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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks very much for your patience. I do have quite a few things to pass along today at the top, so appreciate your patience. 

Secretary Austin currently remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is in good condition. By now, you should have seen the statement released by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center officials regarding his medical care. And for the sake of ensuring that everyone here today and everyone watching has the same information, I will read that full statement. 

This is a statement from Dr. John Maddox, trauma medical director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha Center, director at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Beginning the statement:

"As part of Secretary Austin's routinely-recommended health screening, he has undergone regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) surveillance. Changes in his laboratory evaluation in early December of 2023 identified prostate cancer, which required treatment.

"On December 22nd, 2023, after consultation with his medical team, he was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and underwent a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called a prostatectomy to treat and cure prostate cancer. He was under general anesthesia during this procedure. Secretary Austin recovered uneventfully from his surgery and returned home the next morning. His prostate cancer was detected early and his prognosis is excellent.

"On January 1st, 2024, Secretary Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with complications from the December 22nd procedure, including nausea with severe abdominal hip and leg pain. Initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection.

"On January 2, the decision was made to transfer him to the ICU for close monitoring and a higher level of care. Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections, impairing the function of his small intestines. This resulted in the backup of his intestinal contents, which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach. The abdominal fluid collections were drained by nonsurgical drain placement. He's progressed steadily throughout his stay. His infection is cleared. He continues to make progress, and we anticipate a full recovery, although this can be a slow process. During the stay, Secretary Austin never lost consciousness and never underwent general anesthesia. 

"Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer among American men, and it impacts one in every eight men and one in every six African-American men during their lifetime. Despite the frequency of prostate cancer, discussions about screening, treatment and support are often deeply-personal and private ones. Early screening is important for detection and treatment of prostate cancer, and people should talk to their doctors to see what screening is appropriate for them." End statement.

Secretary Austin continues to recover well and remains in good spirits. He's in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD's day-to-day operations worldwide. At this time, I do not have any information to provide in terms of when he might be released from the hospital but we'll be sure to keep you updated, and until then, we will continue to release daily status updates on his condition. We in the Department of Defense, of course, wish him a speedy recovery. 

The department recognizes the understandable concerns expressed by the public, Congress and the news media in terms of notification timelines and DOD transparency. Now, I want to underscore again that Secretary Austin has taken responsibility for the issues with transparency, and the department is taking immediate steps to improve our notification procedures.

Yesterday, the secretary's chief of staff directed the DOD's director of administration and management to conduct a 30-day review of the department's notification process for assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense. While the review is underway and effective immediately, the chief of staff also directed several actions to ensure increased situational awareness about any transfer of authorities from the secretary of defense, to include ensuring that the DOD general counsel, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the combatant commanders, the service secretaries, the service chief of staffs, the White House Situation Room and senior staff of the secretary and deputy secretary of defense are all notified, and that the notification for transfer of authorities includes an explanation of the reason. We'll keep you updated regarding the results of the review and any additional significant changes to process and procedures as appropriate.

And as I highlighted to many of you yesterday, nothing is more important to the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense than the trust and confidence of the American people and the public we serve, and we'll continue to work every day - work hard every day to earn and deserve that trust.

Separately, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks is traveling today en route to U.S. Space Command Headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado. Tomorrow, she'll preside over the U.S. Space Command change of command at 12 pm Eastern Time between General James Dickinson and Lieutenant General Stephen Whiting. The event will be livestreamed on DVIDS and on

Also, Dr. Michael Chase, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia, began talks yesterday with People's Republic of China Major General Song Yanchao, Deputy Director of the Central Military Commission Office for International Military Cooperation, at the Pentagon for the 17th U.S.-PRC Defense Policy Coordination Talks. Those meetings conclude today and we'll issue a readout later this afternoon.

Finally, as some of you may be aware, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration was launched in 2012, authorized by Congress under the Secretary of Defense, in support of a national 50th anniversary commemoration to help thank the nation's Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of our nation.

Notably, thousands of organizations known as commemorative partners have joined the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration to honor America's seven million Vietnam veterans, both at home and abroad, and the 10 million families of all those who served.

This Saturday, January 13th, at 4 pm Eastern, a special commemoration of the service, courage, and legacy of Vietnam War veterans and Gold Star families and a renewal of American commitment to account for those heroes who may remain missing 50 years after the war's end will be observed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., hosted by a commemorative partner, the Air and Space Forces Association, and 40 supporting organizations. The event is open to the public and will also be livestreamed. For more details, I'd refer you to the Air and Space Forces Association or National Cathedral websites. 

And with that, I will take your questions. We'll start with Associated Press, Tara.

Q: Hi, General Ryder. Thank you for doing this. Have you or the staff had a chance to speak to the Secretary? And has he shared at all why he was reluctant to make his condition public until now? And so given the seriousness of his treatment, do you suspect that he might have to take a step back from some of the more rigorous parts of his job, such as a lot of the overseas travel he's been doing, and maybe delegate that to Secretary Hicks?

GEN. RYDER: The staff has been in contact with the Secretary. I have not personally spoken to the Secretary but I do know, for example, that he's in regular communication with his Chief of Staff. As for his travel schedule, of course I don't have anything to announce. I can tell you that he is actively engaged in his duties, as I highlighted, and fully engaged. And so, you know, completely confident in that. And we'll obviously keep you updated, in terms of his status in the hospital.

