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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everybody. All right, before I get to your questions, I'd like to provide some important context on the department's ongoing efforts to take care of our people, which is one of Secretary Austin's top priorities. The secretary cares deeply about our troops and their families, and is grateful for all that they do worldwide every day to defend our nation. Through the course of his duties and during his travels, the secretary has made it a point to speak with and hear from service members to thank them and hear what's on their minds.

Today, he issued a memo outlining a series of actions the department will take to improve how we support our service members and their families and to address in a comprehensive way issues that affect stability and family readiness. As Secretary Austin highlights in this memo, military families are the strong foundation of our force, and taking care of them is a national security imperative. Our military has some of the most advanced equipment, tactics and warfighting capabilities in the world, but nothing is accomplished without the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and the families that support them.

Over the last 20 months, the secretary has met with service members across the country and around the world. He's seen their dedication to the mission, but he's also heard from them about the extraordinary pressures they face. Some, such as the challenges of PCS moves and spouses having to search for new jobs are enduring features of military life, while others such as rapid increases in housing cost are more recent.

Today's actions are a direct response of what the secretary has heard from our service members. Some of these initiatives are ideas that came directly from the force, and they reflect his commitment to the families who sacrifice every day in order to serve. The secretary believes these efforts will only be successful if they're easily accessible to the audience that really matters: our service members and our military families. To that end, Secretary Austin met yesterday with Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the senior enlisted advisors from each of the military services. Secretary Austin emphasized the sacred obligation that he and other DOD leaders have to take care of our people and the importance of communicating to the force about how to take advantage of the initiatives we're announcing today and our other efforts to support military families.

In the months to come, you'll see a wide-ranging effort to provide information and raise awareness about resources covering housing, childcare, grocery bills, job opportunities and more. The secretary's memo addresses four goals.

First, making sure basic needs are more affordable to military families. We'll boost basic allowance for housing rates in 28 markets where we've seen average rental rate increases of 20 percent, and the secretary has directed the department to review forthcoming 2023 BAH rates to ensure those rates reflect the dynamic nature of the current housing market across the board. 

We're surging funding into the commissary system to drop prices at the register so that military families see savings of at least 25 percent on grocery bills, compared to their local marketplace, an investment that means military families will see lower grocery bills at the commissary in the next couple of weeks.

Second, making moves easier for families. We'll extend coverage for temporary housing expenses while moving to give military families more flexibility through the move process, and we'll increase dislocation allowance payments for enlisted troops from E-1 through E-6 to offset personal expenses from PCS moves.

Third, strengthening support for families with children. We continue investments in childcare facilities, providing incentives to attract hard-to-find childcare professionals and expand a pilot program that provides fee assist -- free assistance for in-home childcare. Fourth -- excuse me -- fee assistance for in-home childcare.

Fourth, helping expand employment options for military spouses. We'll accelerate efforts to make occupational license -- licenses that spouses obtain in one state transferable to other states, expanding directing hiring authorities for the department to employ more military spouses and launch a new Career Accelerator Fellowship Program that matches military spouses with prospective employers, while also expanding the pool of companies that have made commitments to hire military spouses. 

These are not the first steps that Secretary Austin has launched to take care of our people. These actions follow an initial economic security memo issued last November, the Food Security Initiative that the department launched in July, the proposal for the largest military pay increase in two decades included in the president's F.Y. '23 Budget Request and historic reforms to curb the scourge of sexual assault and to prevent suicide in our ranks. 

These are also not the last steps that Secretary Austin and DOD leaders plan to take. The secretary is committed to working with service leaders, members of Congress and with advocates for military families on additional initiatives and opportunities to take care of our people, and he'll continue listening to our troops and their families about the challenges and the pressures they face, and the ways we can help.

Taking care of our people strengthens our national defense. It's also the right thing to do, and Secretary Austin and the entire department are committed to meeting that sacred obligation to our troops and their families.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Let's go ahead and start with A.P., I believe we have on the phone.

