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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a troop event at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri

Jan. 13, 2015
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: General, thank you very much.

General, thank you. Thank you.


General, thank you, and thanks to each of you for giving me a little time this morning. But let me begin by also thanking you for what you do for our country, your service, your sacrifice to this country, your families, what they sacrifice, I want you to be sure and give them my regards and our thanks and tell them how much we appreciate what they do. I am well-aware of this base and your mission and how well you do it. Congratulations on winning the Fairchild Trophy last year.

I also want to note that you were selected as the SAPRO program for 2014, the best in the Air Force. That's not insignificant for many reasons, because it is that part of our family and our community that we must pay attention to first, taking care of each other.

So, along with how you have distinguished yourselves with your mission and how you carry that out with such professionalism, as well as taking care of each other, congratulations and thank you for that.

Any Ohio State fans here? One or two, I guess. I know this is football country. I'm, as the general noted, from Nebraska, and I met a couple of Nebraskans. How many other Nebraskans here? We've got this right up front, here. I thought it was because you were just the smartest ones.

Yeah, that's it too. I got it.

Well thank you. I'm particularly proud of those from Nebraska who serve, but I'm proud of everybody in this country who serves. I had the privilege of serving in uniform a few years ago. Actually, it was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, many years ago, but it probably did as much to shape me and mold me and affect me as any one experience I ever had in my life. And I think beyond a doubt, it helped me immeasurably as it does today, not just having the privilege of being your secretary of defense over the last two years, but everything I've done in my life, I have drawn from that experience in the military and what that means to individuals.

But as you bring your skills and your talents and your beliefs together for a common mission, a common purpose, it's about as special a life, it's about as special a meaning I think as you'll ever find in any of our lives. I'm going to get into some questions here in a minute, because I know that you have some things on your mind that you want to talk about.

But let me address just a couple of things, and then we'll go to your questions. And I think we're going to take photographs as well. First, what you do here is more than just one of the three components of our nuclear triad with the B-2. It is always about strategic deterrence so that we don't have to send our men and women into conflict, into war.

It is about staying ahead, technology-wise, of our adversaries. Those who would want to do great damage to this country, in our way of life and our allies, so there's a technological edge here that you all live with every day, and as part of your mission. It's also a modernization process that is key to -- and fundamental to any enterprise, but especially our national security.

And over the last couple of years, as we've gone through a very difficult and we are continuing to work our way through this, difficult fiscal situation, sequestration, what happened in 2013 when we had to stop training, stop flying, stop sailing, when we had a government shutdown for more than two weeks. We had to also furlough civilians. That was a tough time.

And that hurt us in many ways as we build back. But the one thing that we cannot fall behind in is our modernization efforts. And as you know, we have paid a lot of attention to that, especially the last year.

As I announced a few months ago, our nuclear enterprise reforms and modernization, which I know Admiral Haney and all your commanders are very connected to, very involved in, and we're committing more resources in our budget that we'll be presenting to Capitol Hill here in the next few weeks.

So, I want to assure you of that component of your job. But it's all really about, fundamentally central to everything, people. And we cannot afford to lose good people. And we have to continue to assure that we are recruiting and we are bringing good people in to this business. Because technology, modernization, all the components that are critical for our national security are only as good as the quality of the people that we have behind those technologies: the maintenance people, the medical people, the people who take care of our families, our schools, our pilots. Every job in this room. There is no job represented in this room that's not important.

We cannot have the kind of enterprise that we have across the services, the integration of those services, without everybody doing their job superbly well. Everybody's job is important. There's a link, there's a fit, and if one of you is weak or if one of you falls down, or if one of you is not capable, it will affect the entire effort.

I was reminded of that when I was up in the cockpit of the B-2 when they were taking me around here a few minutes ago, and showing me the plane. And I ask about where they -- on these long missions, 36 hour missions, well, where is that you lay down? Where can you get some rest? And the pilot showed me there on the floor when they put the sleeping bag down. I know many of you have done that.

And he said this, and I thought it was a very telling point. He said, "I don't have any problem sleeping here with a bedroll if I have confidence in who's flying this plane."

I mean doesn't that really say it all? I mean, if you have confidence in the person next to you doing their job, where you can relax for a minute and rest for a minute, then that's it. If you don't have that confidence in each other, then it won't work. And it's about sexual assault. It's about any social community, human issue, as well as professional.

So, I wanted to make those points because I think sometimes, some of those important points are not integrated enough into our overall scope, the overall health of our enterprise of what you do. And I want you to be assured that we know that in Washington. Your leaders know that. Your chiefs know that. The people that you have leading, all of you know that.