Q: Has he expressed at all why he was reluctant to share what he was going through until now?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have that specifically from the Secretary, Tara, but obviously, as I highlighted, you know, it's prostate cancer and the associated procedures are obviously deeply personal.

And so again, you know, we'll continue to work hard to make sure that we're being as transparent as possible moving forward and again wish the Secretary a speedy recovery.

Q: And then just last, you know, there's still a lot of questions on the process, about all of the notification that didn't happen. When he was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed and had a personal security detail with him, why at that point wasn't there, like, a call to an operations center or something that would have triggered a greater awareness that he was getting medical care?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, a - a fair question. And at the - you know, for the sake of not doing the review here from the podium, as I highlighted, the Director of Administration and Management has been directed to lead a thorough review to look at exactly those kinds of questions, the relevant facts and circumstances during the period in question, to evaluate the processes and procedures by which the Deputy Secretary of Defense was notified and the associated timeline.

So again, we'll commit to being as transparent as we can, in terms of the results of that review.

Let me go to Liz here.

Q: The Chief of Staff and the senior military advisor were both told on Tuesday that Secretary Austin was in the hospital. Could the Chief of Staff have asked the SMA to make the proper notifications for her since she was sick with the flu?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, we fully recognize that there are going to be many questions, in terms of notification timelines, as well as the transparency issues that we've highlighted. So I really think that this review is going to help us get to ground truth in a holistic way so that we can learn from it, importantly, but also ensure that we're doing better next time.

So I think we really need to allow this review to run its course in order to do that. In the meantime, we've taken some immediate steps, as I highlighted at the top.

Q: Would it have been under procedure for the SMA to notify the White House, National Security Advisor?

GEN. RYDER: Again, certainly, you know, we want to make sure that notifications are happening in a timely way. In this way, as we have acknowledged, there were some shortfalls. And so it's important that we go back and look at what those shortfalls were, what could have been done better, and make sure that, going forward, we're improving those processes. So again, this review will help us.

Let me go to Courtney.

Q: Do you still think it's appropriate to call his medical procedure on December 22nd, the prostatectomy, a "elective medical procedure" if it was treating prostate cancer?

GEN. RYDER: So I'm going to I'm going to defer to medical officials on this. Again, this is the - you know, we released this information as soon as we had it. And so again, I'm going to refer back to the statement. And, you know, going forward, we'll use that as the baseline, in terms of describing. But, you know, in this particular case, as soon as we had the information made available to us, we provided it to you.

Q: Do - it seemed - cause it seems, frankly, like you were deceived by telling everyone that it was a elective medical procedure and by telling that to the public. I mean, it doesn't seem elective if he had prostate cancer and was just treating it.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm not a medical professional. Again, we're going to try to provide you with the most information we have, as quickly as we have it, you know, and recognizing that as I say that, we could have done a better job last week.

So, you know, again, we have this information now from these medical professionals and I think that, you know, it will go a long way, in terms of helping to understand the situation and what needs to be done going forward.

Q: And when was President Biden notified that the Secretary was diagnosed with prostate cancer?

GEN. RYDER: I'd have to refer you to the White House. I just don't know.


Q: Thank you, General Ryder. So the memo that was drafted by Austin's Chief of Staff that lays out the 30 day review that's going to be done, it doesn't mention the initial December 22nd hospital stay. So has the Pentagon determined that in that instance, all of the written notification procedures were followed, despite the Deputy Secretary, the White House not being notified that he was undergoing surgery, which we now know that he was under general anesthesia for?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I think that the information that we gather and the lessons that we learn from the period - from last week will be applicable across the board, right, so would similarly apply to the situation on December 22nd.

The bottom line is ensuring that if there is a transfer of authority, making sure that the appropriate senior leaders and the chain of command know and that, importantly, there's a rationale to be able to provide some perspective in terms of why these transfers of authority are occurring. So, certainly lessons learned from that will be applied to transfers of authority in the future.

Q: And just to be clear, prior to him going under general anesthesia, he transferred his authorities to the Deputy Secretary?

GEN. RYDER: That is correct. Come over here, Laura, and then we'll go to Idris.

Q: Just again, when this happened in December, whose decision was it not to alert the President that the Defense Secretary had prostate cancer?

GEN. RYDER: Again, as far as the situation, in terms of what the elective surgery was and the Secretary's condition, we're providing that information to you as we've received it, and we received that this afternoon, and we're providing it to you now. So, just leave it there.

Q: Clearly, you didn't know. The Chief of Staff? Did the Chief of Staff know?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to go into the specifics on who specifically knew what, when, and where. Again, our review will help us better understand that, other than to say, as soon as we had this information to make available, we provided it. We got it this afternoon and provided it literally minutes before I stepped in here.

Q: Just one last one. Did he lose consciousness at all during the December 22 surgery?

GEN. RYDER: To my knowledge, no. Idris?

Q: Just a couple of questions. Has the Secretary been on any medication that might alter his judgment in either of those hospital visits?

