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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Troop Event aboard USS America, San Diego, California

STAFF: Good morning, America.

STAFF: All right, well it gives me great pleasure to introduce a man who's dedicated a lifetime of faithful service to our country. When he was an infantry squad leader in Vietnam, received two Purple Hearts. He was the CEO and president of the USO. He was a deputy administrator to the VA, a U.S. Senator for the great state of Nebraska. And now it's his term as the 24th secretary of defense, leading the greatest military in the world for the last two years. My honor to introduce to you Secretary Hagel.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Good morning. Sit down.

Well, it's good to be out at sea. They don't let old infantry guys do much of this, as you probably know for good reason. We cause problems: fall and stumble. But this is pretty exciting to be out here this morning on this particular ship with you. And this is a pretty special crew, as you I think all know, because of what you have done already, what you represent, and what you will do here in the future.

First, I want to thank -- thank you for your service, your sacrifice, what you do for our country. I want to thank your families. I know it was not easy to make that move across country from the east to the west for your families and for all of you, there were tremendous additional pressure put on all of you.

That very, very acclaimed and successful trip around South America, where you received a tremendous amount of attention and positive response: I was in Peru and Chile a couple of months ago, and heard about what you all accomplished on that swing around South America. Not only how impressed everyone was with you, with the ship, with the capabilities, but you represent the best of America. And it's, I think, appropriate that you've lived up to the name of this ship in every way, so thank you. And again, please thank your families for their sacrifice.

I'm on about a three day tour around the country visiting with the Marines and the Navy, Army, Air Force to thank each of the services for their service, thank them for the privilege I've had to serve as secretary of defense and be part of your team, which has been a great honor for me, and it's an honor that I will always, always appreciate, and the privilege I had to be part of this enterprise. I will always appreciate it.

I thought I'd make a couple of comments about you, about your ship, about the future, at least from my perspective, and then we'll talk about whatever you want to talk about.

First, we were talking with the admiral and captain, and some of us say we came on to the ship here a few minutes ago about three essential priorities that I have focused on since I have been secretary of defense, that I think capture the future of our country, the future of our military. And the future in every respect of opportunities of our security, and it is first people, second, capability, and third, partnerships. And you probably represent and this ship represents those three foundational elements of our future as well as any one group of people.

And I say that because this is a very select crew, as you all know, for the reasons you know why you were selected for this crew. This is a particularly important skillset that's required. You are on-board and you run, maintain, and sail one of the most sophisticated Navy platforms we have with more capabilities than almost anything else. That's first.

Second, capabilities, as I've just -- capabilities represented on this ship and the amphibious possibilities that our Marines are getting back to after 13 years of long war: two long wars. What you're doing here, represent that in every way.

And third, partnerships. The reference I made to your tour around South America. Those partnerships that we are building, partnerships to assist our partners in their capacity and their capability, and their ability to not just defend themselves, but partner with us in a world that is now completely interconnected, as we all know. And so the threats are global. Opportunities are global. Relationships are all now more global than ever before. And that won't decrease. That will only increase.

And what you do and what that trip represented, very much was a clear not just optic, but partnership building and capacity building, but in fact it went deeper and in more depth than just an optic.

I say that too, because you all are thinking about your futures. If you're married, your husbands and your wives are thinking about your future. What is the future of this business? I know because of the last two years, especially because of sequestration and because of budget issues, we've been through a down-time, because of that. And that has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in your families, and I suspect you, what kind of future you have. Is it a career that I can build on? What are the plans for the future?

Well, plans for the future are to continue to stay technologically ahead of every country in the world. We must. That technological edge has given us an important position in our own capabilities, but also in the assistance that we can provide our partners. And it's clearly in our interest.

Also, as you look ahead, for the future of our defense enterprise, it is becoming more skill oriented than maybe ever before, even though today we have the best led, best trained, best educated, best motivated, best equipped force the world's ever known. That won't always be that way, just because it is that way today. It requires tremendous investment and leadership and thinking of future challenges and future opportunities. And that's why I say those three components of our future, the people, the capacity, and the partnerships all come together in a critical way that represents our future.

We can talk about any more of these things or additional issues here once we get into questions, but I wanted to just at least give you a top line sense of my thinking, and I think it's not just my thinking, but I think as we evolve and in our own geopolitical strategies and our thinking in the world, and how do we protect our interests, and you know, just in the last couple of weeks, what's happened in the world in the cyber world, cyber has changed everything.

