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Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Hey good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for your patience.  We've got quite a bit to cover at the top today so bear with me here. 

Secretary Austin returned to the United States last night after a successful trip to the Middle East where he had the chance to meet with leaders from Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Israel.  During his discussions, the secretary emphasized the strong and enduring partnership between the United States and these key partner nations towards furthering our shared goals of security and stability throughout the Middle East region. 

Among the topics discussed during the trip was the importance of freedom of navigation in international waterways and the recent threat of Houthi attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea.  Upwards of 10 to 15 percent of global shipping transits these straits and these attacks are impacting global trade and commerce, negatively impacting the economies of nations around the world, and costing commercial shipping firms billions of dollars. 

To help address this challenge, while Secretary Austin was in Bahrain, he announced the stand-up of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security operation under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea. 

The secretary also convened a virtual ministerial from the NAVCENT headquarters in Bahrain with ministers, chiefs of defense, senior representatives from over 40 countries, as well as the European Union and NATO to discuss the increased threat to maritime security in the Red Sea.

Secretary Austin underscored how the attacks from the Houthi rebels in Yemen had already impacted the global economy and will continue to threaten commercial shipping if the international community did not come together to address this issue collectively, emphasizing that this is an international problem that requires an international response.

In the days ahead, the United States will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners who share the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation, and we expect to see the coalition continue to grow. 

Switching gears, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General CQ Brown Jr. spoke today by video teleconference with People's Liberation Army of China Chief of the Joint Staff Department General Liu Zhenli.  This is the first time the two leaders have spoken since General Brown became the Chairman.

During the teleconference, General Brown discussed the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations, and maintain an open and direct line of communication.  For more information about the call, I'd refer you to the Joint Staff and their corresponding readout.

Also today, the Department of Defense is releasing the DoD Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response, which establishes the department's enduring policies, responsibilities, and procedures for mitigating and responding to civilian harm.

As you may recall, in January of 2022, Secretary Austin directed the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy to develop a Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan.  This plan, which was released in August, outlines steps the department will take and the resources required to implement appropriate recommendations from recently completed studies of civilian harm.

The plan also called for the publication of a DoD Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response, which is what we're publishing today.  The release of the DoD Instruction continues the process of improving the department's approach to mitigating and responding to civilian harm. 

In addition to the instruction, we are also launching a public-facing website which will include our current civilian harm mitigation and response policies, congressional reports, and other related documents.  The website also provides a link to the previously published web page with guidance for reporting civilian casualties.  For more information on the Civilian Mitigation and Response DoD Instruction, you'll find these on the website under Releases. 

In other news, earlier today, a ramp ceremony was conducted at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for a dignified transfer of remains of three Army Special Operations aviation soldiers who will return home to the U.S. 

These soldiers and American heroes perished in a helicopter mishap in the Mediterranean on November 10th.  The incident claimed the lives of five American soldiers, two of whom were recovered immediately after the mishap.

The team at Dover will work now to confirm the identities of our three recovered soldiers before a dignified transfer to return them to their families, who were present for their repatriation.  The department is proud of the tireless efforts of all involved to bring our service members home, and our thoughts and prayers continue to remain with the families and friends of our fallen teammates.

And finally, as you all know, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, defends our North American airspace each and every day.  However, on Christmas Eve, NORAD has one additional special mission -- tracking Santa as he makes his way across the globe.

This is NORAD's 68th year conducting this important mission, and children and families worldwide will be able to call to ask NORAD's live operators about Santa's location on the 24th, starting at 6 am Eastern Standard Time.

The phone number to call is 1-877-HINORAD, "Hi Norad," or 877-446-6723.  You will also be able to track St. Nick's annual journey on the NORAD Track Santa website, Facebook, X, Instagram, and YouTube.  And last year alone, NORAD answered over 73,000 calls just on December 24th alone and the program generated more than two million social media followers.