GEN. RYDER: So, Idris, I have no indications. Again, I have no indications anything that would affect his decision making. Obviously, as I highlighted in the statement, at no time has he been unconscious or under general anesthesia. And of course, is in the presence of medical professionals for the duration. When he resumed full duties on Friday evening, that was in consultation with medical professionals. And as we've highlighted in the press releases that we've put out, he continues to stay very actively engaged with his senior staff and is making important decisions about national security and defense.

Q: Did he ask his Chief of Staff to resign, or has she offered to resign?


Q: And then lastly. Very quickly, the White House Chief of Staff put out a statement to different cabinet secretaries about procedures. Does the Secretary believe that he has become a distraction for the administration in which he serves during an election year?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. The Secretary continues to remain focused on recovering, but more importantly, on carrying out his duties as Secretary of Defense and defending the nation. Let me go to Tom, and then we'll go to Carla.

Q: Thank you. Different topics. Two questions. First of all, Secretary Blinken today said the death toll in Gaza was far too high. And Senator Angus King said Israel's bombing campaign has reached the point of diminishing returns. Does the Pentagon agree with these assessments? That's my first question, and then I have a second one, too.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Well, as we've said, for a long time, any civilian death is a tragedy. And of course, the Secretary and others, as we've engaged with our Israeli partners, have continued to encourage them to do everything possible to mitigate civilian harm. And we'll continue to do that. Again, no one wants to see innocent civilians killed in this conflict, whether they be Palestinian or Israeli. And so, we'll continue to work toward that end.

Q: Thank you. Second question. Mike McCaul over the weekend issued a statement condemning, what he said was U.S. weakness in dealing with the Houthi threat in the Red Sea. Do you have any updates on Operation Prosperity Guardian you can share? And do you have any reaction to the claim that the U.S. has been too weak?

GEN. RYDER: The U.S. is not being too weak. We are working very actively with international partners to address the Houthi threat. Operation Prosperity Guardian is bringing together more than 20 nations to help safeguard international commerce and mariners that are transiting the Red Sea. And we will continue to work very closely with those partners to help deter by presence, but also helping to safeguard those ships that are transiting. 

Additionally, as you saw last week, a statement was put out by multiple nations highlighting that there will be consequences for any type of continued Houthi attacks. And so, that warning still applies. I'm not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals about what we may or may not do as it pertains to, or as it relates to, addressing those issues, other than to say it should be taken very seriously. Carla?

Q: First of all, the Secretary is expected to host an Honor Cordon on Thursday here at the Pentagon. Has that changed? Has that been canceled? Is Pentagon preparing for somebody else to host this in his stead?

GEN. RYDER: So, I don't have the specific details on the Honor Cordon in front of me other than to say, again, you know, we will continue to assess the Secretary's schedule, in terms of here at the Pentagon. And certainly, as we have updates or if things need to be delegated, we'll certainly do that as appropriate. The business of the department, the day-to-day business, obviously continues, and the Secretary, of course, is conducting his duties from the hospital. And so, we'll be sure to keep you and others updated, in terms of who may be carrying out those specific duties or functions or if we have to reschedule things. But right now, I just don't have any specifics.

Q: And just so I understand the timeline, President Biden did not find out that Austin was in the hospital until Thursday, correct?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: And we don't know at this time when President Biden was notified or if he was notified before Thursday that the Secretary had prostate cancer. Correct? That's still unanswered.

GEN. RYDER: I'd have to refer you to the White House. I don't want to get into who was telling the President what and when.

Q: Okay. And so, why did it take so long to get to President Biden, and why did the statement take so long when the Chief of Staff returned on Thursday? Assuming she returned on Thursday morning, the statement did not come out until Friday after five. So, that's two full business days. What was the delay in this statement? We usually get statements about strikes or meetings much, much earlier.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks. I'll provide you a broad overview. I covered a lot of this during the gaggle yesterday, but I recognize that not everybody was there. And so, when the notifications occurred to the staff on Tuesday because the Secretary's Chief of Staff was ill with the flu, it impacted a delay in reporting it to the Deputy Secretary's staff and to the national security advisor. 

Again, we recognize that there were some shortfalls in this, in terms of the obvious question about delegation. And so, again, that's what this review is going to help us look at, is where we can improve processes to ensure these kinds of things don't happen again going into the future. The bottom line is -- yep?

Q: Post-Thursday. Post her return on Thursday, it still took from all day Thursday and all-day Friday to get a statement out. That's where I'm wondering where the delay was there as well.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Again, this goes back to what we'll look at, but we recognize that we have to do a better job in terms of the timeliness and the transparency when it comes to, especially the Secretary's health. And again, we're committed to making sure that we don't do this again and that we do a better job next time. Let me get some other questions. Joseph?

Q: Thanks. Can you provide any updates on the three service numbers that were injured in the Christmas day attack?

GEN. RYDER: Joseph, I'd have to refer you to the Army? I don't have those in front of me.

Q: Could you give us the latest numbers of attacks in Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So there's -- since January 4, let's see here, there has been nine attacks since January 4. There's been a hundred and twenty-seven attacks total; 52 in Iraq; 75 in Syria.

Q: And just finally DOD, you previously said that that the Pentagon was looking into reports of Israeli use of white phosphorus in Lebanon, I believe it's November or October. Wondering if there's any updates on that?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any updates. I haven't seen anything substantive come back but I don't have any updates on that.

Q: Are you still looking into it or you close that?