And I know you live it right here on this base, every day, as well as throughout the Air Force. I know there are some other branches represented here too, but I know this is an Air Force Base and this is primarily Air Force.

I got indoctrinated very early to the Air Force. My father was in the Army Air Force in World War II. And he was a radio operator, tailgunner on a B-25 in the South Pacific. And so -- he, early on in my youth, I'm the oldest of four boys from Nebraska, talked about his service in the Army Air Corps and how proud he was of that service, and how proud he always was of the Air Force.

So, I'm not unfamiliar, even though I served in the Army and even though I represent you all, I'm not unfamiliar with the Air Force, because that's how I was rounded to begin with from my father, on the one service that he admired so greatly.

Okay. Why don't' we go to some questions and comments. Anything you all want to talk about, there's a microphone right here. So, whoever wants to step up and start the show, go ahead.

Q: Sergeant Gore from the communications squadron.

SEC. HAGEL: Where are you from?

Q: Macon, Georgia, sir.

Do you feel Obama -- President Obama's community college incentive will change the way the military recruits?

SEC. HAGEL: That's a good question.

Quick answer is I don't know. We need to, I think, as the president will lay this out in more detail, the facts and the figures and how it will work and who would be responsible and the qualifications, so until we get more of that detail, we really can't speculate.

But I would offer this, though, to your question. I think any effort, if we can do it right, to help educate our people -- now it has to be the right way, I get that, is probably a good thing. Our services, our men and women in uniform today are the most skilled, highly educated, certainly in this country or any country in the history of armed forces has ever known.

Many of you, whether you're enlisted or officers, are -- have graduate degrees and have degrees -- two or three degrees, working on degrees. Many of you are taking courses now.

You continually not only train, but you continually educate yourselves for your own personal reasons. Professional growth is one thing, but it cannot be decoupled from personal growth. Personal growth has to start the process. Professional growth comes after, and it comes next after personal growth. And you're -- we're all constantly growing, or we should be. We better be in every way. We hope every day, we each get better at what we do, and we each become better people.

That's experience. That's a lot of things.

So, it's a good question you asked, and certainly as the Congress debates this, as they will, as they should, let's -- let's see where it goes. But I'm all for any debate about education, about skillsets, about enhancing all of our young people so they can compete in a very, very competitive world. I'm for that debate.

Let's get those kind of things up on the radar scope, and let's see how we can continue to enhance this country and make a better world for all people with more opportunities for all people.

Someone back here. Come on up to the microphone.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Perry, I'm the medical support squadron commander.

SEC. HAGEL: Where are you from?

Q: Chicago.

You talked about technology modernization. And in light of some of the cyber security issues that we're looking at in our future budgets, how do you think that's going to affect how we move forward in increasing our technology and upgrading that, especially with the 24th Air Force and how it's going to trickle down to the base level?

SEC. HAGEL: Well that's a good question. It's a relevant question, and it's an important question. And it cuts into some of the comments I made here earlier. I gave a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in November. It was a day long seminar out there, brought together some of the -- the best minds in the defense business. A lot of former senior military leaders, as well as others.

And the speech that I gave was about your question.

I mean, how do we do this? And it's an initiative that has been very important for me in the last two years that I've really pushed hard on. Initiative on technology, on resources, on getting ahead of what we know is coming. No one is wise enough to know everything. We can't.

And I suspect if we had been in this building a year ago, very few people would've been able to forecast what has happened the last three months in three areas, for example, Ebola and how that's affected our military and what we've done to assist in West Africa. Certainly, Russia's aggressive behavior and what they have done, and what they continue to do. And ISIL. And there are other areas as well.

But, point being, without the constant focus on modernization and the resources to modernize, and the direction and the innovation and the leadership and trying to project out into a future that is going to be full of more complicated, more sophisticated challenges than we've ever known, we can't figure all of that out, but we know that's coming.

You cannot put seven billion people on the face of the Earth, projected to be nine billion people on the face of the Earth in the next twenty-five years, and think that that's going to produce a less complicated world.

People need water. They need clean air. They need food, they need jobs, they need opportunities, and much of what's going on in the Middle East today, or North Africa very much revolves around that. What are your options if you're a young man in many of those countries? Young women are way behind, because they have very few rights.

But picking up a gun, a revolution, some ideology? Pretty attractive if you don't have any options, if you don't have any hope, if you are living in a world of despair. So, point being, we're not going to fix all the problems, the defense department. I get that.

But we can do a lot to help to secure stability and security and rights. All of that is part of our mission, quite frankly. It's the security of this country. But the security of this country isn't just from coast to coast or from north to south, as we all know.

