mud."  I would only modify it today by saying, "by putting your young men and women in the mud."


And this is why the Army is so critical to our nation's security.

I have by now grown rather remote from so many of you who man the ramparts, those of you who have looked past the hot political rhetoric to rally to our flag in the age of our high-quality, all-volunteer force.

Yet while I no longer have the opportunity to get to know you personally, I do know your character.  You could get out of the Army and make more money.  You could get out of the Army and see more of your families.  You could do any number of things, but you have the habit of putting others first, of putting your country first.

At Antietam Battlefield Cemetery, the statue of a lone soldier stands atop a pillar, looking out across the graves of his fallen comrades.  He's a private, and he is nicknamed Old Simon.  And it is inscribed on the pillar he stands above, quote, "Not for themselves, but for their country."

Whether you spend a few years in your youth in the U.S. Army, ladies and gentlemen, or grow gray in the service to our beloved nation and its Constitution, rest assured, you will always look back on the sacrifices of war, the demands of sergeants, and the frustrations of unpredictable deployments as the best years of your young lives.

And even those of us denied the opportunity by our ranks to stand physically beside you every day, nonetheless, we join your fellow citizens in humbled awe of your willingness to sign a blank check, payable to the American people; a blank check payable with your lives, to defend our revolutionary ideas enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, putting freedom above all else.

Now, if you want to know where I see modern war trending, I just ask you to reread General Milley's remarks from a year ago at this very convention.

If you want a reminder of war's primitive, atavistic, and unrelenting nature, reread Fehrenbach's "This Kind Of War."

If you want to see why I believe command and feedback must supplement our approach to command and control, read "Rules of the Game" by Gordon.

If you want to know where I come from in terms of strategy, read "The Future of Strategy" by Colin Gray, the most near-faultless strategist alive today.

And most importantly, when it comes to you willing and magnificent soldiers, those from General George Washington to today carry our hopes on your shoulders, I say that you need only follow the Army creed we just all saw on the screen and recited.

We need you at the top of your game in body, mind and spirit.

Physically, I salute Generals Milley and Frost's initiative to toughen the physical standards that they now have underway for the U.S. Army.

I am reminded that General Schwarzkopf, in the years after Vietnam, served under a Korean War veteran, when he was a battalion commander, a brigade commander who insisted on tougher soldiers, knowing what he had faced the Korean War.

Mentally, I want you to enhance your war-fighting skills, assuming every week in the Army is a way to get better at integrating all Army and joint efforts to become more tactically cunning.

So body and mind must be matched with the spirit.  And spiritually, ladies and gentleman, we need our soldiers to build your own and your comrades in arms' resilience to take combat's test of your character in stride in the most primitive environment on Earth.

Let me close with a reminder to today's troops, through our veteran's eyes.  I want to go back to World War II, the Greatest Generation.

Today, as we sit here, there is a 91-year-old World War II combat veteran named Mr. Richard Lincoln, and he's now living in a veterans' home in Maine.  He and his three brothers all fought in World War II, and he is the last surviving one.

Mr. Lincoln has a remarkable story.  As a 17-year-old from very small town of Wayne, Maine, a town of less than 1,000 people, and standing just 5'5" tall, I wondered as I read that, was that the effects of malnutrition during the Depression?

Mr. Lincoln served as a first scout in the 88th Infantry Division in the battle of Anzio, which, as you all know, was a grueling and historically important amphibious assault in the Italian campaign, an amphibious landing against long odds which permitted the Allied capture of Rome.

He repeatedly risked his life on the front lines to identify enemy artillery batteries, regularly enduring enemy fire and never shrinking from enormous dangers.

The 88th became the first draftee division to enter a combat zone in World War II.  In 344 days of combat, the 88th Infantry Division lost 2,298 men killed in action and 9,225 men wounded.

The Blue Devils, as they were called, proved that with rigorous training, sound teamwork, competent leadership and fierce determination, an all-draftee division was more than capable of fighting well against well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened enemies.

When the allies liberated Rome on June 4, everyone wanted to be the first in Rome, but the all-draftee 88th became the first division to enter the city.  Although overshadowed by the Normandy invasion two days later, you all know the capture of Rome was a significant victory for the Allies.