Q (Lita Baldor): Hi, Pat. Thank you. Two things: One, there's been increasing rhetoric coming out of Russia on the threats to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory comes under attack. What is the Pentagon's comment on that? Has there been any changes to any posture at all, or any requests for -- by any of the allies for increased protection in regard to those latest statements? 

And then I have one -- one sort of little data question. I think you said the other day that there's $2.2 billion or so remaining in PDA until September 30th. Does all of that expires -- I'm just sort of double-check. Does all of that expire if not used by the 30th, or is that -- is there any move that that is extended? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much, Lita. In terms of the statements or the announcements coming out of Russia, it does -- it does not affect the department's commitment to continue working closely with our international partners and our allies on providing Ukraine with the support that it needs in their fight to defend their country.

In terms of the -- the money, for example, the USAI money is two-year money, so that is available through September of 2023. In terms of the -- the funding for the PDAs, I will get back to you on that question.

OK, let me go ahead and go to the room here. Tony?

Q (Tony): Can you talk a little bit about the Pentagon's analysis of the 300,000 reservists -- recruits that have been called up by Putin in terms of, where does the pool come from? Largely, where will it come from? And roughly how long will it take to give them any minimal training to be minimally-combat-effective and deployed? Any feel for that yet?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Well, I -- I think you're seeing a lot of this in open press and in terms of what -- what the Russians themselves have said in terms of where these forces would come from, and my understanding is these would primarily be reservists or members of the -- the Russian military that had retired and were in a individual ready-reserve type of status. All of that to say, it's our assessment that it would take time for Russia to train and prepare and equip these forces. And I think it's important also to point out here that while in many ways this may address a manpower issue for Russia, what's not clear is whether or not it could significantly address the command and control, the logistics, the sustainment, and importantly, the morale issues that we've seen Russian forces in Ukraine experience.

Q (Tony): And if I can get a separate question, on the follow up on Lita's question about the nuclear threat, to what extent has the nuclear -- you know, that threat, veiled or whatever, inhibited the United States from sending over longer range weapons, like ATACMS, tanks of some kind, other weapons? I mean, have the Russians basically got a strategic victory in that respect, in terms of red lines that the U.S. now is afraid to cross, in terms of weapons shipments?

GEN. RYDER: So I think we've been very clear all along that our focus is on continuing to have a very open and -- and rigorous dialogue with our Ukrainian counterparts and the international community, in terms of our allies and our partners, on what are Ukraine's needs. And we will continue to have those conversations and we'll continue to think through not only what they need in the medium to long term but also what they need now.

So -- so I don't see those conversations being impacted by this situation. You know, it -- it -- I think it's important here too to -- to provide a little bit of context, in the sense that if we go back in time a little bit, it -- Ukraine -- Russia invaded Ukraine and attempted to annex all of Ukraine, you know, by virtue of invading them, failed in that strategic objective, and so they scaled down the scope of their operational objectives, and even those aren't going well, due to Ukraine's counter-offensive and the issues that I've highlighted, in terms of logistics and sustainment.

So by making these types of announcements about sham referenda or threats about attacking territory, it doesn't change the facts -- operational facts on the ground, which are that the Ukrainians will continue to fight for their country, the Russian military is dealing with some significant challenges on the ground, and the international community will stand behind Ukraine as they fight to defend their country from an invasion.

Q (Tony): Can I ask you one ... 

(Sure)

... one quick weapons question? To what extent are -- is the provision -- providing of U.S. tanks, M1A1s or A2s -- I guess it'd be A2s though -- is that in the interagency debate right now at -- at any level, in terms of whether you'll provide or not?

GEN. RYDER: So I'm not going to get into any specific systems that may be under discussion. Again, we've provided a variety of capabilities that the Ukrainians are using to great effect and we're going to continue to have those discussions and -- and look at a variety of capabilities in the days ahead. So thank you.

Let me go ahead and go to Jim and then I'll go back out to the phone.

Q (Jim): General, just to -- just to be clear, in your answer to Tony, you're saying that the Russian military still has these command and control, the logistics problems, the -- you know, just supply sustainment, getting weapons to the places, and by adding 300,000 people they're just compounding those problems?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I mean, that -- that's speculation but certainly if you are already having significant challenges and haven't addressed some of those systemic, strategic issues that make any large military force capable, there is nothing to indicate that it's going to get any easier by adding more variables to the equation.

