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Press Gaggle With Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: I just have a couple of really brief things at the top here, and then I'll get right to your questions. 

Obviously, we were all very sad to hear the news over the weekend about the Osprey crash in Australia. Again, I'd refer you to the Marine Corps for details. That incident is obviously under investigation. We did see the secretary issue a statement over the weekend expressing our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were lost, as well as our thoughts and prayers for those who are injured and recovering.

I do want to say that we are very appreciative to our Australian allies for their support throughout this entire process in terms of their first responder response and subsequent assistance. So again, Marine Corps should be able to keep you up to date on the latest in regards to that.

Separately, the department continues to support ongoing efforts in Maui as it relates to the disaster relief response there. The secretary did have a chance to talk to Senators Hirono and Schatz on Thursday afternoon just to get their assessment of how things are going, as well as to reaffirm the department's ongoing and continued support for the state of Hawaii and for FEMA, and so we'll continue to keep you updated on that front.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions. Let's go to Tara.

Q: Back on the Osprey, is the Pentagon concerned at all about the number of Osprey crashes that have happened in recent months? And are you reaching out to the services to look to see if there's any sort of common cause?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. So I mean, we need to allow time for the investigation to take its course. I'm not aware of any service activity as it relates to any kind of messages in terms of potential stand-downs or anything like that. Again, we need to look at the data here and look at each situation and judge it on its own merits. But of course, safety is always going to be a priority when it comes to aircraft and aviation and operations. Thanks.

Q: Well now, just secondly, can you give us an update on status of training the Ukrainian pilots?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, no updates to provide beyond what we briefed on Thursday, that the United States will be conducting training for F-16 pilots and maintainers at Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona, and so as we have more details to provide on that, we will. Thanks.


Q: When was the last time the secretary spoke with Senator Tuberville? And is this sort of situated on a stalemate, or what's the way forward, I guess?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. The last phone call was in July, July 18th, I believe, and so he's not had a phone call since then. Obviously, our legislative affairs staff continues to remain in contact with the senator's staff. And I think we've been very clear from a DOD standpoint what we're talking about here, is our policy on reproductive healthcare as it pertains to ensuring that there's equitable healthcare for all our servicemembers, no matter where you're stationed. And so these holds continue to have an impact on readiness, that impact will continue to get worse and worse the longer this goes on. So again, we call on the holds to be lifted.

Q: Is it optimistic or pessimistic that this can be resolved anytime soon?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to apply a value judgment to it other than, again the longer that these holds are in place, the more it's a distraction from what our primary focus needs to be, which is defending and protecting this nation and ensuring that we have the appropriate leaders filling these key positions. Thank you.

Q: But do you have a sense of how many servicemembers have been compensated for travel for either abortion or in vitro fertilization, ballpark number, at least?

GEN. RYDER: Let me take that question. I know that's something that several of you have asked, and so we're working on that right now, so I'll come back to you on that.


Q: Thank you. Two separate questions. First of all, Ron DeSantis said that he would use the military to target drug cartels in Mexico. What is the Pentagon's response to this? Is -- what would be the mechanisms under which that could happen? Would an authorization of use for military force be needed? Yeah, if you could just give us your response to that, that would be helpful.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So a couple thoughts. So first of all, I'm not going to get into hypothetical operations. I also am not going to necessarily respond to particular comments made by individuals who may or may not be running for political office. It's certainly within their rights to say what they want to say. That does not necessarily make it current operations or policy of the Department of Defense. So I'm not going to have any more comment to provide.

Q: There have been other members of Congress who have said the same, so...

GEN. RYDER: OK. I mean, again, just going to focus on the operations that we're currently conducting and concurrent policies, and we currently have no plans to...

Q: Is there -- is that something that the U.S. military has the authority to do right now?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get into speculating about potential future operations.

Q: OK, sorry. Just a second question on the pilots that were killed in Ukraine over -- or last week. I understand that at least one of them was about to go through F-16 training. Were the other two also going through F-16 training?

GEN. RYDER: That’s really a question for Ukraine to answer. They're the ones that identify who they would be sending to any training, whether it be pilot training or tank training or combat -- you know, combined arms training. That's really their area to talk about, so...


Q: On the F-16, one reason why Ukraine has wanted these aircraft and why the West has said this would be more effective than the aircraft they currently have is their multirole of Western fighters, which is enabled by advanced munitions, AMRAAMs, things of that nature. So is the training looking at training them on employing munitions that they haven't received previously on their current jets? And is the U.S. considering providing any of those advanced munitions like AMRAAMs?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so thanks, Chris. Yeah, we'll have much more to say when we get further down the road as the training commences and as Ukraine is provided with F-16s. I'm just not going to get ahead of where we're at in that process right now. Thanks. 

Do you have a follow-on?

Q: Yeah, thanks. Well, I mean, is -- and we've touched on a lot of the aspects. It's very -- I mean, it would seem like they're...

GEN. RYDER: It's a multi-role fighter.

Q: Right.