Every year, more than 1,000 American and Canadian members of NORAD volunteer, and a variety of corporate contributors are proud to continue the tradition of tracking Santa. 

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.  We'll start with AP, who's on the phone.  Lita Baldor?

Q:  Thank you, Pat.  Two things.  One, the Secretary met in Israel with his counterpart, Minister Gallant.  Can you say in any context or detail what Israel's reaction was to the Secretary and the Chairman's urgings for a more limited campaign in the war, sort of a scaled back campaign?  Can you just give us any context on what their reaction may have been, what we can expect?

And then just secondly on the maritime program that's ongoing, can you say exactly how many countries are actively participating right now?  Should we expect to see the U.S. and other ships there all the time?  Are they going to take turns?  Can you just give us a better grasp of how these countries -- I think you said that -- had said 10 -- there were about 10 initially.  How are they going to sort of take part in this?  How will that work?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Lita.  On your first question, again, I'm not going to speak for Minister Gallant.  If you had the chance to catch the press conference in Tel Aviv with the Secretary and the Minister, Secretary Austin made a few things very clear.

First of all, he was not there to dictate timelines.  This is Israel's campaign.  But during their meetings, they did have the opportunity to talk about the status of the campaign, they had the opportunity to talk about milestones and the phasing of the campaign, to include transitioning from higher-intensity operations to lower-intensity operations, which, oh by the way, are part of any military campaign and does not necessarily indicate that a campaign has ended.

So they were very productive conversations, and again, I think Minister Gallant spoke to where the Israeli military is at this moment.  And so I'd refer you back to those comments.

As far as Operation Prosperity Guardian, we've had over 20 nations now sign on to participate.  The nations that have agreed to publicly discuss their participation, we've put those out there.  Since the announcement on Tuesday, Australia and Greece have also highlighted their participation in this operation.  But again, we'll allow other countries and defer to them to talk about their participation.

The key point here is that this -- as I mentioned at the top, this is a international problem and it requires an international response.  And so we'll continue to work with this coalition of the willing and all countries will be able to contribute what they feel that they can.  In some cases, that will include vessels.  In other cases, it could include staff or other types of support. 

And so again, we'll continue to work together to safeguard the shipping lanes through the Red Sea.  Thank you.

Let me go to Liz here.

Q:  A follow-up on that -- is the U.S. sending more vessels into the Red Sea to accompany these commercial vessels?

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't have anything to announce, Liz, in terms of additional vessels.  Clearly, we already have some ships that are in the region.  And again, we'll work with our partners and our allies, in terms of what other ships will come in.

I will say that there has been a, as you know, an increase in the number of U.S. ships that are in that region.  You've got the Mason, the -- and the Carney and others that have been there to support vessels -- or to support commercial shipping.  So, nothing to announce right now.  But obviously, something we'll continue to keep you updated on.

Q:  Separate topic, to follow-up on General Brown's phone call with his Chinese counterpart this morning, are there any plans to reactivate the military-to-military hotline with China?

GEN. RYDER:  So, I don't -- I don't have anything to announce on that front.  You know, as I highlighted, we think it's very important to keep the lines of communication open, so that's something that we'll continue to actively do.

The last follow-up.

Q:  (Inaudible).  Did China agree to continue to regularly communicate with the U.S. military?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not going to speak for China.  Clearly, you know our position and we're going to continue to do everything we can do to keep those lines of communication open.

Let me go over here to Will.

Q:  Just regarding the Red Sea coalition, can you talk a little bit more about what specific steps the coalition's going to take to protect shipping?  Are we talking, you know, escorting ships?  Reflagging potentially?  Carrying out strikes on launch sites?  Or just what is this going to entail? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks, Will.  So, bear with me here, because I'm -- I kind of want to lean into this a little bit and just provide some additional context here.