Q (Jim): And -- and just to be clear, if -- if President Biden called up 300,000 Reservists, he'd get -- he'd get a group of well trained folks who -- many of -- most of them in -- in -- in units, able to move out in, like, days, weeks or months. That's not what the Russians are going to get, right?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm -- I'm not in the Russian military, I've never been in the Russian military, I don't plan to ever be in the Russian military, so I'm not going to speak for them, but I -- I think we've seen some of the systemic challenges that they have in their force and I -- I think they will have their work cut out for them. Thank you.

Let me go ahead and -- back out to the phone here. Let's go to Sangmin Lee from Radio Free Asia.

Q (Sangmin): Yes, I have a question on the indication that Russia actually purchased weapons from North Korea. You mentioned before that you do have indications that Russia has approached North Korea to request munitions. So do you have indications that the purchase has actually occurred now?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks for the question, Sangmin. So I -- all I'll say is we stand by the information that we provided earlier, and beyond that, I don't have any additional updates to provide. Thank you.

Fadi?

Q (Fadi): ... so I'm going to go back to your -- to your answer about the -- the reports that there were (inaudible) service in -- in Russia. So is -- is your understanding that these 300,000 are the troops that will be introduced into theater in Ukraine or some of them might be replacing other forces that are ready to fight inside of Russia? And by -- and by that, I mean are you detecting any movement of new forces to enter Ukraine from the Russian side or any indications there are -- certain units are preparing to enter Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so -- so that's really a question for the -- the Russian military to address, in terms of how exactly they plan to use those forces. Again, I think in the context of the challenges that Russia finds itself in right now, as it pertains to Ukraine and as evidenced by the -- the rationale that was provided by President Putin and others, in terms of why they're calling up these forces, it's clear that it's intended to help supplement and augment the broader militaries as they conduct this -- their -- their operations in Ukraine. But in terms of the specifics, Fadi, that -- that's just not something I have insight into.

And then the second part of your question? I'm sorry.

Q (Fadi): Has the Pentagon detected any move -- new movement or -- or indications that new units are being prepared to -- to enter in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so what -- what I would say, again, without getting into a -- a high level of operational detail, is that we've seen indications of some small numbers of replacement forces being moved into Ukraine to essentially help the Russian military shore up some of their defensive lines, but -- but nothing on a -- on a large scale at this stage.

Again, the battle fleet -- battlefield remains very fluid, very dynamic. And so, again, this is something that we'll continue to monitor, and I know obviously the Ukrainians are monitoring very closely as well.

OK, yeah?

Q (Liz): Thanks for taking my question. Since President Biden's comments on Sunday night on Taiwan, has the U.S. seen any sort of military shifts by China in the Taiwan Strait?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not aware of any activity that I would characterize as out of the ordinary at this stage, so thanks.

All right, let me go out to the phone line here real quick and then I'll come back to Barbara. Idrees?

Q (Idrees): Hey, Pat. You mentioned, in terms of the -- I think you said it might -- it would take some time for them to train and -- and equip the -- the folks that they're mobilizing. Is there a sense of how long that would be? Are we talking weeks, months, next year? 

And -- and in the other sense of how many folks have already been sort of handed the paper to start mobilizing since the announcement was made?


GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Idrees. So -- so really, you know, what I would say is time will tell. It's just something we'll have to keep an eye on and -- and I'm not going to speculate. 

And in terms of the current status of that call-up, that -- that's something that I would refer -- have to refer you to that the Russian Ministry of Defense. I don't have any information to provide on that. 

Let me go to Barbara. 

Q (Barbara): Can I come back and ask you a few questions on the food price initiative you laid out, if I may? And I understand you may have to take the questions. But are you talking about actually putting DoD budget or federal money into the exchanges and having them directly -- this is my first question. 

GEN. RYDER: Sure. 

Q (Barbara): Directly address prices and lower prices themselves, is that what you're talking about? 