GEN. RYDER: Clearly, it has significant combat capabilities. But again, I'm not going to get into the specific types of armaments at this stage of the game. Similar to what we've done since the beginning of this invasion when we've announced the kinds of capabilities that we're providing to the Ukrainians, whether that's through USAI or through PDA, you can imagine a similar process will take place in terms of, as we look at how many jets they're going to have, the types of armaments that they will need to sustain those jets and employ them, you know, again, we'll have much more to say when we get to that point. Just don't want to speculate or get ahead of the process right now, so...

Q: OK, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks. 

Go to Carla.

Q: Real quickly, Niger -- no change to our posture?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't have any updates right now on Niger. Again, we continue to be focused on a -- hopefully, a diplomatic outcome.

Q: It's...

GEN. RYDER: But we'll certainly keep you updated in terms of if there's any significant change.

Q: As far as you know, have there been any operations being conducted with the Niger counterparts?


Q: And then finally, just to follow up on Idrees' Tuberville question, I think we're almost a month to the day out before having no Chairman, and the Secretary hasn't talked to Tuberville since July 16th. Is there any sense from this department that there needs to start being a sense of urgency with the Chairman's upcoming ... 

GEN. RYDER: Well, I mean ... 

Q: ... vacancy?

GEN. RYDER: ... clearly, we've been communicating very often - we've been communicating a lot about the urgency and the importance of working these holds and - and allowing these nominees to be considered for confirmation so that we can fill these - these critical roles. So again, that's where we're at.

Q: And then one more follow-up. While you were taking the question on how many people have used the travel for abortion, you also updated us on the numbers of service members who've been on hold and haven't been able to move because of the - the holds that - of ... 


GEN. RYDER: ... of the nominees - the nominees? Yeah - yeah.

Q: Thank you. It's great to have both.

GEN. RYDER: OK. We'll go to Ashley.

Q: Just to follow up on Carla's Niger question, how long can this, you know, sort of pause go on? Is this like an indefinite thing or sort of what goes into the calculus of what ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, I'm not going to put a timeline on it. Clearly, this is important. In addition to ensuring the continued force protection for our forces, the counter-terrorism mission of course is important as well, but it is an evolving situation and we want to be deliberate in terms of ensuring that diplomacy has a chance. So again, you know, State Department is actively involved. And so if we have more to update you on, we certainly will.

Q: And what impact have you seen so far to the counter-terrorism mission?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, a great question. That's just not something I'm going to go into for obvious reasons. As it relates to the counter-terrorism mission, we do have the ability to, you know, conduct counter-terrorism operations, particularly those where there's the potential to affect our homeland, but I'm just not going to get into the specifics right now, in terms of - yeah, the nature of the threat and what, if any, type of activities we're seeing on the ground. Thanks.


Q: Yeah, a couple of follow-ups. On the Osprey incident, there's obviously, in addition to the (inaudible) in this year, been several Army aviation incidents as well. I know the Army has done their own review and that it will be up to the Marine Corps if they do theirs but are you all considering from an OSD level doing any kind of aviation review to get ahead of any future incidents?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm not aware of any right now, Haley. Again, I can assure you that the services take this extremely seriously. I mean, it literally is a life and death matter. 

You know, speaking with my Air Force hat on, and it's the same in all of the services - very dedicated safety professionals that will look and analyze the data and ensure that there's appropriate operational risk management, and if there are systemic issues, then trying to address those as quickly as possible. And so the Secretary is confident that the services will do due diligence to ensure that we're protecting our service members.

All that said - and I think you all know this - the business that we're in is, in many ways, inherently dangerous, the kinds of operations that we're flying at night and in bad weather and in combat conditions, you know. So we recognize there is that element too, which is again where operational risk management comes into play.

But, again, each of the services are going to do what they need to do to make sure that we're taking appropriate precautions and measures to protect our people wherever they're serving.

Q: And then to follow up on the Tuberville thing, it - it's not so much - in the last week, it's kind of shifted not so much just about reproductive health policies but now they're taking aim at specific nominees and say - his office is saying they're going to be releasing kind of a list of people that they're going to start opposing because of, you know, wokeness or whatever it is in their background. 

So are you all preparing for that? Have you had conversations about sort of how to address that, given that obviously these people were nominated for a reason and - and now they might be held up for something totally different than - than the reproductive health policy?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. I've seen the press coverage on that and aware of, you know, certain groups highlighting certain individuals. The only thing I'd say on that is, again, number one, from a DOD standpoint, it is critical that these holds be lifted and that we're able to confirm these senior leaders into these important positions so that we can continue to focus on doing our national defense mission.

The second thing I'd say is that these officers represent decades of experienced leadership, many of them in combat situations, proven performers, and again, the sooner that we can confirm these officers - these general officers and flag officers, again, the - the less uncertainty and friction and the more we can continue to focus on what it is that the American people want, which is us focused on defending the nation. Thanks.

Time for a few more. Yes, sir?

Q: Yeah, do you have any info in regard to any potential evacuations or other steps being taken at MacDill or elsewhere in Florida in regard to the - the hurricane?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, good question. So we're obviously monitoring the hurricane closely. I'd refer you to the services for specifics. I do know that CENTCOM and SOCOM are looking at temporarily relocating some of their command and control facilities further inland as a precaution. They can provide you the details on that. 

