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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, well, thank you very much for being here today, ladies and gentlemen.  For today's briefing, I'm pleased to introduce Mr. Mark Gorak, the Principal Director for Resources and Analysis for DOD's Chief Information Officer. 

He's joining us today to announce the DOD's 2023-2027 Cyber Workforce Strategy Implementation Plan. Mr. Gorak will provide some opening remarks and then has graciously agreed to stay and answer a few questions.  Afterwards, I will stick around and provide an update on a few other items. 

For ground rules, I'd ask that you keep your questions for Mr. Gorak focused on the Cyber Workforce Strategy, and I'll be happy to take any unrelated questions later in the briefing.

Sir, over to you.

PRINCIPAL DIRECTOR FOR RESOURCES & ANALYSIS MARK GORAK:  Thank you, General Ryder, and thanks for joining us today.  On behalf of the DOD Chief Information Officer, Honorable John Sherman, I'm Mark Gorak, I'm the Principal Director for Resources and Analysis.

In March, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed the 2023-2027 DOD Cyber Workforce Strategy.  This strategy provides a roadmap for the advancement and unified management of the cyber workforce comprised of about 225,000 highly trained civilians, military, and contractor personnel.

Today, we are releasing the Cyber Workforce Strategy Implementation Plan, which is a comprehensive and proactive approach that will further assist the department in advancing talent management initiatives aimed at cultivating an agile, flexible, and responsive cyber workforce.

The implementation plan sets the foundation for how the department will successfully execute the 22 objectives and 38 initiatives tied to the four goals in the Cyber Workforce Strategy.  To realize the success of these goals and objectives, we will measure and monitor progress on a set battle rhythm, holding ourselves and our executing organizations accountable.

To recruit and retain the most talented workforce, we must advance our institutional culture and reform the way we do business.  We are breaking the mold of the past and changing the way we identify, recruit, develop, and retain our cyber talent.

The threats to our nation don't sleep.  They are watching our every move.  Imminent cyber-attacks are just around the corner and the calling to defend and protect our nation in today's digital battlefield is more important now than ever before.

Which brings me to tell you a story about how DOD personnel are writing history.  Note, we changed the name to protect the privacy.  Master Sergeant Jason Hines grew up in a small town.  He graduated high school and made the decision to join the Marine Corps. 

Not long after enlisting, Jason deployed to Iraq, supporting the regimental combat teams' ability to maneuver and communicate in the cyber domain.  Though it wasn't the combat he envisioned, he quickly discovered the vital role that technology plays in modern warfare. 

Hines gained experience maintaining communications systems, analyzing data, and securing networks in extreme environments.  Jason's affinity for technology drove him to seek out opportunities to expand his skills and knowledge in the field of cybersecurity.  He enrolled in specialized training programs and obtained certifications that furthered his expertise in protecting critical information systems. 

As Master Sergeant Hines progressed in his military career, his skills caught the attention of the Marines Corps Forces Cyberspace Command, a unit responsible for offensive and defensive cyber operations.  Jason served as a defensive cyber operator for the next few years until making the decision to separate from the military.

Leaving his cyber expertise and top secret clearance — a correction — leveraging his cyber expertise and top secret clearance, Jason joined a cybersecurity firm here in D.C.  Fast forward to 2016, when the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, Jason is now part of a small elite team of cyber defenders investigating the breach.

The malicious code used to infiltrate the DNC has been identified and is discovered to share the same digital footprint as a previous phishing attack that occurred in 2015.  After some additional analysis, it's confirmed.  The team has identified the perpetrator of the attack — Russia.

The department commits to being bold, challenging the historical norms, and deriving innovation through new programs and initiatives that will bolster the cyber workforce, and the nation's challenges and economic security are dependent on an effective cyber workforce, ready and able to execute any mission around the world. 