GEN. RYDER: You know I want to -- I'd refer you to the Israelis. Obviously they would know whether they did or not but I'm not aware of any updates or anything significant coming back at this stage.


Q: Thank you, General. Yesterday you talked about your presence in Iraq. My question is that do you have a deadline for the U.S. withdrawal in Iraq? If not then how long are you going to stay? Are you going to stay as long as the ISIS threats remain or it's totally up to the Iraqi government if they want to stay or leave the country?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So you know we are in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq. And as you highlight we remain singularly focused on the Defeat ISIS Mission.

We do remain in close consultation with the Iraqi government when it comes to U.S. Force presence in particular, the safety and security of those Forces. And so we are engaged in a coordinated and deliberate process with the government of Iraq to discuss the evolution of that mission, in a manner that preserves these gains against ISIS and helps to ensure that they can never come back.

So I'm not going to speculate or get into internal Iraqi government discussions but certainly we'll continue to consult closely with our Iraqi partners.

Q: There's no deadline for that presence in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: Well again, we are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq.


Q: Thank you, General. Two questions on that, in the past week. The first on Japan. Can you give us any update on the U.S. assistance in Japan's disaster relief operations after the major earthquake in early January?

GEN. RYDER: So we do remain in close communication with the government of Japan. We are ready to assist if asked. At this time to my knowledge there has not been any specific requests but we'll of course continue to keep you updated.

Q: Separately on Taiwan, the presidential election will take place in Taiwan on Saturday. The China said this election is a choice between conflict and peace. So how concerned is the Pentagon that China might step up pressure campaign against Taiwan, depending on the outcome of the election?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So we strongly support Taiwan's free and fair elections which we view as a model for democracy not only in the region but also globally. And the United States does not take sides in Taiwan's elections. Were committed to fair treatment of the candidates.

Our policy on Taiwan will remain the same regardless of which party is in power. And we look forward to working with whomever Taiwan voters elect.

The U.S. China -- One China Policy as you know, Ryo, will continue to be guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.


Q: Thank you, General. So you've been addressing the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It seems the Pentagon has some concerns about maybe the reemergence of ISIS. How would you assess the threat of ISIS today in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: So it's really interesting having watched this over time. So you know ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been largely suppressed. I think it's one of those things though that you have to keep after, obviously. You know one of the major challenges of course is the al-Hawl Detention Facility which of course you know we continue to work with coalition and countries around the world to address that.

Post Counter-ISIS Campaign you know the active operations when ISIS was defeated essentially in Syria, what we've seen is ISIS essentially look to metastasize elsewhere, most notably in the African Continent but then also in places like Afghanistan.

And so this is, you know, really a -- not only in Iraq and Syria challenge but it's a broader regional, in some cases a global challenge. And so you can't wish it away. We've got to continue to keep pressure on ISIS to prevent a resurgence because as they demonstrated back in 2014, if that's allowed to happen it obviously disastrous consequences for many.

Q: I would like to focus on ISIS threat in Iraq. As you said, in Iraq, Syria, it's been largely suppressed. And the U.S. has been advising and training Iraqi security forces in Iraq for years now. Does the Pentagon think that Iraqi security forces are able on their own to deal with the current situation that is -- or the threat of ISIS that has been largely suppressed?

GEN. RYDER: Well that's really a question for the Iraqi security forces to answer. Again we're there at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help train and advise.

And you know again you and I have both been watching this for a very long time. And the Iraqi security forces particularly on the counterterrorism front have been incredibly effective. I mean they are you know fantastic forces.

And so really like elsewhere in the world anytime we have forces president of the country it's going to be there at the invitation of those countries. And so I think we all, both Iraq and the United States and the international community, have a vested interest in preventing a resurgence of ISIS. But at the end of the day again we continue to be present at the invitation of the government of Iraq.

Q: My third question. 

GEN. RYDER: The last one, I got a couple folks over here.

Q: OK. So this is on Gaza. You stated again that the Secretary and the leadership in the Pentagon has been encouraging the Israeli counterparts to minimize harm among civilians in Gaza. We've been hearing this since the beginning of the war especially when this all started ballooning. And now we're talking about more than 23,000 killed.

How -- if you would try to rate or give a grade to your efforts so far with your Israeli allies, how successful were your efforts and the Secretary's effort in convincing the Israelis to reduce harm among civilians in Gaza?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks Fadi. So you know again we've talked about the incredible challenge that we have here in terms of the threat that Hamas presents to the people of Israel, an existential threat, by an organization that has committed to eliminating Israel as a country, as demonstrated by their attacks on October 7th, and their public statements that they want to see such attacks continue again and again.

You're seeing combat in an incredibly dense urban environment with an adversary that again is completely fine with using humans as shields, civilians as shields. And so again we don't underestimate the challenge that is in front of Israel when it comes to confronting this threat. And we will continue to support their right to defend themselves.

But again we will continue to actively discuss and expect that they conduct those operations in accordance with international laws of armed conflict, and international humanitarian law. And so you know at the end of the day these are sovereign decisions made by a sovereign government, but we will continue to work closely with them to try to again underscore the importance of ensuring that they're taking civilian harm into account, recognizing as the Secretary said, earlier in December, that you don't want to have tactical victory but strategic defeat.