GEN. RYDER: Sort of. Let me -- let me just give you a little bit of context. And what I would tell you is that we're posting some fact sheets to our website on each of the initiatives that I laid out that will deep dive, that will provide you and, importantly, our military members and their families with a lot of additional information. 

But in essence for the commissaries specifically, what we've done is we've changed the commissary funding model to ensure that the Defense Commissary Agency is able to provide savings by eliminating the requirement for them to earn a profit margin from higher prices to pay their operating costs. So in other words, they're able to now use that money instead to put into buying down the costs of food. 

Q (Barbara): OK. So let me follow up on that. Can you provide us with how much money are you talking about in total? How long do you expect to have to do this? Is there a means test or is it any one of any rank and income that is qualified to shop in a commissary, can take advantage of these savings. Have you identified food products such as healthy foods that this will apply to or does this also apply to junk food? 


GEN. RYDER: Can you define junk food for me? 

Q (Barbara): I was going to say, however the U.S. military would define junk food, I'll leave that to you. 

Kind of really a much deeper look at the economics of it, because I think it has been quite a while since the federal government got involved in many years in controlling anything related to food prices. Are you worried the commissaries will have enough of a profit margin to stay in business? Are you worried that this now puts you in direct competition with the private food sector? But especially means tests, how long, how much money? When will you know? What do you have to see in food prices to stop this, to call a conclusion to this effort? Just... 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so let's -- so there's a lot of questions there, Barbara. But, again, I think the fact sheet that we'll be able to provide you will be able to answer some of the more detailed aspects.  And, again, that will be available online to everyone here afterwards. What I would say first of all is in regards to your question who benefits from this, anyone who can shop at a commissary will benefit from this. It will take effect, you will probably see within two weeks because every two weeks is when the commissaries go and they will look at prices in the you know, was when they were buying their food and adjusting prices. But within two weeks you'll see prices drop by 25 percent in the commissary thus benefiting anybody who shops there.*

This applies to essentially, you know, most products in the commissary but in particular it's going to affect staples like bread, milk, eggs as compared to grocery stores that are off-installation. And so again a lot of this has to go -- goes back to the funding model, in that previously, the commissaries had to use a lot of the money that they were bringing in in order to maintain a profit margin, in order to sustain themselves.

They still have a requirement to pay for their own operating costs by law, they have to dedicate approximately -- let's see here -- well, we can get -- again, we can get you those numbers -- I'm sorry -- collect a surcharge of five percent to pay for commissary construction, equipment, maintenance, but the bottom line is by reducing the overhead that it takes to run a commissary, we're now able to use those funds to help reduce the prices of the food in the commissary -- and the -- the key point here being, for our military members and their families, to be able to, you know, address their -- their needs and -- and assist them.

Q (Barbara): ... a very quick follow up -- if they are reducing, at your direction, their profit margin, what guarantee do you have that they will continue to purchase enough food supplies for their customers and that there won't be shortages, because they won't have enough money that they're going to want to maintain their profit margin and not put money towards these less expensive food prices, therefore perhaps having a shortage because they won't want to spend the money on it? What guarantees do you have from them that they will carry through on this and there won't be food shortages?

GEN. RYDER: We're -- we're confident with the -- with the way -- with the way that the commissaries are managed that essentially by changing the -- the funding model and going back to the model that had been used a while ago, we will be able to sustain and there will not be food shortages associated with this.

Again, we can go ahead and take your question. I -- I don't want to spend, you know -- yeah -- spend the -- the entire briefing on that -- but -- but, you know, the bottom line here is what our military members and their families are going to see is, in very short order, the ability to buy food at cheaper prices at the commissary, which is part of our commitment to taking care of our military families and those who serve.

Let me go to Luis.

Q (Luis): ... follow up on the commissary questions and two Ukraine questions, if I may. 

Was this action prompted by the inflation triggers of recent months or was this something that was already in the work previously, was ... 