The DOD cyber workforce continues to evolve and adapt, to address the challenges posed by our adversaries with confidence and resolve, to win any conflict.  The successful execution of the Cyber Workforce Strategy through this implementation plan and follow-on actions will empower the department and its components to foster the most capable and dominant cyber workforce in the world.

I look forward to your questions.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you, sir.  OK, we'll go ahead and take any questions for Mr. Gorak. 

Q:  Thank you.  I have one question about the cyber hacking.  How are you copying with the (inaudible) enforcements to respond to North Korea's cyber hacking or cryptocurrency?

MR. GORAK:  So again, I'm focused on the workforce in general, and one of our initiatives is to work with our international partners on establishing bases of education and tasks and abilities for each of our cyber work roles — so partnering with North Korea to identify those training objectives — South Korea, sorry — partnering with South Korea to identify those, that training required to be able to address those operational impacts.

Q:  What about China (inaudible) ...

GEN. RYDER:  Janne, we're going to keep the focus on the workforce strategy and not — not operational questions.


Q:  What were you doing before and what's the biggest change that we're going to see?

MR. GORAK:  So I think the biggest change is this is not business as usual.  So to — to address our shortage and to keep up with the demand, we must fundamentally change the way we're doing business.  So I think the biggest change in these initiatives is how we go after recruitment, looking at the whole spectrum, how do we go after education of — it's a national challenge.  It's not just a DOD challenge. 

So the initiatives we put in place to go after this — you know, K-12 reach — reaching out, getting kids interested in STEM, and then all the way through a whole human capital talent management pipeline to get to actual outputs of people who are qualified and want to serve their country.

And I view this as a partnership, both private and public.  So we've a lot of initiatives in here with exchange programs with private industry, as well as with other public entities, other federal agencies, so we can exchange that talent back and forth and keeping track of that talent as we go through time. 

Even for people who leave the military, like in my story, that's OK.  That helps the nation.  The key then is how do we keep track of those people so that if we need them in a crisis, we can be able to call on them to help serve? 

GEN. RYDER:  Tara. 

Q:  Have the number of cyber-attacks incidents increased because you have a larger number of people teleworking?  Has that increased vulnerability, where they're working from home, maybe don't have the same protections? 

MR. GORAK:  So... 

Q:  Or they've got other stuff on that computer? 

MR. GORAK:  Yes, so I don't have any data that supports that assumption, but I would say one of our initiatives is to empower our hybrid workforce.  We have to find ways to mitigate the security challenges, address those risks and then mitigate them.  So — because I think in order to address the best talent, you have to have a flexibility in the workforce, because that's what the workforce of today is demanding. 

So how do we enable that flexibility and yet still maintain security?  So that's one of the huge initiatives that we're addressing. 

GEN. RYDER:  Let's go to John and then we'll go over the Phil. 

Q:  Thanks.  Are you currently facing — currently facing any personnel shortfalls in terms of the Cyberforce?  I know some of the services have been having challenges recruiting folks for other positions, but with regard to the cyber workforce specifically, are you trying to grow that force?  What's kind of the state of play there?

MR. GORAK:  So I think the force is growing.  Today we have about a 24 percent vacancy rate, and our plan in the first 2 years of this plan, we're trying to reduce that about in half.  On the military side, we actually don't have a problem recruiting in the cyber workforce, because the military provides the training and education to train you in this, and then they provide you the experience.  So then the problem is retention. 

On the civilian side, we have both a recruiting and a retention challenge.  And again, I look at it as a partnership with industry, how do we increase those partnerships?  And moving between each of those — between public and private sector?  So I think we have to get better at doing that to address this. 

Q:  And do you have figures for the total number of personnel that you're short, that you're — you said I think 24 percent, something like that?  Do you have like — just in terms of the number of billets that you're trying to fill? 

MR. GORAK:  So yes, so about 24 percent vacancy rate, our total force is about 75,000 civilians, 75,000 military, and about 75,000 contractors.  You can do the math on that. 

