Q: You'd look a lot nicer without a mask.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, my wife thinks I look better with a mask on. (Laughter.) I'm just kidding.
Hey, it's -- it's been a -- it's been a great day for me today. And I've had an opportunity to go to NORTHCOM and visit with General VanHerck and talked about -- talked to him about what the command is doing in support of FEMA. He was in support of the overall whole-of-government, whole-of-nation effort to -- to get the vaccines out.
And we clearly -- his command has done some impressive things over time in a very short period of time, quite frankly. And what you see here today is evidence of that.
This is -- this looks easy. But when you think about the fact that we have active components troops here, National Guardsmen here, civilian agencies here, local agencies all working together like a well-oiled machine, it's really impressive. And -- and when you -- when you take a look at this, it makes you proud to be in America.
Now, many of these troops that you see here have -- have served in combat zones. They've been out helping people all over the world do things like run their local governments and, you know, towns and villages; administer health care to their citizens; you know, you name it -- provide security.
But you know, I asked a number of our troops today how they feel about being able to come here and help in America, understanding that every shot that they deliver to a person is probably helping to save that person's life eventually. And -- and that's a big deal. That's -- we're in the business of -- of protecting Americans and saving lives. And they feel really good about what they've been doing.
As important, the people that they've been helping feel really good about having them here as well. You know, I talked to some of our local officials and civilian agency heads. And they've told me that, you know, what the military brings to -- to this equation is -- is discipline, organizational skills and effectiveness. And they were impressed by the fact that, every day, our troops take a look at things and endeavor to get better.
You know, good is not good enough. And so they've started in one place and over time -- a very short period of time increased the capacity in ways that we probably couldn't have envisioned a couple of weeks ago. In the walk-up site, I think we're doing some 2,000 shots a day and with a very short wait -- wait time. And here you see the evidence of what organization and teamwork and discipline brings to the equation.
You know, I'm not a very emotional guy, but there are two things I heard here today that almost brought tears to my eyes.
The first thing I heard was from the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Olson, who said, our ability to be here is a bestowal of trust by the American people on us.
You know, that -- that -- that rocked me backwards. Unsolicited, heartfelt -- Olson's been in some tough places and -- and -- and that's a powerful statement.
The other thing I heard that almost brought tears to my eyes was one of our young soldiers here, a young sergeant, is from this neighborhood -- and you've seen him reported on before -- but I didn't realize this and he told me he administered, you know, the vaccine to his mother. That -- that rocked me backwards, as well, and -- and -- almost brought tears to my eyes.
So the ability to do things like that, I think, you know, it really makes a difference and our -- our troops find -- find this to be a very meaningful deployment. And -- and -- it's -- it's a real pleasure to come and -- and -- and see how well this is working but just be -- just -- just as a reminder, you know, we're in support of FEMA, who is in support of the whole of nation effort to get the vaccines out as -- as -- as rapidly as possible and as effectively as possible.
And I think we're learning some lessons, we're sharing those lessons and so I think we're off to a -- a really, really good start. And with that, I'll stop and -- and take a couple questions.
Q: Hi, thank you, Mr. Secretary. You've talked about lessons learned. Can you give us an example of what you think the military has learned at, say, here or these spots that you've talked to people about today, that they can put into motion in other places so it's sort of the new ones?
And you've approved 25 so far, back to these (inaudible). When do you think you will be approving more?
SEC. AUSTIN: We'll improve more when -- as we get requirements, requests from FEMA. You know, again, we're in support of FEMA and -- and -- and until that happens, we'll continue to make sure that we identify the capability and capacity to -- to continue to help.
In terms of the things that we have learned, you know, it's interesting -- our civilian counterparts have -- have -- we've learned a lot from them -- excuse me -- and then we have -- they've learned some things from us, as well, in terms of how to organize, you know, the queues, you know, how to -- how to be more effective in reaching out to people.
I talked to the mayor earlier and he pointed out to me that, you know, with the help of mobile teams, they've been able to reach populations and people that -- that -- you know, that would -- they would not have reached otherwise.