So, you know, it's very important to understand that the Houthis aren't attacking just one country.  They're really attacking the international community.  They are attacking the economic wellbeing and prosperity of nations around the world.  So, in effect, they've really become bandits along the international highway that is the Red Sea.  And so, the forces assigned to Operation Prosperity Guardian will serve as a highway patrol of sorts.  Patrolling the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to respond to and assist as necessary, commercial vessels that are transiting this vital international waterway.

It's a defensive coalition meant to reassure global shipping in mariners that the international community is there to help with safe passage.  And so, in terms of the specifics, in terms of tactics, I'm not going to get into ROE and what that entails.  But the way to think of this is a highway patrol along the highway that are there to cover the zone.

As it's been described to me, the distance we're talking here -- about here from the Suez Canal down to the Gulf of Aden is about the distance from Boston to Washington, D.C.  So, you're talking about a pretty extensive stretch of water that the international community will be covering. 

Last thing I'd say on this is that the Houthis need to stop these attacks.  They need to stop them now.  You know, that's clear and simple.  And they really need to ask themselves if they've bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to taking on the entire international community and negatively impacting billions and billions of dollars in global trade, economic prosperity and international law.  Thank you.

Q:  One additional one.  On the call between the chairman and his Chinese counterpart, let's talk a little bit about the significance of presumption of talks on that level.  I know that this is something that the U.S. has pushed for.  So, how significant is this, that it's happening now, I guess?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I think it's a positive development.  You know, we're clearly working here to implement what was announced by President Biden and Chairman Xi in November.  But we've said all along that, when you have two large militaries it's imperative that we keep lines of communication open in order to prevent miscalculation and the potential that that carries with it as far as risks of operating in certain areas.

So again, we're going to continue to press on that.  Thank you.


Q:  Just a follow-up on Will's question.  Since the task force Operation Prosperity Guardian stood up on Tuesday, I believe, have there been any strikes or has there been any kinetic action that you can update us on like the last few days?

GEN. RYDER:  By the United States?

Q:  Yes.  Or by the coalition as a whole?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not tracking any.  Again, this is a defensive coalition that is there to help reassure global shipping and mariners as they transit the straits.

Q:  The fact that you haven't seen anything, would you read into that, that it's having a deterrent effect?

GEN. RYDER:  Oh, I'm sorry.  I misunderstood your question.  Attacks by the Houthis against shipping?

Q:  Yes, so my first question I was asking -- sorry if it's -- if there has been any kind of any action from the U.S. against the Houthis in retaliation for any strikes (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER:  We have not conducted any strikes against the Houthis.

Q:  And the fact that you haven't seen any, you say you haven't seen any, is that -- would you say that the task force is having a deterrent effect?

GEN. RYDER:  The fact that the U.S. has not conducted any strikes?  The fact that they haven't conducted any strikes.

You know, I hope so.  But, you know, again, what we're going to do is we're going to continue to work with the international community to safeguard those vessels that are transiting those waterways.  And I would hope that the Houthis would understand, you know, the pressure that they are going to bring onto themselves if they don't stop these attacks.  But again, we'll continue to monitor closely.

Let me go Chris and then I'll go to the phone here. 

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Two questions on Operation Prosperity Guardian.  Is this coalition of the willing under any certain unified command for these nations?  How are you -- how is that being coordinated? 

GEN. RYDER:  So, this is under combined maritime forces, which is already an existing coalition of the willing of 39 different nations, okay?  So, that is a coalition that has been around for a while that brings nations together to address regional security and stability when comes to maritime operations.  A subset of the coalition maritime forces is Task Force 153, which has been in existence for about 18 months, which provides the leadership, command and control for Red Sea security operations. 

Now, the question that -- you know -- that we've gotten the question, well if you already had this why do you need Prosperity Guardian.  It's an important question and a good question.  By virtue of the fact that we already have a standing structure, a framework upon which to build, Prosperity Guardian is an operation that is underneath 153.  Task Force 153 can do other things, but it's an operation nested underneath Task Force 153. 