The security of this country is a lot bigger than that. So, what your question revolves around is really the essence of our own future. And we control that future. Other countries are catching up with their capacities, with -- with their modernization, with their economies. These are generational issues.

Japan is moving in different directions. That's the history of mankind. And we can help those countries. And these are times when we've got to be very wise and manage through these kinds of fundamental, historic, unprecedented changes going on in the world.

But if we don't have the tools to help us do that, and the resources and the thinking and the modernization and the capabilities, then we'll be very limited, not only in -- in assisting, but also our own security.


Q: Good morning, sir. My name's Sergeant Hooper. I'm with the 495th Fighter Group.

SEC. HAGEL: Where are you from?

Q: I'm originally from Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

My question today has to do with the campaign, the continued fight against ISIL. Do you foresee the campaign going from an air campaign to possibly putting more boots on the ground?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. It's a good question.

I start in answering your question this way. What's going on in Iraq, in Syria, but if you take the larger sweep of the Middle East and North Africa, it's complicated for many reasons.

The people in those areas, let's take Iraq, because that is a functioning government. They are going to have to sort this out. We can help them. We are helping them. We will help them. We've got a coalition of over sixty countries that are fighting ISIL and helping those governments and those countries and those people fight ISIL. Our physical presence in Iraq, as you all know, is very limited: to training, to equipping, to assisting.

We can't fight those wars for those people. That is not going to resolve the problem. The problem is deeper than that. And we've been through -- many of you have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been through 13 years of non-stop war in two countries, two large landmass wars. We're out of one, fighting that war, Iraq. And we have just transitioned in Afghanistan to a new mission, a train, assist, and advise mission.

It is up to those countries, their people, their leaders, to sort this out. It is their security and stability. We're affected by that. But the answer is not for us to continue to send troops to fight other people's wars. Yes, they are a threat against us. Yes, they affect us. But we'll help. We have to help. We have some responsibilities with our coalition partners. But coalitions and partnerships will be critical to this.

It isn't going to be the United States, our way of life, and our Constitution, and a picture of Thomas Jefferson that turns that around. It is going to be the fundamentals of what I was talking about earlier: the people themselves living in those countries.

Now, this is difficult. These are historic fault lines. They're religious. They're tribal. They're historic in every way. You can't turn that around. One country is not going to turn that around. Coalitions can help, can support, can train. But this is a long-term effort. And this goes back to what I was saying earlier about modernization and capabilities, and assuring our own security first, but also being able to help other countries with theirs.

So, one of the things that I have emphasized in this regard, the last two years I've been secretary of defense, is building the capacity of partners, whether it's in the Asia-Pacific when we're doing that extremely well, whether it's -- they are NATO countries. Wherever it is in the world, help them help themselves. Help them build their own capability, their own capacity. Help them build institutions.

Institution-building gets very little attention from the press for any -- from anybody. Institutions are critical -- are critical, because it is only the institutions that can function in any kind of coherent way, whether it's defense, whether it's transportation, whether it's taxes, whether it's governing.

It's the institution-building that has to be done. It's slow. It's boring. It's imperfect. Every dimension of problem always is endemic in institution-building. Corruption and so on. But without institutions, you have nothing.

You have nothing. You have warlords. And that's hard to do. And that has to also come at the own pace of these countries. They have to want to do it. The U.S. model can't be the model for every country, everywhere, all the time. We think ours is the best system in the world. Worked pretty well for us, I think.

And other countries have emulated parts of who we are. But there can't be these many U.S. as there are all over the world that we insist on. We've got to be smarter than that. And we've learned some tough lessons on this.

So, I mean, I may have drifted a little bit in your answer, but I don't think so, because I do think it all connects back to your question. It's a difficult question.

One more? Okay. Yes?

Q: Good morning, sir. Lieutenant Sean Bakerfrom the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron in San Diego.

Within the context of relevancy, how do you see the tenets of global strike and strategic deterrence evolving to meet the needs of a world that sees growing threats from cyber security and small, sporadic, asymmetric warfare?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Well, I think, if you just looked at the concept of global deterrence, I mean, what does that mean? What's the whole point of the nuclear triad? What's the point of the nuclear deterrence?

Well, the whole point is, is to assure any adversary or anyone thinking about attacking our country or destroying our country, that there is a sufficient deterrent out there based on our strength, based on our strategic capability, that would stop them -- would stop that insanity before it ever got started.

Could they do some damage to the United States? Yes, whoever it is. But recognizing what would happen as a result. So, the deterrence of pushing back that is represented in all the components of our defense enterprise is critically important, here.

Our adversaries have to know and have to believe, and essentially have to trust that we have that -- that deterrent capability, that in fact we had everything we say we have. And we'll use it if we need to use it to defend this country and our allies.