Let me go back over here. Nancy?

Q: I have two points I need to clarify to, and then a couple questions. You told Lara that the secretary did not lose consciousness, if I heard correctly, December 22nd. But the statement says he was under general anesthesia. Can you help me understand – if there's something I misunderstood?

GEN. RYDER: Again, this is according to his doctors. He never lost consciousness and never underwent general anesthesia. And so...

Q: But I thought that was for the January 1st part versus the 22nd versus the 23rd timeframe. That's where I’m confused.

GEN. RYDER: I'll have to take that question, because you're right. It does say in the statement that he was under general anesthesia on -- for the 22 operation. So let me take that question for...

Q: And then -- so I really don't like the passive voice. We keep talking about how Kelly Magsamen and others were initially told January 1st or 2nd. Can we -- so can you use an active voice? Who told them on the 1st and the 2nd about these complications?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have an answer to that, but I will take that question.

Q: Will the secretary be attending the NATO meetings and the Ukraine Contact Group next week? And if not, has he told the appropriate group members?

GEN. RYDER: So again, recognizing that the secretary's schedules, obviously, will continue to change, I'm not aware that he was scheduled to attend any meetings overseas next week, regardless. We, of course, you know, tentatively do have a Ukraine Contact Group, as we typically do monthly, but I don't have anything to announce in terms of dates on that right now. We'll certainly keep you and others informed.

Q: Lastly, has the secretary agreed going forward that should he face future medical procedures or need to leave for whatever reason, that he will inform the public in a more timely manner?

GEN. RYDER: I think under all of this, you know, and I want to be very clear, I think, again, we recognize the need to be better when it comes to transparency, and as a senior DOD public affairs official, I will work very hard with our senior staff to make sure that we're doing due diligence and meeting the standard that the public expects and has communicated very loudly throughout this process. So to answer your question, yes.

Q: Yes, the secretary does -- has committed to that?

GEN. RYDER: Well, and again, I'd refer you to the secretary's statement that we put out, that he is committed to doing better when it comes to transparency.

Let me go to Tara, and then I'll come back to Chris.

Q: Go back to the statement that was issued on Friday, where initially, it said "elective procedure". Can you tell us who informed the use of the word "elective"? Was it Austin's doctors telling you all it's an elective procedure? How was that word chosen to just fall onto? If it's prostate cancer...


Q: ... that's probably not an elective procedure.

GEN. RYDER: So to my knowledge, that initial statement was coordinated in consultation with his doctors. And again, recognizing that, you know, what I've provided you today has come directly from his doctors. You know, it says here "a minimally-invasive surgical procedure". So again, recognizing that words matter, I think we were trying to relay the best information that we had at the time. But again, to my knowledge, that initial statement was coordinated in consultation with the medical care professionals.

OK, let me go to Chris, and I'm sorry, and then we'll come to you.

Q: If there was no delay with the notifications and no public fallout, did the secretary and did the department plan to publicly acknowledge the secretary's prostate cancer at some point, given that he's a cabinet member and a public figure?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So in some ways, it's a hypothetical because we are where we are. But to answer your question, Chris, I mean, the short answer is yes. But I think, again, this review will help us understand where we can do better in terms of making sure that part of the notification timeline not only to include the chain of command, but also, the public notification timeline is taken into account. I don't -- you know, and again, we're talking about a hypothetical and I'm speculating here, and as a public affairs official, I can tell you that I don't see a scenario whereby this happens and there was never any public acknowledgment about it. But in terms of how the timeline and how we get to where we're at the point of, OK, it's time to let the public know, you know, clearly, we could have done better and we will do better. 


Q: Did you mention what stage he was in with the prostate cancer?

GEN. RYDER: I'd refer you back to the statement here. It says that identified prostate cancer, which required treatments. He was admitted; underwent minimally-invasive surgical procedure. He recovered uneventfully -- so no, I don't have the -- but it sounds like his prostate cancer was detected early and his prognosis is excellent.

Q: Will that be provided? What stage?

GEN. RYDER: Again, we'll continue to consult with his medical professionals. I'll take that question again. I'm now recognizing again lessons learned on privacy and public officials. We'll try to be as forthright as we can with as much information as we can.

Q: You’re talking about transparency, and I know the administration has touted being the most transparent, as well as this department. So again, I guess just, how could something like this happen? And how are you concerned this might affect the public's trust in the in the secretary and in the department?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, you know, as I highlighted, we're going to go back and we're going to look at what we could have done better, to include, you know, within my own organization on the Public Affairs side and making sure that we are acknowledging and asking those hard questions about ensuring that the public has a timely -- not only the public; public, Congress and the news media, have a timely and accurate understanding of the Secretary's status. And so as I highlighted in my topper, there's nothing more important to us than the trust of the American public that we serve, and we realize that trust has to be earned, and so we're going to work hard every day to make sure that we are earning that trust, but more importantly, deserving that trust.

Let me get a few folks. James?

Q: So I understand -- thank you for the questions, General. So I understand that the secretary has accepted responsibility for all this. I understand that the Pentagon's doing a 30-day review and I understand the Pentagon has committed to transparency, particularly in our meetings with the Pentagon Press Association and what they've said publicly.