And by virtue of it being a coalition of the willing, that means that countries can provide what they feel they can contribute based on their national priorities and national domestic decisions.  So, as certain requirements start to present themselves, in this case, addressing the threat that Houthis are, you know, providing or, you know, doing here in the Red Sea, nations have a framework now upon which to pull together and address these together.

Q:  And the same question on that.  Are any U.S. air assets part of Operation Prosperity Guardian or is this purely surface vessels that include the MEU or carrier strike groups, for example?  And if you don't have all those details, could you take that back?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, and so I'm not -- I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of which capabilities or which assets, per se, but yes, air will be a part of this. You know, when -- especially when it comes to maritime domain awareness, air power is always a significant contributor to that.  So, let me go to the phones here.  Let me go to Jeff Schogol, "Task and Purpose."

Q:  Thank you.  The -- the United States recently launched a -- a drone strike in Somalia, targeting a -- an Al-Shabab leader.  Can you say who is that leader?  And who exactly was killed in the strike?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks -- thanks, Jeff.  So you saw AFRICOM's -- you know, what they've put on -- on this strike.  I don't have any additional details to provide at this time.  If and when we do, we'll certainly put that out.

Let me go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q:  Hey, thanks, Pat.  A couple of -- couple questions.  Does the -- any concerns about the Navy having enough vessels to adequately staff Operation Prosperity Guardian? 

And today, the Houthis -- the Houthi leader came out and -- and directly threatened the U.S., should there be an attack.  Does that raise the stakes here?  And are you developing any kind of strike packages against the Houthis in Yemen?

GEN. RYDER:  Thank -- thanks, Howard.  So on your latter question, you know, as you know, longstanding policy, I'm not going to telegraph, forecast, or speculate on any type of kinetic action. 

And as far as, you know, the U.S. Navy and its ability to provide the capabilities that we need, I mean, this is one of the significant aspects about the U.S. military, is that we have the ability to surge capabilities to where we need them to address situations around the globe, and the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility is no different.

And so as we require capabilities, we have a very longstanding process in place by which to determine requirements, make decisions, and then surge forces into the theater.  And so this will be no different in that sense of the word.

Let me come back to the room.  Fadi?

Q:  Thank you.  I have two questions on -- on (inaudible).  So -- so you're talking about an international coalition to address the attacks by Houthis in the Red Sea.  Are you able to say whether any country on the Red Sea is -- is part of this coalition?  And why none of the major Arab states announced their participation in -- in the coalition?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, we will defer to individual countries within their level of comfort to talk about their participation in this coalition.  So beyond the countries that we've already highlighted, I don't have any new countries to flag for you here today.

Q:  And then again on the warning by the (inaudible) leader of the Houthis in Yemen, he warned the U.S. not to take any military actions inside Yemen.  I'm not asking about future operations, but within the framework of the Prosperity Guardian, do nations have any type of authority or mission to attack Houthi targets inside Yemen, in response to attacking commercial vessels, or is it mainly defensive against any projectiles that might be, you know, going in the direction of U.S. Navy or French or whoever is there?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, this is a defensive coalition.  Again, think of it as the Highway Patrol to help safeguard maritime, you know, vessels going through the Strait.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you, General.  Regarding North Korea's long-range ICBM launches, what is final result of the United States and allies of North Korea's long-range ICBM launches?

GEN. RYDER:  Janne, you know we've highlighted the fact that we condemn this launch and any destabilizing actions by North Korea, but I'm not going to get into any intelligence.

Q:  In response to North Korea's ICBMs, a joint air exercise between U.S. and South Korea, Japan, is being conducted in South Korea with the B-1B strategic bombers.  Can we say that the -- our allies' ultimate goal towards North Korea is to behead Kim Jong-un?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, Janne, we remain committed to a diplomatic approach and continue to call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.  We harbor no hostile intent to North Korea and we've made that very clear.  What we're focused on is regional security and stability and working closely with our ROK and Japanese allies, as well as other allies and partners in the region, to ensure that everyone in that region can live peacefully and safely, and that's what we'll continue to stay focused on.