GEN. RYDER: Absolutely not. So this is -- exactly like I said in my -- my opening remarks -- this is -- and I -- and I'm not exaggerating here -- this is really personal for Secretary Austin. He wants our military men and women to be able to come home, to put food on the table, and to have the money in their pocket that they need to be able to live a healthy life, a comfortable life while they serve our nation.

And so this is one of his priorities -- I mean, from day one, taking care of people. And so he has been working very closely with our leadership within the department, with the other services to identify areas where we can move out and take actions like this in order to help our service members.

Q (Luis): And when you talked about the assessment about the Ukraine -- about the Russian mobilization, you said that it would address some of their manpower ... 

GEN. RYDER: I said that -- that my -- our assessment is that it would potentially address some of their manpower issues.

Q (Luis): ... Mr. Kahl had said a couple of weeks ago, you know, between 70 and 80,000, like, Russian casualties. Is there a -- a more accurate assessment of the Russian casualty count since then?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I don't have any updates to provide on that.

Q (Luis): Now, what is the latest operational update on the situation in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: So broadly speaking, Luis -- Luis, what I would tell you is that we continue to see Ukrainian forces conduct their counter-offensive operations in the Kharkiv, in the Kherson regions. The Russians continue to conduct operations in the Bakhmut area, with the Ukrainians holding a line, but -- but largely speaking, no significant updates for me to provide today on that.

OK, let me go back onto the phone line and then I'll come over here to Carla. Do we have Ellen from Synopsis?

Q (Ellen): Hi. Thank you so much. There have been a couple of calls on -- from congressmen to have the DOD drop the COVID vaccine mandate, in response to recruiting problems and in response to the President calling the pandemic over. I was wondering if the Pentagon has an official response to this?

GEN. RYDER: So I don't have any specific comments to make, in -- in terms of congressional requests. Broadly speaking, what I would tell you is that the DOD still requires that military members be vaccinated. As -- as we've said before, this is a readiness issue, it's a warfighting issue.

If we have to deploy forces around the world, similar to the other types of vaccinations that we're required to have, we need to ensure that our forces are -- are ready to go. Thank you, ma'am.


GEN. RYDER: ... and then I'll come back to Heather at USNI -- Heather 
Q: Hi ... 

Q: Carla Babb.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... there is a Heather Babb so I understand that.

(LAUGHTER)

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. That's the problem with reading this ... 

(CROSSTALK)

Carla and then (Heather ?)?

Q (Carla Babb): ... just real quickly on Syria, the attack that was thwarted near Al-Hol by SDF forces -- did the U.S. military have any role or have any input into helping the SDF with that attack? And if so, can you give us some more details on that?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Carla. So what I would say is I'm not aware of any U.S. or DOD involvement in that. I am aware of CENTCOM's statement on that, so I'd -- I'd refer you to them and they can provide you with some additional details on that. Thank you.

OK, now for real, let me go to Heather, USNI.

Q (Heather) : Great, thank you so much. Two questions unrelated to each other. But the first is that there is a -- been reporting on social media and in some outlets about a USV that appeared on a beach in Crimea. I was wondering if you can confirm that this USV did appear? And also, if that was one of the USVs that the United States provided back in April?

And then on the vaccine mandate, I was wondering if you're able to -- and you might have to take this for the record -- I was wondering if you know if the military and the Pentagon actually have the ability to provide the FDA licensed Pfizer and Moderna shots or if they're still using EUA licensed of those shots?

GEN. RYDER: ... on -- on your second question, we'll -- we'll take that one and -- and come back to you.

In terms of the -- the -- the reports out there about a -- I think you call it -- call it a sea vehicle -- yeah, we -- I don't have anything on that. Thank you.

OK, sir?

Q: ... just a quick question about -- another congressional question. Republicans are saying that moving the Taiwan desk from the East Asia office and into the portfolio of the new Deputy -- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China sends a signal to Beijing that we're -- might be prioritizing their concerns over Taiwan's? What's the DOD's response to people who might hold that view?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so what I -- what I would say -- and -- and I think, you know, we've -- we've provided this to others as well -- is that this was simply an administrative move within the department, in terms of just helping to better manage it -- their -- no one should really read into it too much. Thank you.