The Internet has changed everything. It's given non-state actors, individuals capacities, capabilities empowered them in ways 10 years ago we'd never seen anything like this. All that is shifting and changing at these unprecedented historic rates, but they also represent opportunities.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the military establishment, certainly since World War II, certainly is keeping this country safe and securing this country, which is our principal responsibility.

But that cannot come divorced from other areas of social responsibility, whether it's sexual assault or not paying attention to the human requirements and the individual needs of our sailors, our soldiers, our marines, our airmen and their families.

The military has done a better job of that than any institution. One reason is that is that we're more cohesive, we're more of a united community. So we have more opportunities to do that. But also, when you look at the cutting edge social changes that we've seen in the United States since World War II, all have begun here in the military.

And I know when you're sitting out here and running through new trials at sea with this magnificent ship with the kind of capabilities and the clear mission you have, and the deadly responsibilities that you have, it becomes easy to maybe overlook or discontinue or disconnect some of the social, human responsibilities that we each have for each other.

But I want to tell you and assure you and reassure you that we will not do that. We are not doing that. And all the leaders that will come in behind me and the admiral and the captains and you represent leadership classes in every aspect of your profession, because you are leaders or you wouldn't be on this mission, you wouldn't be on this crew.

We won't disconnect the individual and the human part of who we are. Because in the end, as advanced as our technologies are and as good as they will become, even better, without quality people it won't matter. It won't matter. And leadership does matter. Because one of the factors of leadership, and again, why you were chosen for this crew, is judgment. You can't teach judgment. Skillsets, experience, motivation, all of that helps you form judgment, but in the end you all have to make tough choices and make judgments.

And that's what leadership is about. And that's what quality individuals are about. Can you make the right judgments at the right time, the right way?

So, I tell you these things not because you haven't heard them and you don't know them and you're not living them, but I think it's important that you hear from your leadership every now and then that these are fundamental aspects of who we are and what we represent, and why we're so good is that we haven't forgotten those and we're not going to forget those parts of this institution.

And I particularly wanted to say that because I hope that's some reassurance for your families. We're going to continue to keep and must prioritize a cycle of bringing good people, the best people, into this business.

That just doesn't always happen. Every day is a new day: new challenges, new opportunities. There's no such thing as status quo. The world doesn't stand still. Dangers, challenges, opportunities, they change. They evolve. And look at the world we're in. So do quality people. Quality people have options. So, we want to keep the quality at the level and increase that as we go forward.

So, thank you again for what you do and your service and your sacrifices. I am very proud of you. Our president is. This country is. All America is.

So, we know that sometimes it gets a little lonely, and maybe sometimes you wonder if anyone's paying attention. We are. And we are grateful. And you make us a better country in every way, so thank you.


Q: In your opinion, in regards to education, what are the milestones that all sailors should reach for, and what were the benchmarks for your academic journey?

SEC. HAGEL: Let me ask you -- the benchmarks for what -- oh for -- benchmarks for my academic training.

Well, I might as well get that out of the way first. My academic career was not one to be emulated. I attended a number of colleges before I got out of one. But I did get out of one, and honorably, and earned my way out. And after four colleges, I graduated from University of Nebraska in Omaha. I became a lot more serious about academics and my future after I returned from Vietnam in December of 1968.

My time and service in the Army was as defining a time for me as any one thing has ever been in my life. It taught me things that I use every day, today. It forced me to think about things that I had really not thought about seriously. It gave me tools and confidence and dimensions that I'm not sure I would've gotten any other way.

And so when I came back, after I'd been to three colleges and not done very well with any of them, I went to a fourth college and settled down and worked hard at it.

You know, I always thought that academics, education, and by the way, education comes in many ways. And I talked earlier about judgment. I really think fundamentally, judgment is the most important dimension of leadership there is.

I think as much education as you can develop for yourself is important, but I don't think it all resides in education, formal education. I know a lot of smart people in the world, very smart people as you all do, and I respect them and admire them. I'm not sure I'd want some of them near power or making any decisions for me. So, it doesn't always equate all the education you've got with judgment. But enhancing yourself personally in every way is critically important. Education, training, any way you can do that. Reading, I think reading is critically important. Read a lot of different things about a lot of different things.

And I've always found biographies to be something I am interested in, because that's real life stuff. I mean, what motivated people to do the things they did, to take the risks, to show the leadership? Whether you agreed with them or not, but what motivated people? What makes you all tick?