I will say that they are well rehearsed in this, being on the Florida coast. And also, personally having been stationed at MacDill at CENTCOM, you know, this is something that they train for and are prepared for, to ensure continuity of operations.

But as it relates to specific equipment and personnel - for example, airframes, I'd refer you to the services. They can give you a much more granular level of detail. All that to say again we're going to make sure that we're - commanders are going to make sure we're doing the right things to mitigate any potential damage or safety hazards.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Ma'am?

Q: General, on Saturday, we came across stories in the Arabic media regarding U.S. military movements in Iraq and Syria. I know you answered this question before. I'm sorry I have to ask it again. So any new posture - troops postured in - in Syria and Iraq, especially on the borders?

GEN. RYDER: No. So no changes. Again, aware of those media reports. You know, it would be interesting, if I were a journalist, I'd want to figure out where those are coming from and why somebody would be putting out that bogus information. So I'll leave that to you, but yeah.

Q: But what's your interpretation to this and the timing? Why now?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm going to focus on the facts, which are we have not significantly changed our force posture in Syria and Iraq. We have no troops stationed on the border conducting border security. That's a job for the Iraqi government. We're focused on the defeat ISIS mission, so.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah ?

Q: I wanted to follow up on two things you've said. You said that we would at some point get the numbers of people who have used the policy for reproductive access. We've been hearing about that for about a month, that we'd get those numbers. Can we get some sense of when we can expect to - to receive them?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So I'm not going to make any promises because I don't want to get you bad information. I will say that part of the challenge here is, as you implement a policy, in making sure that each of the services have a clear understanding of how to collect data, oh, by the way, there's a privacy aspect to it as well.

So we've been working with our personnel and readiness folks to get an answer that we'll be able to provide, in terms of what we can provide as it relates to making sure that the information is consistent, in terms of the way it was collected but also cognizant of the privacy concerns that individuals may have.

So, you know, we're not trying to be evasive on this at all. It's just a matter of trying to make sure that what we provide is not just a sliver or -- but it's representative of the actual universe of information that we're able to collect and also able to provide.

Q: And then, in your answer to Idrees, you said that the hold, Tuberville's hold, is worsening U.S. readiness, and that Austin has last spoken to Tuberville in July. You also said that this is an urgent issue. But I'm trying to reconcile, if it's so urgent, why is the secretary not engaging more, or is he talking to legislators instead? Is it something he's left to the White House? Is it something that he feels should only be engaged with at lower levels?

Can you help me close that gap in terms of something urgent that's having such an effect on the force and yet hasn't had the secretary engage with Tuberville in almost two months?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'd push back on the notion, you know, just because the last phone call in July doesn't mean that this isn't something that the secretary is actively engaged in, in terms of talking to other senior leaders, talking to others on the Hill and, again, highlighting -- and he's done this publicly as well, as, you know, recently as relinquishment of responsibility ceremonies for both the Army and the Navy.

So, again, I would push back on the notion that it's something that he's not actively engaged in communicating. I think there's a sense out there that, well, there has to be some kind of compromise, in order to shift the needle here. The challenge in all of this is, what would that compromise look like?

Are we suggesting somehow that some military members are going to have access to reproductive healthcare and others are not? Because that's really what the compromise would be. And the Department of Defense has a responsibility to ensure that, no matter whether you're a man or a woman, no matter where you're serving, you're a federal troop, you're going to have equal access to reproductive healthcare. 

So I happen to be stationed in Texas and you happen to be stationed in Colorado, and I say, "Hey, here's the in vitro services I need, or the uncovered abortion services that I need," and I say, "Hey, sorry, luck of the draw," but the person in Colorado has access. I mean, that just doesn't send the right message, and it breaks face -- breaks faith with our troops.

So, at the end of the day, the issue here is we have a responsibility to ensure equitable healthcare access for all of our servicemembers, no matter where they are living. And that's just something that we can't compromise on.

Q: But it's not something that he feels like should be done by the White House or should be led by lower staffers? This is something that he feels he should be leading on?

GEN. RYDER: I think this is a discussion within the Congress itself, to resolve and address this issue as it relates to our national security, and do we want to allow apolitical military officers, their promotions to be held up by virtue of one individual? And again, that's not something I can or should address. That's really the business of the Congress to...

Q: If you'd just consider if we could get a list of other calls that he's made to other legislators related to this, just to get a sense of who's reached out to that would help.

Q: One last thing, I know the privacy issues involved here. If we could get a breakdown of how many travel for abortion versus how many travel for in vitro fertilization, would that be possible, do you think?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'll see what we can do. Again, just appreciate your patience, and we'll try to provide what we're able to on that.

I can tell you, at first blush, you know, that the numbers are pretty small. But, again...

Q: Dozens?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I don't want to get out ahead, as we still collect this data. And I'll keep you updated on it.

OK, one more?

Q: Just a follow-on to that topic, could we also get a list of abortion, IVF, what other policies, procedures does the policy cover? What other -- what else does it allow you to travel for, to have time off for, not just abortion or IVF, or what -- what else?


OK. All right. Thanks very much, everybody. Have a great day.