Let me go -- yes, sir?

Q:  Thank you, General.  Two questions if you don't mind.  Has there been any new attacks on your forces in Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have anything right in front of me, so I'd refer you to our press desk and we can get you those details.

Q:  Do you have any information that Iranian drones used by these groups in Iraq and Syria against your forces?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm sorry, say that again?

Q:  I mean, do you have any information that Iranian-made drones used by, like, militant groups in Iraq and Syria, even by Houthis, against your forces?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, we know that Iranian proxies are trained, resourced, equipped by Iranian forces obviously.  That's why they're Iranian proxies.  And so again, you know, all roads lead to Iran when it comes to sponsoring these attacks.  Thank you very much.

Let me go over here.  Yes, sir?

Q:  Thank you, Pat. You describe the mission of the task force as being defensive and the forces are patrolling the region, but are they going to prevent these kind of attacks only limited with this force tasked or in case of continuation of these threats?  Are there any other possibilities that the Pentagon is considering to avoid the increasing threat that's -- it -- since it's of -- putting a big pressure on the international trade and markets as well?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so again, I'm not going to speculate or talk about, you know, any potential future operations.  The point I'm trying to make here is that as the Houthis conduct these attacks, they need to realize they're attacking the international community, they are negatively affecting the economic prosperity of millions of people, billions of people worldwide, and that has got to stop.

So we will continue to work with our allies and partners.  The purpose of Prosperity Guardian is to help reassure commercial shipping and mariners as they transit the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and we'll continue to stay focused on that.

All right ...

Q:  ... question about Gaza.  Just will -- the number of the civilian casualties, according to the local authorities, is over 2,000 casualties among civilians only ...

Q:  20,000, sorry.  So just at the eve of the Christmas, is Gaza going to enter a new year with the same bombardment and operation causing threat for the civilians?  Is the Secretary -- did the Secretary actually make contact with his Israeli counterparts to avoid this threat within the upcoming days?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, first of all, I mean, you know, again, we think it is tragic when any innocent civilian is killed, whether that's Palestinian, Israeli, and you know no one wants to see that. So, we will continue to communicate with our Israeli partners on the importance of taking civilian safety into account in their operations. As for timelines, again, that’s really something I’d refer you to the Israelis to talk about and as I highlighted, the Secretary did have a conversation with his counterpart on phasing of operations – thinking through transitions of operations, but really, I’d have to refer you to the IDF for that. Thank you. Yes sir?

Q:  Yes, so with new Ukraine aid package not coming any time soon, and the last of your (inaudible) running out, do you have an assessment of what the impact will be for Ukraine, especially on the battlefield? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks for the question.  As our comptroller recently said in his letter to Congress, we will be obligating the remaining $1 billion in replacement funds by the end of this month.  And once those funds are obligated, we will have exhausted the funding available for us to provide security assistance to Ukraine. 

So it really does underscore the importance of congressional support for Ukraine.  We would, again, continue to urge the passage of the supplemental that we've submitted.  As you look at the situation that Ukraine finds itself in, we will obviously continue to support them.  But it is imperative that we have the funds needed to ensure that they get the most urgent battlefield capabilities that they require. 

Q:  You don't know what it will look good on the battlefield, you know, if Congress doesn't pass any time soon?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not going to speculate.  Clearly Ukraine has been able to develop a very capable military.  But, you know, the war continues to be difficult, continues to be a very challenging fight, and to be able to maintain and sustain that force going into the future against an enemy that has said its objective is to eliminate Ukraine, we feel that it's very important to be able to have the resources necessary to enable them to continue engaging in the fight.  Thanks very much. 