If you read through any Army field manual, there will be a passage, particularly field manuals on leadership, that says that leaders cannot lead without being able to communicate clearly. And so I'm wondering if the Secretary views this as a leadership failure versus just shortcomings in transparency or shortcomings in notification; that it's actually looked at as a leadership failure either within the institution or himself personally.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple things, James, and thanks for the question. So first of all, the Secretary in his statement on Saturday has accepted responsibility for the transparency issues associated with that. So from a leadership standpoint, he has. He's stepped up and said, "Yes, I take responsibility for this." And again, importantly, this review will help us better understand not only from a process and procedure standpoint, but also where we could have done better and how we can do better moving forward in the future. So you know, part of, as you highlight, part of leadership is understanding where you can do better and where there are shortfalls, and then owning those, and we are going to own those and we're going to do better, not only cause it's the right thing to do but cause it's also vitally important as we carry out our mission.


Q: Just two quick follow-ups. So if the White House wasn't told of the December 22nd surgery when Austin was under general anesthesia and the authority and the powers were transferred to the Deputy Secretary, then what is the thinking there of what if the White House needs to contact the Defense Department, the Secretary, and needs to issue an order, for example, then how do they know who to contact? What was kind of the rationale in not contacting them?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, you know, as I highlighted, part of the changes effective immediately will be providing an understanding of why authorities are being transferred. The transfer of authorities in conducting the day-to-day business of the department, in and of themself, are not that uncommon. And so it wouldn't - you know, when the White House - and again, I'm going to kind of - I don't want to say "speculate" but I'm just going to kind of give a scenario - you know, as I understand it, if the White House needs to contact the department, they're going to contact the department, and if the Deputy Secretary is in charge at that moment because authorities have been transferred, you know, she of course will respond.

A little bit of a hypothetical, in terms of your question, if the President wanted to reach out directly to the Secretary. Again, circumstantial. I don't want to get into hypotheticals, other than to say part of this process improvement and the steps that we've taken immediately is to ensure a wide understanding that transfer authorities have occurred and why those transfer authorities have occurred, particularly to include hospitalization, so that there can be an understanding of context, in terms of when I might want to ask more questions, if that makes sense.

Q: OK. And then in terms of the 30 day review, is there a reason why that's being handled internally rather than by the IG?

GEN. RYDER: Well - so the Department of Defense Inspector General of course is a independent office, and so I can't speak for them and what they may or may not do. But what we can do within the Office of the Secretary of Defense is we can take immediate action to review where we can do better, how this happened, the relevant facts, as I highlighted, and then importantly, implement some immediate change to address some of the things that needed to be addressed. So I'll just leave it at that.

Q: Will the results of that review be made public?

GEN. RYDER: So we will - as soon as that review's complete, we will of course work with you all to try to provide as much information about that review as we can.


Q: I’m trying to get a better sense of the statement that came out on Friday. So Secretary Hicks learned about Secretary Austin's condition on Thursday and started to push for a statement to come out. At the same time, Secretary Austin's condition improved on Friday. So by the time the statement came out, you could say he would resume his responsibilities from the hospital. The timing of this statement, does that have more to do with Secretary Austin's condition or the push from Secretary Hicks?

GEN. RYDER: So Liz, I don't have the answer to that question. That may be something that our review helps us to understand. But I do know that his statement was coordinated. Part of it was trying to make sure that we had as much information as possible, in terms of the Secretary's status and condition, which, again, we've been working to try to get as much information as possible. So that's about as much as I can provide at this stage.

Certainly, again, as we talked about yesterday, Friday afternoon, when there was an understanding that we were going to put a statement out, you know, we tried to get that out as quick as we could. Unfortunately, you know, it came out at Friday at 5:00, which is obviously less than ideal.

Let me - yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you so much. I want to follow up on Taiwan. On Monday, Taiwan's Defense Ministry reported three more balloons over the Taiwan Strait from China. So is the Pentagon monitoring this situation over Taiwan? And how do you assess such Chinese balloons toward Taiwan before (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we're certainly aware of that reporting. I'd refer you to Taiwan to talk about their own airspace, but, you know, as you highlighted, that's something that we'll continue to monitor.


Q: ... Has Secretary assumed his full responsibilities right now?

GEN. RYDER: Correct - correct, all of his responsibilities on Friday evening.

Q: OK, because the Armed Services Committee tweeted out that the Deputy is the one making calls to lawmakers right now.

GEN. RYDER: Well, that so the - the Secretary and the Deputy engage with Congress on a regular basis. So Friday evening, the Secretary resumed his full duties, right? So the authorities were transferred on Tuesday afternoon to the Deputy Secretary and then resumed by the Secretary on Friday evening. And he is, again, from his hospital room, executing his full duties.

Q: Have you spoken with the Secretary this year at all? And if not, why not?

GEN. RYDER: Have I spoken with - I have not spoken with the Secretary. Again ... 

Q: (Inaudible)?


Q: I'm just still stuck on the fact that the Secretary knew he had cancer in early December and he didn't tell the President for weeks. So if he kept that information from the President and from the public for weeks, why should we believe that he was going to tell the President at some point?

GEN. RYDER: Well, Lara, look, again, I'm not going to - I can't speak for the Secretary, when it comes to his, you know, personal decision-making as it relates to his medical condition. Again, I'm going to go out on a limb here and highlight the - you know, the information that I read out to you from the statement from the doctor's obviously intensely personal and, you know, very detailed.