For his heroic service in that campaign, Mr. Lincoln was awarded the Bronze Star medal.  And on June 4, 1944, the day when he and his fellow soldiers of his 88th Infantry Division entered Rome, Richard Lincoln turned 18 years old.

Mr. Lincoln was and is today a humble, earnest, self-effacing man grateful to be an American.  He knows what it felt like to be shot at from very close range every day for months, since being a scout was about as close to the front line as it gets.

To this day, he wonders how he survived, when so many comrades did not.  He says he thinks it might have been because, "I was short," which is a wise point.  I never envied tall men on the battlefield myself.


But I would tell you, too, that Mr. Lincoln is one of those who created the legacy of the American Army- the most trusted, the most ethical, the most capable army in the world; one built on physically tough and tactically competent soldiers, under NCOs and officers at the top of their grim game.

From Shiloh to the Marne, from the Bulge to Pork Chop Hill, the Delta and the deserts that this generation of soldiers have faced, when trouble loomed, the Army has always stood and delivered.

So to all the veterans in the room, you set an uncompromising bar that every one of us on duty today must live up to.  We know we will never face something worse than what you maintained your dignity and your honor throughout.

So to every veteran in this room, to every Mr. Lincoln who's hailed from Maine to Hawaii, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, thank you for standing by the red, white and blue.

And ladies and, gentlemen, thank you again for having me here.  May I take your questions?


MODERATOR:  Well, thanks very much, Mr. Secretary.

We took the liberty of collecting some questions from our members, and others, and I appreciate you taking time to answer just a few.

So the first one is, we just saw a program that highlighted how the Army expanded and transformed quickly 100 years ago, to meet the demands of World War I.  What insights from World War I seem most relevant to you, as the Army faces challenges today?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, I appreciate the presentation earlier, because whenever you look back at history, you realize that, while technology may change, we really face nothing new under the sun, and we oftentimes come up with good ideas in old books and reading history.

I think the message I was thinking, as I watched that presentation, was the need for readiness.

There was a comrade by the name of John Abizaid, who, as a younger general, once said to me, "You know, if you were sitting in my chair" -- and he was in the Joint Staff in those days -- "in 1810, and you said, 'Where are we going to fight in the next 10 years?' not one of us would have guessed 'I think the Royal Navy's going to sail right up that river outside my window, and burn this town to the ground'."

Well, you say "That's a long time ago."  He said, "Think about 1910.  How many would have said that we're going to be in Europe in the next 10 years, and the U.S. Army, strung out from forts all across the Indian-fighting West, would never have forecast they'd be wearing gas masks with airplanes dropping bombs, and charging machine guns and barbed wire?"

So the need for readiness must also ensure that we have a shock absorber built inside the Army.

And out of World War I, where the first advance we made -- the first offensive we made went horribly wrong, because troops couldn't get to the front lines in the right order, there was a traffic jam, the attack went in badly. 

It's a reminder, we've got to be brilliant in the basics of blocking and tackling, because from Bataan Peninsula to Kasserine Pass to Task Force Smith, we know too well the cost of not being ready.

And I think that right now we want to do is be so ready, and be very much aware that we fight the way we come, that everybody in the world wants to deal with Secretary Tillerson, the Department of State, not the Department of Defense and the United States Army.


MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the Congress in your remarks, so this question is related to that, I think, in a follow-up.

How can the American public and industry -- and I'll add the Association of The United States Army and like-minded associations -- how can those groups influence Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense?

SEC. MATTIS: Ladies and gentlemen, I think what is probably most important right now, is we lay out the problem in compelling and persuasive terms.

Go back to Einstein's point many, many years ago when asked how he would compose his thoughts if he was given one hour to save the world.  And he said, "I'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and I'd save the world in five minutes."

Now there are times when those of us who wear the uniform can be rightly condemned for being overly conservative, wanting more insurance, and more boats, and planes, and guns and tanks, and I understand that.  And as General MacArthur said when he was chief of staff of the Army, in those days when our country was having difficult times economically before World War II, and he was trying to convince the U.S. Congress to spend an adequate amount of money on readiness so that the U.S. Army would be ready -- he made the point there that day that day that we have got to be willing to do this, because it's the surest way to deter war, but there's also a time and cost aspect of this.  And I think the more we can explain we have the time right now to prepare for war is the best way to prevent war.