Q:  Thank you.  Japan government (inaudible) on Friday, meaning tomorrow, (inaudible) for Patriot missile shipment to U.S.  So in terms of this issue, what is the Pentagon's reaction and how does the Pentagon assist Japan -- Japan's decision?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I've seen the press reporting on that.  You know, look, Japan is one of our strongest allies.  We discuss a wide range of issues in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.  When it comes to things like Patriots, that’s really something I'd refer you to the government of Japan to talk about.  The only other thing I'd say on this is, you know, we continue to see our alliance grow.  And it's stronger than it's ever been.  Thank you. 


Q:  Thank you.  And I'd like to ask about Ospreys in Japan.  And can you give us an update on the Osprey stand-down and like how long would it last?  And is there any update on the investigation about the crash itself? 

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  I don't have any updates to provide in terms of the investigation, the ongoing investigation.  Certainly, at the appropriate time the Air Force will release more information on that.  As we've talked about before, we do continue to stay in close communication with the government of Japan and are committed to being as transparent as we can in terms of that investigation. 

As far as the status of this individual service stand-downs and the Ospreys, I'd refer to those services to talk about that. 

Let me go to the phone and then I'll come to Mike here. 

Heather from USNI.

Let me go to Meghann, Military Times.

Q:  I was going to ask for an Iraq and Syria update, but I will send an email instead. 

GEN. RYDER:  Okay, thanks Meghann.  Appreciate it.  Mike.

Q:  Yes, I want to change the subject a little bit, 2023 was the worse recruiting year for the military since the end of the All -- or since the start of the All-Volunteer Force, as you -- as you well know.  Is the Pentagon -- as we move into the new year, it's going -- the Pentagon's going to have the smallest military since pre-World War II levels. 

Does the Defense Department, is it -- is it concerned that these numbers are going to continue trending down in 2024?  Or are you at all optimistic -- are there any signs for optimism that maybe you'll see, you know, the light at the end of the tunnel kind of?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, Mike, I'm an eternal optimist.  So, I'm going to say we're optimistic.  But, you know, we know that this continues to be a challenge for a multitude of reasons.  You know, COVID did not help in the sense of our efforts to recruit and, you know, obviously, now that we're past that we're starting to see our recruiters be able to do the face-to-face kind of communication that is absolutely essential to recruiting efforts.

You're seeing the services look at many different types of ways to get out and engage with today's youth, as far as highlighting the opportunities that military service and the benefits that it can provide.  And there's a wide range of things, you know, to include the Army's efforts to, you know, help young people get physically fit and at the same time explore the opportunities about the military and the Air Force side aviation camps where young people can get to experience aviation, et cetera, et cetera.  

So, the services continue to be very active and creative in looking at how we can communicate with the public that we serve.  And so, you know, Secretary Austin has said we didn't get into this problem overnight and it's not going to be solved overnight.  But we are confident that we will continue to see those numbers increase and it's something that we'll, obviously, continue to work very hard at.

At the end of the day, you know, the U.S. military provides something that very few employers can, which is the opportunity to have amazing benefits, amazing experience and training, whether you want to stay in the military for a short term or do it for a career.  But it also enables you to be a part of something that's bigger than yourself and contribute to something important.

And so, you know, a lot of young people when they talk about the kinds of things they want to do, they want to do something impactful, they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, the military is a place where you can do that.

And so, we'll continue to try to get that message out.  And we'll see where 2024 takes us.

(Liz ?)?

Q:  (Inaudible) Ukraine funding for U.S. stockpiles at all?

GEN. RYDER:  So again, you know, when it comes to the budget and the NDAA, you know, certainly we'll be looking for our ability to replenish our own stockpiles and we'll continue to do that.  The Ukraine supplemental, of course, would help us replenish those -- fund those stockpiles.  But we'll continue to do what we need to do to make sure our own readiness levels stay at where they need to be.  Thank you.