And so again, we recognize, and as I've highlighted, we'll learn and do better when it comes to transparency regarding the Secretary and any healthcare, but again, we'll continue to push to provide as much information as possible.

When it comes to the Secretary of Defense and him executing his duties as the Secretary of Defense, you will never find a more dedicated American public servant who cares about this country and cares about the security of this country, works seven days a week, and, you know, he's extremely dedicated, and I'll just leave it at that.

So I am confident and the President has also - and I don't want to speak for the President - but he has publicly stated his confidence in the Secretary, and I know he'll continue to remain focused on doing his mission.


Q: Did he find out about his cancer in December? Is that a fact or was it prior to that?

GEN. RYDER: I don't know the answer to that.

Q: Could you find that out?

GEN. RYDER: This statement says he's undergone regular prostate surveillance, changes in his laboratory evaluation in early December. So it sounds like he found out in early December.

Let me try to get a couple folks I haven't gotten to yet.

Q: Yeah, if you could just clear something up for me. So if the Secretary's Chief of Staff was out sick and he couldn't notify people, why couldn't the second person in line do that? Can you just explain more why it couldn't be done in a more timely fashion?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, this is part of what our review will look at. And as I've highlighted, you know, we're not making excuses here. There's definitely things that could have been done better.

In this particular case, the Secretary's Chief of Staff, because she was ill, was not able to make those notifications. But again, our review will allow us to have a better understanding, you know, of the what and when and where and why. And more importantly, you know, we're taking immediate actions to make sure that things like this - we can improve in the future.

OK. Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you for doing this. I just want to get a little bit of clarity on -- you said you -- that Secretary Austin transferred some operational authorities to Deputy Secretary Hicks. Can you quantify this for me? Was this like she had to take a hand full of phone calls while she was on leave or was it more like she was working full-time, essentially, during those five days between January 1st and January 5th when Austin resumed his full authorities?

GEN. RYDER: So it transferred certain operational authorities that require secure communications. During that period of time she executed some routine business on behalf of the Secretary. But that was about the extent of it.

Q: Was this like a few hours a day or can you kind of --

GEN. RYDER: I don't have a breakdown day by day of what she did and when other than to say it was, you know, considered routine business. And I have been completely remise about our folks on the phone here. So let me go to a few folks, Dan Lamothe from Washington Post.

Q: Hey, General. Thanks for your time. Secretary Austin typically include both kind of immediate operational issues but then also longer lead policy sort of discussions. Is it fair to say that some of the longer lead planning has slowed or had to come to a stop as he balances his recuperation?

And then separately, with Deputy Secretary Hicks being left in the dark here, can you characterize their relationship at this point?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Dan. When it comes to the longer lead policy items, you know the Department of Defense is a team sport. And we certainly have very capable senior leaders, not only at the Office of the Secretary of Defense but throughout the Department.

So to answer your question, you know, no, it's not my sense that there was any, you know, slowdown in terms of the things that we've already been working on. In terms of the relationship between the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, they of course share a very close working relationship. And so, you know, clearly they work together regularly and so it's a great team. So I'll just leave it at that. Let me go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg. Tony?

OK. I'm probably talking too long. Let me go to Mike Brest.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. I'm hoping to nail down on the transfer of authorities. Can Secretary Austin transfer some authority sometimes but not other times? When he transferred powers on December 22, was it the same exact transfer of powers that happened on January 2nd? 

And is it fair to say that Deputy Secretary Hicks was serving in an acting secretary capacity last week?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so again, this would be the transfer of certain operational authorities that require secure communications. And again, it's not necessarily uncommon and it doesn't necessarily have to be related to health reasons.

With some of you I've used the example when he traveled to the USS Ford in December to visit the crew, he had to be transported on a Navy C2 aircraft, which had limited communications. And so for that 45 minute flight, for example, he would transfer authorities to the Deputy Secretary so that there's positive control of those certain operational authorities during that time.

And then of course when he gets to the ship, those are then resumed back by the Secretary. So that in and of itself is a, you know, a process that's not uncommon. Let me go to Mike Glenn, Washington Times.

Q: Thanks, Pat. My question's already been answered. You can go ahead to someone else.

GEN. RYDER: OK. Thanks. JJ Green.

Q: General, thank you. Considering that a review was underway, it'll take a while for that, but just the question in the interim that I have is what's the order of the communications chain from the Secretary of Defense down to the team and out to the President and to others, what does that order look like?

GEN. RYDER: Well, JJ, it's hard for me to answer that question just based on the fact that it depends on the circumstances and depends on what we're talking about. So I'm not really able to give you a specific answer and certainly don't want to go into hypotheticals. But clearly, you know, at no time during this process was or the situation was national security ever in jeopardy. There was positive control between the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary.

And so again, those operational authorities were resident with the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary at any moment. Thank you. Let me go back to the room here. Chris and then Joseph.