GEN. RYDER:  OK, let's take a couple more.  Phil and then we'll go over here to Jim. 

Q:  How has the case of the Air National Guard — guardsman (inaudible) affected your view of the workforce and the tele-management issues that you may be facing.

MR. GORAK:  So again, we — we're looking at the total force here, and how do we provide the talent and education?  Part of our job is to provide them the knowledge, skills, abilities, and tasks, and specific education to know what's acceptable and what's not acceptable.  So that's how we're addressing that, it's through education. 

In addition, the challenges there also — again, like I mentioned, in the hybrid workforce, how do you maintain that flexibility but yet still providing the security that we have and the safeguards we need to put in place so that those things don't happen. 

Q:  I mean, just coming at it a different way, if you're trying to fill a 24 percent shortfall, are there concerns that by — by — in the rush to do that, you could — you could open yourself up to other vulnerabilities from bad actors? 

MR. GORAK:  No, I don't see it that way at all.  Again, I think as a national challenge — well first of all, I just think if there's going to be a bad actor, there's going to be a bad actor.  The numbers that we're looking at, 99.999 percent of all of our employees are outstanding employees and doing the right thing.  So when we have an occasional issue, I think we address it and we put in procedures and safeguards to try to prevent that from happening again.

GEN. RYDER:  Final question will go to Jim.

Q:  Sir, are you going to have — for civilians especially, are you going to have special pays, bonuses, or, you know, signing bonuses?  Are you — are you asking for that sort of leeway in order to try and attract people?  Because you're never really going to be able to match what a civilian corporation can pay an IT specialist.

MR. GORAK:  So I think we look at compensation as a total package, and I think one of the biggest advantages we have in DOD is our mission.  And it's the only place I know of in the country that can do legal offensive cyber operations.  So it's very much an attraction to a lot of people.

And then service, right, providing that service, people have that quality.  But in addition, we have cyber-accepted service within DOD, where we can actually pinpoint through work roles that are critically short and incentivize them with even greater pay. 

And also, we already have the authorities today in general to provide what we call the three Rs — you know, relocation, retention, and recruitment bonuses, which can relate up to 25 or sometimes up to 50 percent of their base salary.  So we have those authorities today.  Now it's a matter of getting the word out and actually utilizing those authorities to maintain and attract not all of our talent but the best talent.

GEN. RYDER:  Sir, thank you so much for your time today.  Did you have any closing remarks? 

MR. GORAK:  I do.  So on closing, thank you again for joining us today.  The call to action starts now.  We are advancing our institutional culture, we are proactively and productively addressing today's cyber threats and we will remain the most capable and dominant cyber workforce in the world.  And I thank you for your time.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you very much.  All right, again, a big thanks to Mr. Gorak for doing that.  I do have a few things at the top that I'd like to pass along and then we'll get right to your questions.

So first, regarding the current situation in Niger, let me flag upfront that there are no changes at this time to the U.S. military force posture in Niger during the U.S. Department of State-led ordered departure.  Additionally, State Department has not requested DOD personnel or equipment as part of the ordered departure.  Also, no policy decisions have been made regarding future security cooperation, and in the meantime, as we've previously said, we're taking prudent force protection measures and monitoring the security situation.

As we continue to move forward, we will monitor the situation, which is fluid and evolving, and I would reiterate that the U.S. government focus remains on the diplomatic solution.  When and if we have any significant updates to provide, we'll be sure to get those to you.

On a separate note, earlier today, Secretary Austin met with Mongolian Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene here at the Pentagon to discuss our bilateral security cooperation efforts within the Indo-Pacific region.  A full readout of their discussion will be posted to the DOD website later this afternoon.

Also today, the Department of Defense, in coordination with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, has expanded eligibility for a benefit that will provide our military families with another financial option to help reduce the cost burdens associated with dependent childcare.