Sir?  Time for a few more

Q:  Thank you very much.  General, regarding to these developments in the Red Sea, does the DOD still, in its position which is they are not in a war with the Houthis, and do you have a concern that maybe the conflict there getting escalation -- or more escalated because of what's going on there?  I mean, for the Maritimes on, you know, Prosperity Guardian aren't with the Houthis (inaudible)?  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  So, just to make sure I understand you question correctly, are we concerned about this escalating into a broader conflict?  Well, that's exactly what we're trying to prevent.  You know, look, we don't want to see these types of reckless, dangerous and illegal activities affecting freedom of navigation through the Red Sea. 

And so, you know, we would obviously call on the Houthis, as I did earlier, to cease this activity and to safeguard innocent lives.  And the economic prosperity of nations around the world, to include nations in the Middle East region that rely on the trade and economic impact that these straits provide.  Thank you.

Last question, we'll go to Jim.

Q:  General, just like to jump on Mike's question a little bit.  One of the problems with recruiting is that the veteran's population is also the smallest in memory.  And there are a lot of Americans who don't understand the benefits of joining the military.  Is there going to be any kind of an outreach to the general American public by the department to, perhaps, educate them on what the military does?  And perhaps get these influencers to talk to their children to enlist (inaudible)? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, Jim, well that's happening every day.  I mean, whether it's the Department of Defense proper here out of the Pentagon, as you know, we have a strategic engagement division that does a multitude of community activities that are meant to communicate and inform many different influential groups like veteran's organizations or military service organizations. 

But importantly, the individual services also do those things, both from a macro and a micro level, from the headquarters level down to the unit level.  You know, in my own experiences working at a base, conducting things like base tours or going out to local schools.  Or when you have airshows or parades or sporting events, I mean, there are many different ways for people to learn about the military. 

Now, you know, the analysis has shown that at the end of the day it's a conversation with someone versus just a -- you know -- it's important websites and billboards and advertisements are important, but at the end of the day it's the conversation about - tell me more about it.  What does this mean?  What does this look like?  Breaking down some of the stereotypes in terms of what military life actually is versus what the perception is based on, you know, popular programming or TV. 

And so, by the ability to have those conversations and this is where having recruiters being able to go back to schools and engage with people face-to-face becomes critical.  And so, we don't take anything for granted.  Look, at the end of the day, one of the strengths of the U.S. military is the fact that is an all-volunteer military. 

And that each of us here takes the oath of office and the oath to protect and defend the Constitution by choice.  No one's making us do this.  And it makes us more resilient.  It makes us a more powerful military because we are defending the people from which we come. 

So, we're going to continue to stay after that, because at the end of the day we have a very important mission, and the American public expects us to do that.  But what I would tell any prospective recruit is the United States military provides an opportunity unlike any you will ever get to experience.  It's an amazing place to develop and really, again, be a part of something bigger than yourself. 

And on that note, before we conclude, I just have a couple other things I'd like to say.  I would like to highlight that this will be the last press briefing from the podium before the end of the year.  Our next briefing in here will be on January 4.  And on behalf of Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense, I'd like to recognize all of our soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, Guardians, Coast Guardsmen, and DOD civilians who are serving around the world, many of them under austere and dangerous conditions, protecting our nation and safeguarding the freedoms we enjoy.

We also want to thank the families of our service members for their service and sacrifice in support of our military and our nation.  As I mentioned to Jim, today's U.S. Armed Forces, they really comprise the most lethal, combat-capable military the world has ever known thanks to our service members and the families who support them, and we're grateful for all that they do every day for our nation.

I would also like to thank you, the members of the Pentagon Press Corps, for what you do to keep the American public and the international community informed about our Department of Defense.  Our republic is well-served thanks to your efforts as a free and independent press to report on critical defense issues, promote transparency, and ensure that the American people have a good understanding of what its military is doing every day around the world in support of our nation and our interests. 

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I look forward to seeing you on January 4.  Please don't call me before then.  Thank you.