And that means that the reality, because we are so open, I mean, there is no country on Earth as open and transparent as we are. Every mistake we make, we put it out to the press. We list our weapons programs, we list the cost of those weapons programs, we debate everything openly in the Congress of the United States. The press has access to a tremendous amount of information, I mean obviously not classified. We're not going to do that. But -- but no country is as open as we are.

So, we have to make sure that in fact we back all that up with the resources and with the capabilities, and all of the things necessary for that deterrence.

The long-range -- this is a good question, too. Because the long-range strike bomber that will be the next generation coming after the B-2, that has to start now. That process has to begin -- has to be started. We began it. We have begun it. People say, "well, but the B-2?" Well, the B-2's a tremendous, tremendous platform. The best in the world.

The A-10: tremendous platform for forty years. But the modernization continues to push us out where we need more capability. We need it faster. We need all the other dimensions that every generation, whether it's A-10, B-52, B-1, B-2 didn't have. We continually get better.

You know I was reminded here that the B-2 started flying twenty-five years ago. And the average is twenty years old. Well, you say, "well yeah, but the B-2 has been flying since the late '50s and '60s." That's true. But we have other capabilities. We have a B-2. And we had a B-1. So, you're constantly refining and upgrading and modernizing. But the investment now that has to get you to when your sons and daughters come into this business, we will have failed them terribly, dangerously so, if we don't make the investments now and start building out just as our fathers and our grandfathers and grandmothers did. That's why we have a B-2 today, because we had the foresight, the commitment, and the investment.

Just exactly every platform and modernization, why we got here. These things don't happen quickly, as you all know.

So, that deterrent question is a hugely important question, and it was the entire foundation of our nuclear triad. And I think it continues and will continue to become an important part of the geopolitical reality in a more diverse, a more prosperous, a more uncertain world, with more capabilities, with more countries.

I mean, you look at North Korea, Iran, China, Russia: four countries, all different, yes. But all with different kinds of capabilities. Yes. And so you see the diversity in those countries. When up until the implosion of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, it wasn't simple, but you had the Soviets and you had the U.S. in the West. That was it. I mean, you had minor skirmishes in between, and you had the Vietnams and Morocco and Algeria, different things. But not the big stuff.

I mean, the reality today is totally, totally different. So, that diversification of capabilities now makes the world in many ways more dangerous because it's more unpredictable because there is less ability to control events now in the world. Technology has changed everything. I don't need to tell you.

The Internet, technology has turned this world upside down in every way. In every way. Cyber, this'll be the last point I'll make.

Cyber. It's an area where I've put a tremendous focus in the last two years. I mean, what happened with CENTCOM's Twitter account. Well, that was a violation, and it wasn’t a big deal, but it shows you, it reminds you, once again, of how dangerous these different groups are, and how capable they are, and the kind of capacities of these different groups. And they're not the best.

So, these are things that are realities out there that we have to deal with. We're getting better. We're much better. We're the best in the business. But we're still -- there's still vulnerabilities that we have, sure, and will have. Because this diffusion -- this diffusion of economic power and technological power has empowered countries and non-state actors, in ISIL's case for example, Al Qaida, and individuals, has empowered them like nothing has ever empowered any of these groups or individuals before: technology has empowered them and we have to be smarter than they are. And we have more to defend.

Just think, the United States is really the only country capable in the world today to help defend allies with our alliances and with our partnerships and our treaties. There's no other country in the world. Russia doesn't worry too much about defending anybody except their own interests. China doesn't worry too much about it. North Korea doesn't worry too much about it. Iran, other than their own self-interests. We're the only ones that take that responsibility seriously.

Now, it's a heavy burden to carry, but one of the generational questions that will play out over the next few years, and I think you're seeing it in politics today, and we should have a debate about it, is whether America wants to continue to carry that burden.

And my answer to that is yes, and I say yes because I do not want my children or my grandchildren to grow up in a world where the next great powers have the capability and the power that America had since World War II, because I don't think any other power on Earth will be near as judicious with its power or smart or wise or careful with its power than the United States of America has been since World War II.

We've made mistakes. Absolutely. Blundered into things. Absolutely. But when you look at our history and our record, it's pretty good for a great power. It's unequaled in the history of man. So, if for no other reason, I think we need to continue to carry an unfair burden. Not alone, not alone. But this is why capacity-building for partners is so important. Help our partners. Help our partners so they can help themselves build their capacity, build their institutions, build their quality.

Okay. Thank you.

We're going to take some pictures. Good.

Again, thank you. I'm very, very proud to be here with you all, and very proud to be associated with everyone here in our entire enterprise. So, thank you for what you do for our country. Thank you.