Courtney?

Q (Courtney): Just a quick follow up on the questions from a couple of days ago about the abortion services. The VA announced that they've provided their first abortion at a V.A. facility. Has DoD -- can you provide any information about military treatment facilities? And is there any effort -- I mean, is there going to be any attempt to provide that information going forward? 

GEN. RYDER: When you say provide that information? 

Q (Courtney): If any military treatment facilities have provided abortion services to -- since the Dobbs decision? 

GEN. RYDER: I'm not aware of any. Again, Courtney, let me take that question for you. Yes, and I don't have any updates to provide from the last time we -- we talked. So thank you. 

Now let me go back to the phone real quick, and then I'll -- I'll come to you. All right. Sylvie from AFP. 

Q (Sylvie): Hello. Thank you. I would like to go back to Putin's nuclear threat. Is it the assessment of the Pentagon that it has -- Putin has shifted the -- Russia's nuclear weapon use policy and that it will apply to the -- to the Ukrainian territories that Moscow wants to annex? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Sylvie. Yes, I'm not going to comment on Russian nuclear policy. What I would tell you is that -- that, you know, from where we sit right now we have not seen anything that would cause us to change our own posture. Certainly we'll continue to -- to watch this closely and take any kind of rhetoric seriously. But again at this stage we've seen nothing that would indicate that we need to change any approach from our perspective. Thank you. 

Q: Thank you. 

GEN. RYDER: OK. 

Sir? 

Q (Mike): Ukraine asked for four MQ1C Gray Eagles and yesterday Secretary Austin got a letter asking the secretary to review -- from Congress asking to speed the review or to go with that review. In the last 24 hours has there been any progress on -- on looking at that particular case for Ukraine? 

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. First of all, what I would say in terms of congressional correspondence, you know, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about that from the podium and will certainly respond to Congress accordingly. What I would say in terms of providing any kind of specific equipment to Ukraine, it's something that we're always discussing. We are aware that Ukrainians have asked for Gray Eagles or have an interest in Gray Eagles. No decisions have been made in that regard. Deputy Under Secretary for Policy Baker recently, as you may recall, indicated that we are -- things that we're considering as we look into this include technology, protection, survivability in the Ukrainian battlespace. And so -- and then of course the other thing we have to think through like on any system are readiness impacts on our own force, in this case particularly the Army. So, again, no decisions have been made in that regard. 

I would highlight the fact that throughout the course of this conflict, going as far back to the first tranche of USAI, Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, we been providing Ukraine with a variety of ISR capabilities: 22 Pumas, we provided ScanEagles, we provided Switchblades, Phoenix Ghost. And so again we continue to maintain a robust dialogue with Ukraine and the international community about what we, the international community, can do to support Ukraine. But that's where we're at at this point. 

Q (Mike): So on those couple of points from Ms. Baker the other day, survivability and readiness impacts, going just off the top of my head, I think that there are about 286 of those systems in the United States Army's arsenal right now. And they're going through pretty costly tech refresh. So should the taxpayer be concerned about the survivability of those 280-some odd systems or the four that the Ukraine -- it's the Ukrainian battle space, particularly costly for -- for those systems ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so let's -- so let's not mix apples and oranges here. You know, what we're talking about is security assistance to Ukraine. When it comes to the employment of U.S. military capabilities, again, I'd refer you to the Army to talk about their own systems.

Certainly, we're going to consider a variety of options, in terms of how we employ those kinds of capabilities, the operating environments that we employ them in. No -- and just broadly speaking as an airman, when we do employ aerial systems, it's more than just the aircraft, it's a variety of capabilities that are supporting those aircraft. So there's a lot that goes into employing any type of aircraft.

So I just highlight those as factors that, like any system, we would have to take into account before we introduce it to the battlefield. Thanks.

OK, let -- let me go ahead here and then I'll go back out to the phone. Yes, sir?