This important initiative is another key step in the DOD's continuing efforts to take care of our people and ultimately bolsters military readiness.  The Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account initiative provides personal accounts that will allow eligible service members to set aside up to $5,000 per household in pre-tax earnings for qualified dependent care expenses. 

The introduction of the Dependent Care Flexible Spending will further help our families afford care for their loved ones while supporting the U.S. military's important mission worldwide.  Again, additional information can be found on the DOD website.

Tomorrow, Secretary Austin will attend Chief of Staff of the Army General James McConville's relinquishment of responsibility and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston's change of responsibility ceremony.  The ceremonies will take place at Summerall Field located on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.  Please contact Army Public Affairs for additional details.

In other news, as an update from earlier this week, over the last 72 hours, in the wake of Typhoon Egay, U.S. Marines with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing joined with their Philippine counterparts to deliver over 32 tons of humanitarian assistance supplies provided by the government of the Philippines to remote Philippine islands.

U.S. Marines provided relief and lifesaving capabilities to remote regions at the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in response to the typhoon.  In addition, U.S. Navy and Marines also conducted overland and water search and rescue efforts in support of the Philippine Coast Guard north of the Luzon region.

On 3 August, U.S. Marines were pleased to accompany the Philippine Secretary of National Defense Teodoro to participate in humanitarian efforts at Lal-lo, an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement site, to demonstrate our unwavering support to the ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

Shifting gears, over the next few days, National Guard troops from 25 states, one territory, and multiple international partners will arrive at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Michigan for the kick-off of Northern Strike 23-2, one of the Department of Defense's largest Reserve component readiness exercises.

From August 5th through the 19th, more than 7,000 service members will take part in the integrated training at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, and Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airfield.

Northern Strike trains for joint operations and decisive action missions, including offense, defense, and stability operations, with special emphasis on contested sustainment logistics, combined Joint All Domain Command and Control, and combined-arms live fire exercises.

Additional focused opportunities include joint fire support with live close air support, integrated maneuver with fires, force protection, air mobility, and C4I elements of theater air ground systems.  Unique to this year's exercise design is the integration of inter-theater medical care training, where Northern Strike participants will evacuate simulated patients to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for follow-on treatment.

Northern Strike is the premier Reserve component training event designed to build readiness with joint and partners forces in all domains of warfare, and I'd encourage you to contact the National Guard for additional information.

And with that, we'll take your questions.  We'll start with AP and then we'll go to Fox.  Tara?

Q:  If I can go back to Niger, besides the training being suspended, are there any other changes to U.S. military presence there?  Are they all staying on base?  Are any flights taking off?  The airspace — as I understand, the restricted the airspace.  So is that affecting any sort of training flights for U.S. military personnel?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks for the question.  So first of all, as we've highlighted, there's no changes to the U.S. military force posture in Niger or policies at this time.  Our forces there in Niger continue to cooperate daily with Nigerian forces to keep base operations and services functioning. 

And so we're — as I mentioned, we're continuing to monitor the situation — which remains fluid and evolving, but right now, again, our focus is going to continue to be on a diplomatic solution to the situation there.

Q:  So just to follow up on that, so cooperate — are U.S. forces going outside the base or are they still going on missions or is everybody staying inside the base for now?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so for the most part right now, they're staying on the bases.  As I mentioned earlier this week, if there is a reason that they need to go off-base to engage with counterparts, you know, certainly conditions permitting, they're doing that, but for force protection reasons, largely remaining on the bases, and again, cooperating with the Nigerian forces to keep those bases running.

Q:  And then just one quick last ...

GEN. RYDER:  The last one and then I've got to go to Fox.

Q:  Because the airspace is restricted, does the military have any role in helping negotiate flights for the Americans that are in Niger that are being asked to evacuate out?

GEN. RYDER:  So for the ordered departure, State Department has the lead.  They have not requested any support from DOD at this time.


Q:  Are there any Nigerian troops on the base where the U.S. military is located?