And I said yesterday that, and I'm going to Fort Bliss tonight, where I took basic training in 1967 and will be there tomorrow, but you know, we were talking yesterday a little bit about this. And when you look at all the people who have shifted and changed and shaped and formed and essentially produced the military we have today, if you go back just to the post-World War II days, what George Marshall did is he came out of World War II and Eisenhower and all these great leaders in every branch of service. When you read their stories, and you read other stories, I think that's always instructive, because it tells you something about yourself.

So, reading any kind of personal improvement on education's going to be important.

You asked the first part of your question about benchmarks for the Navy and for all of you and all of us. I've always believed that no matter of your profession, that you compete with yourself. And if you are honest about that, you will always be your most harsh critic. And you -- you have to be careful that you're not too harsh on yourself or too critical on yourself. That's not good either. But be honest with yourself.

If you can be honest with yourself and be critical of your own self-analysis in the process, then that's who you will compete with most. You compete for jobs, you compete for everything in life, I get that. But your biggest competitor is yourself. Benchmarks are important to set. You do them every day because you have certain standards in benchmarks that you have to reach or you won't be in the job you're in. And that's as it should be. Because we are a society, we must be, and I think it's good for everybody, to have standards.

And really, benchmarks are no more than standards and expectations. And in order for institutions to work, those standards, those expectations, those benchmarks must be met.

Every job in this room is important. If your job was not important, then the entire enterprise, and making the USS America operate and function and be the best in its business every day, then there'd be no need for your job. You wouldn't have your job.

If there are weak links in that chain, then the whole system will be weak. You will weaken the whole system. And that's as fundamental to the military as any institution in the world. So, I think benchmarks are important. You set benchmarks institutionally. Your leaders do. But you set benchmarks for yourself.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My question to you is, can we expect changes to the military retirement system, and if so, what, and to what extent?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think most of you know that the commission that was empaneled by the Congress a couple of years ago is starting to brief the results of those commission findings and recommendations. And they are doing that with the Congress. And they are giving us, the Department of Defense, some insight into those briefings.

And they will be making those recommendations public here. And so I'm not going to get out ahead of what the commission is going to recommend.

The reason I start with that in answering your question, in our testimony, budget presentations last year and last two years, we have made some recommendations on reforming pay, compensation, retirement, and benefits. And they all have to come together.

I don't think you can come at this by just dealing with one. Because these are total packages, as you all know: housing allowances, pay, retirement, everything. And they have to be seen from the larger scope of what is the complete package. So, that's important.

And we've tried to come at that in our testimony in the last two years that I've presented budgets, first of all, with that understanding, second, with things we thought we could start moving forward on.

And by the way, this wasn't the recommendation just of the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. This was in complete coordination, cooperation with and consultation with the chiefs and the senior enlisted from each service. And so those budget presentations that we made on different recommendations on those -- on some, not all, of the entire package came as a result of a lot of consultation with all of our senior military leaders.

Now, what happened was most of the Congress and the appropriate oversight committees deferred any decisions on any reforms in this area until that commission could come back with its findings and recommendations, which I suspect by the time the budget is presented to the Congress, the White House, I think, is scheduled to have the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, present those budgets in the first weekend in February. The retirement commission, by then, will probably have come out with its recommendations.

So there will be great debate, as there should be, on this. We know through actuarials and we know through the realities of what we have is that we cannot sustain the current trajectory that we are on with the current system that we have. Now, it's like entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. We have opportunities here to make some shifts and some reforms early on over a period of time, which assures that no one gets hurt on this.

And the longer we defer it and not make the decisions on how do we come to grips with these realities, the more difficult it's going to be, and in particular, the more costly it's going to be, I think, for our men and women in uniform. So, we've got to address this, and we have to be honest about it, and we've got to deal with it. And we can do this. And we can do it in a way that is responsible and that will help our men and women in uniform: not just current, because I suspect many of these programs that we now have and the systems that we are using now, that you are under, would be grandfathered in as we look out into the future.

So, we're looking out into the future. But we've also got to come up with a system that's attractive enough to be able to recruit and attract the quality of people that I was talking about earlier today. I think this will be as big an issue, by the way, over the next year, as there is. It should be.

Because when you're talking about that entire compensation package for all of you and your families, I mean, that's key. We cannot afford -- this country cannot afford to have you all, each of you, being worried about your future retirement, your future benefits, your pay.