But should conflict break out, to get money later will not be good enough because we won't have the time at that point.  And we all understand this.  But I think the more we explain persuasively, objectively, what is the situation in this increasingly complex security environment that many of our most legendary statesmen alive today, from Dr. Kissinger to George Schultz to Sam Nunn to all the others who have looked at this over decades, including former Secretaries of Defense Dr. William Perry and Senator Cohen.

If we can lay the problem out, in compelling terms, I believe in the U.S. Congress.  I believe in them 100 percent, but we've got to lay this out in such a way that in a democracy we bring the American people with this us, and that starts with the  U.S. Congress.  So we need everyone to make certain that were laying out the problem in a manner that leaves no doubt about the need for what we're asking for, in order to ensure that America's army is at the top of its game.


MODERATOR:  Sir -- if you've got time, sir, for two more.

SEC. MATTIS:  Absolutely.

MODERATOR:  So several questions about acquisition.  I'll condense a couple of them.  What can be done to enhance responsiveness to warfighter needs?  And a follow-on to that, what can be done to incentivize collaboration amongst the services, other U.S. government agencies and our allies?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, the first thing I know, having spoken with Secretary McCarthy, is that he's got a process underway with General Milley to take the best aspects of rapid equipping and institutionalizing it as the way we do acquisition in the U.S. Army.

But there's a point in the second question about how do we get the joint force -- like, how do we get the department like this?

And I think the most important thing is, one, communications; and, two, the actual organization of the department.  At Congress' direction, one which I completely embrace, we are going to break acquisition, technology and logistics into research and engineering, on the one hand, and then into acquisition and sustainment on the other.

The intention here is that we move faster in research and engineering.  I've lived out in Silicon Valley for the three years that I was retired, and I've seen what American industry is capable of, from Silicon Valley to Michigan, from Boston to Texas.  And we have got to open the communication with them much more robustly.

Now lawyers, I love lawyers.  I don't want my daughter to marry one, but I love lawyers, OK?


But at the same time, lawyers give advice and I want the DOD lawyers to keep us strictly within the legal and ethical codes that we must live by when we handle the amounts of money and the taxpayers' money.

But I also want to remember that corporations are made up of Americans too, and I want open communications -- no favoritism, no violations of law, no violations of ethics.  But I want no longer this gulf between us to deny us the very advances that American industry is out there and executing for themselves and the private sector, the advances in weaponry that are out there right now.  And in some countries our advantage is being eroded as they move more swiftly, going back to Secretary McCarthy and now Secretary Shanahan, deputy secretary of defense, and their initiatives to move us more rapidly and organize to move more rapidly.

As much as processes bore all of us to tears, if we don't get this acquisition process right, you can throw the best people in the world at it and 9 times out of 10, a bad process is going to win.

So we've got to straighten out the process, and I've brought people in from industry to do this. Right now Ellen Lord is the acquisition technology and logistics person, and actually overseeing the breaking apart of that into what Congress has directed.

Deputy Secretary Shanahan comes from American industry.  He's seen it at its best in a highly competitive industry.  We've got people in there that know what they're doing.  It's time to roll our sleeves up and get on with it.


MODERATOR:  Last one, sir.  Unsurprisingly about Korea.  And I suspect you're probably not going to reveal to us the intricate details of your Korea strategy.  But what can the U.S. military do to lessen the likelihood of conflict on the Korean Peninsula? 
SEC. MATTIS:  What a great question.  Let me talk about Korea for a minute because it's on all of our minds.  And you know there's a reason I recommended T.R. Fehrenbach's book, that we all pull it out and read it one more time.

So, ladies and gentlemen, it is right now a diplomatically-led, economically sanction-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path.

Now, what does the future hold?  Neither you nor I can say.  So there's one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is, you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ, if needed.

We currently -- we currently are in a diplomatically-led effort, and how many times did you see in the U.N. Security Council vote unanimously, now twice in a row, to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea?  And remember, the Security Council has countries like France and Russia, China, the United States -- you know who's on there -- and all voted unanimously on this.

The international community has spoken, but that means the U.S. Army must stand ready.  And so, if you're ready, that's your duty at this point in time.  And I know the Army will always do it's duty.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me here.  Have a great conference.  And to our allies, thank you for being here.