GEN. RYDER:  So I'd refer you to AFRICOM for further details but my understanding, short answer is yes, we continue to work with our Nigerian counterparts there on the ground, obviously the forces that are not necessarily associated with this seizure of the President, but again, we're working with them on a daily basis to keep the bases running and the services going.

Q:  And do you have any assurances from the current military leadership of Niger that they will not harm either U.S. forces or that — that U.S. forces can remain on the base?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, as we monitor this situation — I mentioned earlier in the week that the Chairman has spoken to his counterpart in Niger.  Right now, we have no indication of any imminent threat against American forces in the country.  Again, this is something that we'll continue to monitor very closely.


Q:  Thank you, General.  I have two questions.  First question on Private King's — Private King's North Korea seems to be the wrong choice because there is no freedom and human rights in North Korea and people suffer from hunger.  My question is what kind of education is the DOD providing to U.S. soldiers about the — North Korea?

GEN. RYDER:  Janne, you know, in terms of what kind of training or anything like that in Korea, you know, I'd refer you to USFK.  I think largely speaking, most folks have an understanding of the situation in North Korea. 

As it pertains to Private King, again, I don't want to speculate.  As I've mentioned before, it's under investigation and we'll know more later.

Q:  ... U.S. soldiers aware that North Korea is an enemy country?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I think there's a clear understanding about entry into and out of North Korea, but again, for specifics, I'd refer you to USFK.


Q:  The Department of Justice has announced charges against two sailors for espionage related to China.  Has the — I'm not asking about that investigation or that case but has the DOD conducted an — a damage assessment?  And if so, what are your concerns?

 GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Phil.  So I don't have anything to provide on that right now.  I am aware of DOJ's announcement today.  So as it relates to that, I'd refer you to them.  Thank you.


Q:  Just a follow-on about this.  This is the second time this year a service member has been charged with disseminating classified information.  Are you considering taking measures above and beyond what the Pentagon has already done following the case of Jack Teixeira?  Are you looking at the possibility of that?

GEN. RYDER:  You know without getting into specific cases, as we've talked about before, I think we have clear policies and procedures in place when it comes to safeguarding and protecting sensitive information.  And so if those rules are violated, appropriate action will be taken, as it has in the cases that we're highlighting.

Q:  But you put in more — more actions and more steps for security following Teixeira.  Are you considering adding on to those or — or extending those in some way?  Cause (inaudible) we've seen them fail again in this case.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, I mean, the broader issue of, you know, espionage or the lack of proper handling of classified information is something as old as warfare itself.  That said, again, we have a robust set of policies and procedures going through the situation that you're referencing, in terms of the Airman.  As you know, we have done a very thorough analysis on steps that can be taken to further tighten controls, and we're working through that process now.  Thank you.

Let me go back here.  Yes, ma'am?

Q:  Did they have any ties to China, such as family members?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I don't want to get ahead of the DOJ investigation, so I'd refer you to them for any questions on that.  Thank you.


Q:  Thanks, General.  So in the Wall Street Journal this week, it was reported that anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 Ukrainians have suffered mutilation of limbs.  I'm just wondering if you could add color to that, if the Pentagon has any figures, in terms of, you know, casualties to that level over there in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any casualty data to provide as it relates to Ukraine.  Clearly, we know that the damage and suffering inflicted upon the Ukrainian people by the Russians due to their illegal invasion of Ukraine is significant, which is again another reason why we would call on Russia to end this conflict immediately.

In the meantime, knowing that they have no indication of doing that, we're going to continue to support Ukraine, working with our allies and partners to ensure that they have the capabilities they need to defend their country.  Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q:  Hi, General.  Thank you. Tima from Al Jazeera English. 