We want you focused on your job. We don't want your spouses and your families worried about it. So, we can get to it. We will get to it. It has to be done fairly, openly, with everybody involved. We've done that over the last two years with all of our senior enlisted involved, all our chiefs involved.

But I think this year will be the beginning with those commission recommendations of where we start moving forward on making some of these calls. We can do it, and we can make these adjustments over time where it won't hurt any of you.

Q: Good morning, sir, Mr. Secretary. My question today is there are stories in the news about having active duty servicemembers switch from TRICARE and make us enroll in the healthcare exchanges under the affordable healthcare act. Is there any truth to this, and how is it expected to affect us and our military families with the cost of these exchanges are not typically within the budgets of our military families?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you for the question. That question cuts right into your general question because healthcare is as essential a component of a total compensation package as there is, as you all know, especially those of you with families and those who are planning on having families.

So, that is key. It's central. The recommendations that will be made by the commission I suspect are going to get into some of this. We are looking at different options. Quality, that is first. Quality cannot be compromised. It won't be compromised.

In fact, I ordered a review of our military hospitals months ago, and we've gotten those reviews back, and we are starting to move on recommendations from outside reviewers on what we can do better. Clinics, should we have the system we have now? Which I think is an appropriate question. How better can we serve the men and women and our families who serve this country? Is there a cheaper way, smarter way? Access. Access is a big issue, will continue to be a big issue.

But the quality cannot suffer. Access has to be a key part of any decisions. So, we are reviewing everything. We are looking at everything.

But I think it's appropriate to do that. We have a different kind of force today than we had 10 years ago. And you look out into the future, what are we going to require? Healthcare, as you know, has been as key, central, an economic factor in people's lives in the United States the last 10 years than any one issue. It will continue to be.

And we've seen healthcare costs go up in many areas year after year. And we've seen some leveling off. But it's appropriate to review it. It's appropriate to review it right now, when we are looking at all the components of your total compensation package.

Q: Mr. Secretary, with the recent cyber attacks taking place by ISIS, will we be notified if our information has been compromised, and what steps are in place to protect us and our families if we are compromised?

SEC. HAGEL: The essence of the question is on the cyber attacks if -- I didn't get all of what you said.

Q: If our information is compromised, Mr. Secretary, are we going to be notified, and what steps are in place to protect us if --

SEC. HAGEL: You mean your personal information?

Q: Yes.

SEC. HAGEL: If any of your personal information is compromised?

Q: Yes.

SEC. HAGEL: Well first, yes. I mean, obviously, cyber attacks are now coming on a fairly regular basis. Most recent example within our community is the CENTCOM Twitter accounts. But Sony -- but there have been and continue to be many attacks. We will -- and we are looking every day at better ways to protect all our information: not just classified for us here within our enterprise that is critical to the security of this country, but personal information, any kind of information.

You should know that we are as focused on cyber as any one thing. Something I've talked about for two years, we've reorganized our Cyber Command. We are continuing to put more resources, more people in Cyber Command to do a better job, bigger job, recognizing these threats are only going to increase. Not only are they going to increase, but they're going to increase in a more sophisticated way.

I talked earlier here this morning about non-state actors, individuals having capabilities now that 10 years ago were unheard of, we didn't even think about because technology has advanced so rapidly and both for good and evil.

But we are now at a point where this becomes as critical component for our national security as any one thing. So, last two years that I've presented budgets, we have requested increases. And those are one of the very few areas, in the cyber areas, that we have actually asked for significant increases in budget authority, and we've received them, and we'll continue to do what we need to do to protect the interests, personal information, and it's a responsibility that we have within the components of our enterprise, certainly as well as classified and all information that is important for the security of this country.

But this is a big and important area that we are going to continue to -- have to work on at a very accelerated rate. We're smarter than anybody out there on this. We're better than anybody about, you know, the president is going to send up legislation, if he hasn't done it this week. We need to get some components of legislation where we can integrate the resources of our federal government in a far better way.

Right now, NSA is the most sophisticated, the best out there in this business. But because of the laws as they are, Homeland Security has most of the responsibility to protect our country, our interests against cyber attacks. But we have tremendous resource bases represented across our government in our interagency. So that's another component, is to coordinate legislation and law that will give us more ability to use the resources we have at NSA within the Department of Defense, to be able to help secure our country.

We'll get there. It's complicated because you're moving into areas of jurisdiction and authority that we've never had to really explore before. But I'm glad you asked the question.

John, that it? Okay. Thank you all very much. Thank you.