Q : Thank you, General. Regarding to other area, like Syria, do you have any communications or contact with the Russia counterpart to avoid any conflicts between the two armies, especially, you know, we have a -- a -- U.S. bases in Syria, and additional for -- that we have even Russian troops there.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we do maintain regular military-to-military contact with Russia, the Russian military, as it pertains to Syria. You know, I talked about -- the other day about the fact that particularly the airspace there is -- is contested. And so going as far back as the counter-ISIS campaign -- the early days of the counter-ISIS campaign, when Russia introduced forces, that has been a longstanding policy and approach.

And I would encourage you to contact Central Command or Air Forces Central and they can provide you with much more detail.

Let me go out to the phone here. Lara Seligman, Politico?

Q (Lara): Hey, Pat. Thanks for doing this. Two questions. 

One, I just wanted to follow up on the questions about the mobilization, and I'm wondering if you could -- if I could ask specifically what does the Pentagon assess is the -- more -- the quality of the people that Putin is calling up? I know these are supposed to be former troops but what kind of training have they had and what kind of difference will they make on the battlefield?

And then a related question, what is the Pentagon's assessment of what Ukrainian forces are going to need for the winter? And how are we helping them with that? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Lara. In terms of the specific individuals that may be affected by a Russian partial mobilization, again, I'm seeing a lot of the same press reporting that you are that's -- that's coming out of Russia. And so I -- I certainly would not want to speculate or generalize about specific individuals. I -- I just don't have that information to provide.

In terms of Ukraine and the winter, as, you know, evidenced by the PDA announcement that we put out recently, we are -- we are -- we do continue to communicate with the Ukrainians and -- and our international partners and allies in terms of what their needs may be for the wintertime -- and again, we're providing some winter gear -- but we'll continue to have those conversations and support them as we -- as we head into the winter months here. Thank you.

All right. Yes, ma'am?

Q (Wafaa): Is the DOD going to launch investigations to look into the accusations made against the U.S. forces in Iraq of the killing of Iraqi teenagers in Abu Ghraib recently by a bullet? 

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any information on that, so let me take that question for you. Thank you.

OK, let me do one more for the phone here and then do last couple here in the room. Kasim from Anadolu?

Q (Kasim): Yeah, thank you very much, General, for taking my question. I was going to ask about the -- this prisoner swap. Based on the -- the information you have, could you just tell us if -- how many other U.S. veterans are currently fighting in Ukraine? Are -- are -- are there any other veterans at the hands of Russians?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Kasim. So I -- I would refer you to the State Department, in terms of the status of U.S. citizens overseas. That -- that's not information that we track necessarily here in the Department of Defense. Obviously, our focus is on our -- our actively serving military members. Thank you.

All right, do one or two more here. Yes, Tony?

Q (Tony): ... service this week made a big splash, saying that their B-21 bomber's going to be unveil -- rolled out in first week of December. Did Secretary Austin have any hand in that decision to allow it to be rolled out? And should observers look at that as a less than subtle message to China of this new U.S. capability that, later this decade, will be flying?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so the Secretary's certainly aware of the Air Force's announcement. I -- I would refer you to the Air Force to talk through the specifics. Of course, part of this is the -- the normal maturation of the B-21 program.

And in -- in terms of sending a message, I -- I would just broaden the aperture here and just say, you know, by virtue of the B-21 and the capability that it will provide to the United States military and to our allies and partners around the world, it -- it certainly does send a message, in terms of our ability to provide global strike anywhere, anytime.

Q (Tony): ... this decade obviously.

A quick housekeeping -- what's the status of the National Defense Strategy, which you control versus the White House?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tony. I -- I don't have any updates to provide for you now, but as always, we'll continue to make sure that when we do have something to announce, we will announce it.

So -- all right, thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate it.

* ED. NOTE:  Following the briefing, Brig Gen Ryder subsequently clarified that service members and their families will soon see a 3-5 percent decrease in pricing on most grocery items in their commissaries.  DoD is changing the commissary funding model to ensure the Defense Commissary Agency can provide the greatest savings possible, which will cut grocery prices at the register to achieve at least 25% savings for commissary patrons.  Please see DoD’s fact sheet for additional information regarding this initiative at: https://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Factsheets/commissary-factsheet.pdf)

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