Q: Thanks. A clarifying question. Just cause we working off a lot of examples, could you now or perhaps take the question provide us what exactly are the full authorities of the Secretary Defense and what you define that as because it seems like, you know, there's some confusion among our readership and amongst ourselves of what exactly are the full authorities of the Secretary of Defense?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, I -- I'm -- Chris, I'm not able to get into specifics for operation security reasons other than to say, you know, if there are certain things that require secure communications, whether it's you know command and control forces related to certain operations around the world, those authorities would then be transferred to the Deputy Secretary so that she is able to make decisions on behalf of the Secretary if he's not able to access those communications.

Now certainly there's a lot of other things that a Department of Defense does that doesn't require secure communications or it doesn't require the Secretary of Defense to personally make those decisions but what we're talking here is strategic level operational authorities related to, you know, the Department's business. So I just have to leave it at that. 


Q: Yesterday a statement from here said that Secretary Austin received an operation update from (GEN) Kurilla and the joint chief's chair. Was that the first one he's had this year? And then previously those four or five days before, were there operational briefs provided to Secretary Hicks or were they -- was there any gap in -- with everything going on in CENTCOM --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So the Deputy Secretary, you know, receives operational intelligence updates every single day. In particular when the Secretary was in the hospital. But the Secretary began to again receive his presidential daily brief and his operational updates on Saturday after resuming full duties on Friday evening. 

And so you know I think we highlighted he spoke to the Deputy Secretary and to the Chairman on Saturday. He spoke to Senator Reed on Sunday and then of course yesterday, as you highlighted, he had a discussion with the folks that we highlighted in that release. 

And again, he's conducting his duties now from his hospital room, but again, he's resumed his full duties. All right, let me got Tom Bowman, NPR. All right, and then Howard Altman.

Q: Thanks, Pat. I got a few questions. So, the Secretary of Defense serves in an advisory capacity in the nuclear command and control system. He's not in chain of command, but he's an advisor, a key advisor. Did he ever relinquish that capacity during this process, if so, to whom? And was the President aware that his advisor in this capacity wasn't available? And then additionally on this review process, does that review process, do you anticipate that it might result in any kind of disciplinary actions, given the lack of information provided up and down the chain? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Howard. So, questions again about the President, I'd refer you to the White House. As I highlighted earlier, when it comes to the necessary authorities to carry out the operational business of the Department of Defense, the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary had positive control at all times.

And so, to answer your question, no, there was no impact on our ability to make sure that regardless of what we're talking about operationally, there was a senior leader at the helm, ensuring that national security requirements were being covered. 

In terms of the outcomes of the review, again, I don't want to speculate. I highlighted, and you should have the memo, or we can get you a copy of the memo that highlights what this review will look at. And so, certainly we'll keep you informed on that. 

I’ll go to Nancy and Tara. And then last question.

Q: There's a White House briefing of some kind happened. And John Kirby, in that briefing, said that the President learned of the Secretary's prostate cancer diagnosis this morning. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that was communicated, and why the Secretary chose to tell him this morning?

GEN. RYDER: We're answering questions right here from the podium, from outside the podium. So, that's good. So, yeah. So, Nancy, I don't have the specifics of that other than, again, you know, we have continued to try to ensure that we're getting you as much information about the Secretary's status. So, I'd refer you to Mr. Kirby to talk about the discussions the White House may have had in terms of how they obtained that information.

Q: I guess my curiosity is why he didn't mention it on Saturday. I think that's when they first spoke.

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd have to defer to the White House to talk about how they obtained information. Lemme go to Tara. Can't start the press conference over again, guys.

Q: To that question, did Secretary Austin talk to the President today?

GEN. RYDER: To my knowledge, he has not talked to the President today. But I've been up here for almost an hour. But if that's the case, obviously, I'm sure the White House will let us know, but I'm not aware of a discussion today. All right.

Q: Also, on that with the President not finding out until today. He spoke with them after the procedure. They had a conversation on the 1st where he authorized to strike in Baghdad. So, was he going to tell the President about his cancer? Was he not going to tell the President? Why did he withhold that?

GEN. RYDER: Carla, I don't have anything to provide beyond what I've spelled out to you. And as you highlight again, I'm not going to get into when strikes were authorized, other than the strike in Iraq on January 4 was authorized by the President and the Secretary before he went into the hospital. So, the CENTCOM commander had the authorization to take that strike when he felt it was appropriate. Last question. Yes, ma'am?

Q: Kirby said apparently (inaudible) our White House colleagues that he said that Secretary told the President today in some capacity, however that was communicated. I would imagine it's on the phone. What I'm unclear about is, we had a statement from Secretary Austin on Saturday committing to doing better about transparency, and it seems as if you guys don't even know that he called the President and told him this today. It just doesn't seem like it's only been three days and already he's not being more transparent with the White House over the weekend with his diagnosis, and he's not even telling you guys. 

I guess I would love to know, and I wish we could ask these questions of him. And I guess as part of his transparency, I'll just put out here, we would appreciate having an opportunity when he's better, of course, and feeling up to it, to ask him these questions himself, why he didn't inform his press secretary that he called President and told him this morning.

GEN. RYDER: I appreciate that, Courtney. And again, as the Secretary highlighted, and as you highlighted, he has made a commitment to do better when it comes to transparency. And we'll certainly take the request to have him come brief you here in the briefing room. You guys have all been-

Q: Is he still not planning on resigning?

GEN. RYDER: He's not planning on resigning. You all have been very patient today. Thank you very much and hope you have a great day. Thank you.