Could you comment on reporting from the AP today about the possibility of the U.S. military putting armed personnel on commercial ships to prevent Iran from harassing and seizing ships in the Hormuz Strait?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I've seen those press reports.  I would tell you I don't have any announcements to make regarding any force posture changes.  As you are tracking, we've previously announced the decision to deploy the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group, Marine Expeditionary Unit into the area of responsibility there, as well as F-35s, F-16s, and A-10s, but as it pertains to that particular reporting, I don't have anything to provide.  Thank you very much.


Q:  I have one budget question and one broader question.  Jon Tester last week said — the Senator Jon Tester last week said he expected the DOD to submit a supplemental for Ukraine this month.  What's the status?  Any preparation for a Fiscal '23 or a Fiscal '24 supplemental?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Tony.  I don't have anything to provide for you today.  If that changes, certainly we'll let you know.

Q:  Is something in the works though?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get ahead of any process at this point.

Q:  ... on a broader subject, the — the Gallup this week disclosed a poll that shows that confidence in the U.S. military among the public is the lowest in two decades.  Did that poll generate any discussion among the leadership here, in terms of why it's happened and what steps DOD can take to pull that back or pull — you know, just pull that back (inaudible) with — with the public.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.  Well, I've seen the press reporting on the poll.  I will say I'm not really in a position to address the "why" behind the decrease in those numbers, particularly since the research didn't really delve into that beyond stating that there has been a general decline in confidence in public institutions writ large. 

So I'll offer a few thoughts, with the caveat that these are Pat Ryder's personal opinion.  So first, the U.S. military continues to be the best fighting organization in the history of the world.  Anywhere you go around the globe, 24/7, you're going to see our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guardians, Coast Guardsmen conducting operations, bolstering our defense and security cooperation relationships, and engaging in activities that keep our country safe.

And I would say that a consistent fact throughout the history of the American military is that there has been and continues to be brave and selfless — selfless Americans who are willing to raise their hand, take an oath to defend the Constitution, defend our nation, regardless of how popular the military is or military service is at any point in time.  And as you see in those polls, that popularity ebbs and flows over time.

But let me just conclude by saying that we don't take public trust and confidence for granted.  As an all-volunteer force, we know that we have a responsibility to Congress and the American public to ensure that they have an understanding of what we're doing to defend the country, how we are spending taxpayer dollars, how we are employing the resources that we've been entrusted with. 

And so through a variety of means, whether it's community relations, whether it's media engagement, whether it's congressional testimony or through our recruiting efforts, just to name a few, we will continue to stay engaged with the public that we serve and that our fellow citizens can have the facts when it comes to their military.

And so we're going to work hard to continue to maintain that trust and confidence.

Q:  Do you think this is an indication that the right wing, Republican attacks on the military for being too woke and the media echo chamber of the right wing world are having an impact and this may be a reflection of that?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, you know, the challenge here, Tony, is you go out and you ask a question, yes or no, and the Gallup Poll produces some statistics.  I'm not going to sit here and speculate on the specific whys, other than acknowledge the fact that earning the trust and confidence of the American public is something we will continue to do in the midst of continuing to do what's job number one, which is defending this nation, and that's something that we do very well and that we'll continue to do.

But let me — I'm happy to talk with you a little bit more offline and we can do that.  Let me go over here to Dan, and then I'm going to go to the phone so I don't get in trouble with the phone guys.

Q:  Can you clarify what the situation is on the border between Poland and Belarus?  And to what degree is there heightened concern about the presence of Russian Wagner paramilitary units along the border?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Dan.  So, you know, when it comes to the specific situation on the border, I think really Poland are in the best position to talk to you about what their current situation and concerns are.  Largely speaking, again, I'm aware of the rhetoric that we've seen from Wagner and from Belarus, as it pertains to the border. 

Right now, there are no plans that I'm aware of, from a U.S. standpoint to adjust our current force posture.  We obviously are committed to the security of NATO and we'll continue to stay in close communication with our Polish allies on that front.

Q:  But you don't see some kind of heightened risk or ...