And so one key lesson learned is more mobile teams are -- you know, are good. And so we'll take those lessons back to Jeff Zients, who's running the national effort, who no doubt has already heard this, but he and his team are doing amazing work, great work.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think that – how can I put it -- is there a way in those lessons learned to make the civilians learn to react faster, quicker? Has the military taught that lesson to people?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I -- I think -- I think we're learning from each other and I think there are -- there are, you know, elements in -- in every community, every state that are really moving at -- at -- at a pretty rapid pace.
Again, what we bring to the -- to the table is organizational skills that -- you know, a little discipline and -- and -- and we -- we have a focus on -- on trying to be better tomorrow than we were today. I mean, that's -- that's in our DNA, that's how we train, that's how we fight, that's how you win -- that's how you win battles, as you well know.
So, you know, I think -- I think there are things that we can continue to export to the civilian community but as important, there are things that we're learning from the civilian community and -- and we'll certainly -- certainly take those lessons to heart.
Q: ... Mr. Secretary, can I ask -- I'd like to ask you about vaccine hesitancy, particularly in the African American community. You are the highest ranking African American male in the Biden administration. What would you say directly to African Americans who point to things like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on black men as a reason why they don't want to come here and get a vaccine?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well I think -- I mean, they're -- because of some things that have happened in the history, there's a -- there's a degree of -- of mistrust and I think we have to collectively work hard to -- to dispel rumors and to provide facts to people.
And it's been my experience that when armed with the facts, people will -- will tend to make the right decisions -- and these are individual decisions and we want to make sure that they have the best -- best information available to -- to make those decisions.
At the end of the day, you know, people are going to go home and -- and talk to their -- their families, their physicians, and we want them to do that, but we want them to have the facts. And so in DOD, what we do is -- is we're -- we're trying to make sure that we get as much information out -- factual information out as possible through the chain of command but we also do things like -- like, you know, put as much information as possible on our website, we -- we have commanders that are -- that are making videos, talking -- addressing this issue -- I've made a video myself -- and -- and -- but -- but it's -- it's really important that -- that, you know, people have the facts. And we've found that armed with the facts, they'll make the right decisions typically.
I've taken a vaccine. It is -- it is -- you know, I consider it to be safe. You know, we've not seen very many side effects that are -- that are harmful and -- and so this is the most researched, you know, tested vaccine that we've seen ever probably and it's -- and the efficacy is just incredible.
So my -- my counsel to -- to everyone is, I mean, this saves lives. And it's not just about saving our life, it's about saving our partner's life, our neighbor's life, and in the military, you know, we -- we -- we thrive on teamwork and we have to think about our teammates, as well.
So my getting the vaccine could potentially help save the life of a -- of a teammate.
Q: So on that note of you making the push to service members to get vaccinated, the Navy has decided they're going to relax on liberty rules for some sailors on deployment if they've been vaccinated. Is there any guidance you can push to the service secretaries, the service chiefs about looking at their own -- the way that things work for them and coming up with some sort of incentives for soldiers, for airmen to get vaccinated?
SEC. AUSTIN: You know, the -- the greatest incentive to getting vaccinated is that it saves your life and it saves the life of -- of the folks that -- that -- that mean a lot to you and -- and I think that -- that, in and of itself, is -- is very, very important.
And I'd just like to say that -- that I have every confidence in our service secretaries and our service chiefs that they will do the right thing in terms of taking care of their -- their populations and I'm really proud of them and thankful for their focus on what they're doing.
STAFF: Last question to you, Jim.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did the civilian authorities ask you for anything? Did they -- did they say that they would recommend this process in other communities?
SEC. AUSTIN: I -- I -- I -- there's no question -- I -- I didn't ask that specific question but there's no question in my mind that, based upon what I heard in terms of feedback, that they would, and -- and they -- they really liked the approach that -- that we've all taken in terms of, you know, what can we do to get -- to -- to become more efficient, to get better, to get more vaccines in arms. They -- they liked the way that these various communities have come together, and -- and -- and quite frankly, I -- I think this is one of the most amazing things that we've seen lately.
Again, you -- you don't see any competition here. The only competition is, you know, to -- to beat the vaccine, to -- to get as much -- to beat the pandemic, to get as much vaccine out as we can possibly get out, but -- but I think, just based upon what I've heard from them, that, you know, there's no question in my mind that they would recommend a process like this in other places.
STAFF: Thank you all very much, we've got to get going. Appreciate it.
Q: Thank you.