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not aware of any imminent risk right now, as it relates to cross-border operations, but again, you know, when it comes to Wagner Group, I think we all keep a close eye all of the time.

Q:  And just one on Ukraine, on the counter-offensive, there seems to be a consensus now that it's — it's a difficult task and there hasn't been, you know, kind of a dramatic breakthrough.  There are some criticisms that the U.S. has been too slow at trying some — providing some weapons systems over time, whether it's tanks or longer range missiles, and — and that that has perhaps also complicated things for the Ukrainians.  What's your response to that criticism?  Do you think there's any truth to that?

GEN. RYDER:  Not at all.  I think that we have been very aggressive in providing Ukraine with a variety of capabilities — and when I say "we," the United States and the international community — and that's something that we're going to continue to keep after.

The problem is that Russia invaded its democratic neighbor unprovoked and has killed thousands and thousands of innocent people.  And so there are no illusions that this — this fight that Ukraine finds itself in is an easy fight.  And so again, Russia has had time to build up the defenses along their occupied areas and Ukraine is taking the fight to them and it's going to be a tough fight. 

But, you know, I would just go back and highlight, first of all, we've been training the Ukrainians since 2014.  Even after the war started, after Russia's invasion, the international community and United States have continued to help train Ukrainian forces.  We've literally met almost every single month since the invasion with international allies and partners, over 50, to highlight Ukraine's needs and rush aid, security assistance to them.

So we are confident that they have significant combat capability available to them and that they're going to employ that at a time and place of their choosing to defend their country and take back sovereign territory.

Let me move on to a few more questions here.  Yes, sir?  And then I'm really — yeah, you all the way in the back, and then I'm going to go to the phone.

Q:  On Tuesday, you were asked about Senator Tuberville's holds and about how that affects readiness, and you said, you know, the Pentagon's focused on winning our nation's war and winning — you know, winning battles — I — I think you said — was the term you phrased — or —winning wars, and I wanted to ask you about that.

The Pentagon is a reflective institution, along with the services.  It's why we have so many lessons learned.  This month marks two years since the 20 year war of Afghanistan ended.  What does the Pentagon see that as?  Did we win or did we lose?

And I — and I don't ask that to be flippant or as a gotcha but — but I wondered what has the two years of reflection been like here at the Pentagon and — and how did they view that war, in terms of, like — you know, like you said, we — we fight our nation's wars to win.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so first of all, I'm not going to engage in a sort of, you know, oversimplification of our experience in Afghanistan, whether we won or lost.  What I would tell you from a lessons learned standpoint, as someone who has served in the military for that duration of 20 years, when it comes to the global war on terror and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that this is very much a learning organization, and I think our operations around the world demonstrate that.

Most notably, if you look at the U.S. military and the level of engagement that we have with international partners and allies and how we go about, in a coalition format, in order to address international security issues, those are all lessons that we took out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan and that we don't do anything alone. 

Look at the counter-ISIS fight and the fact — you know, as an Airman, we had 25 different nations at one time conducting air operations over Syria and Iraq to strike ISIS.  What other nation can bring together 25 different countries to focus on a singular problem and address it?

So all of those experiences and all of those relationships that were built are exactly the things that we're leveraging now, when it comes to challenges that we're seeing in the Indo-Pacific region or that we're seeing in the European region right now with Russia and Ukraine.

So the United States — when I say the U.S. military is the strongest fighting force in the world, that is because of that, because we don't do it alone, because we do it with our partners, shoulder-to-shoulder, to address mutual areas of concern.

Q:  I understand.


Q:  But just ...

GEN. RYDER:  With that, let me — let me -  I appreciate it.  I just don't want to get into a longer debate but I'm happy to talk with you offline.

Let me go to John — let me go to the phone and then I'm going to come to you, John. 

All right, let's go to Missy Ryan, Washington Post.  You there, Missy?

Q:  Hi.  Sorry, I'm just trying to unmute.  Thanks, Pat.  I just wanted to follow-up related to the AP report about the Strait of Hormuz.  I know you — you can't confirm that but in — on — just to provide a little bit of information on the existing operations related to trying to deter Iranian maritime aggression in that area, can you talk about the department's current approach for that? 

And also, give us any more detail about the Bataan group's activities, what exactly they are going to be doing once they all arrive in theater, just so we have an understanding of what the — the current status is.  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Missy.  So we'll come back to you know, with some more specifics, in terms of once they arrive in theater, but broadly speaking, as we've talked about before, by increasing the presence, by working with our partners in the region, and stepping up the tempo and pace of our patrols writ large around the region, the intent, again, is to be closer to be able to respond quicker to any potential provocations and to deter any type of Iranian aggression.

And so we will continue to focus — be focused on that, but as I just highlighted to the previous question, it's important to see it through the lens of we're not doing this by ourselves, we're doing this as part of a coalition in the region, to ensure that the Strait of Hormuz remains open, that there's freedom of navigation, and that we're deterring any type of maligned activity.

OK, let me go to Will Dunlop.  Will, are you there?  OK, Lara Seligman? 

Oh, there you go.

Q:  Pat.  Sorry, I was just unmuting.  I wanted to see if there's anything you can tell us about DOD's concern regarding the possible presence of Wagner forces into Niger?  I know there are some concerns about Wagner in Mali and elsewhere in Africa.  I'm wondering whether you have any indication that the Wagner forces are moving into Niger and what are the ramifications there?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Lara.  So I don't have anything new to provide, beyond what I briefed earlier this week.  No indication that Wagner was anyhow associated with this attempt to seize power.  And so that continues to be the situation.

Obviously, Wagner does have a presence in Africa, it's something that we're continuing to keep a close eye on, but beyond that, I don't have any additional information to provide.

OK, let me just do a couple more.  John, and then we'll come over here.

Q:  Is the Northern Strike exercise that you mentioned at the top connected with the global information dominance experiments that the combatant commands and CDAO have been conducting or is this kind of a separate, contained exercise?

GEN. RYDER:  John, let me make sure that we — we'll come back to you on that one.  I don't believe that they're connected but I don't want to give you bad info. 

OK, let me go to Carla Babb with VOA.

Q:  Hey.  Thanks, Pat, for doing this.  Tima actually answered my question, Missy followed up a little bit, but I just want to follow-up one more time.  I know you can't make a policy announcement on saying that the U.S. is putting armed personnel on ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz but can you at least give us a feeling is the U.S. military considering that, is that under consideration at this time?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Carla. I'm not going to get into discussions about, you know, what we may or may not be considering.  If and when there's anything to announce, you know, as it relates to our force posture, we'll do that as appropriate.  Thank you.

OK, just two more.  Yes, sir?

Q:  Yeah, Sean Carberry, National Defense Magazine.  Regarding Niger, over the course of this week, has this caused any pauses, changes to other partner force arrangements or activities across Africa, Syria, or other places where there's similar train, advise, assist?  Anything in terms of greater monitoring of partner forces, things like that that — that's ...

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm not aware of any changes as it relates to other activities within the AFRICOM AOR, so, thanks.

And Ryo?

Q:  Thanks, General.  Yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Dr. Ratner met the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Tao, and readout said that Dr. Ratner emphasized the U.S. ongoing commitment to maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between U.S. and China.  So what was the reaction from Chinese — Chinese side?  And did you find any positive sign for future military-to-military communication?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thank you.  As I'm — I'm sure you can appreciate, the extent of what we have to provide on that was what was in the readout.  I don't want to speak for the PRC on that front. 

Again, I will just emphasize that we continue to emphasize the importance of military-to-military communication for all of the reasons that we've talked about to reduce the potential for miscalculation.  And so we remain committed to keeping those lines of communication open.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.