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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a troop event at Fort Wainwright, Alaska

STAFF: Hi, folks. Stand at ease, please.

I have the distinct honor today of introducing to you your secretary of defense. The secretary has dedicated his life to government service and to serving you. And as really the architect within the Defense Department of the rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, he really understands your issues, from a senior leader perspective understands your mission.

So please welcome me in a warm welcome for the 25th secretary of defense of the United States, the Honorable Ashton Carter.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Hello, gang. Thanks, Russ. Appreciate that.

And I'd like to say it's a warm welcome, but, you know, you step off a plane from Washington, get some -- it's actually kind of fun, you guys are going to be tired of it soon. But it's novel for us. So it's beautiful snow out there.

Look, sit down. Sit down, please. I'll be very brief. Then you can ask me some questions or tell me what's on your mind. And then I'll shake the hand of each one of you, look you in the eye and tell you once again what I'm going to say right now.

And the main thing I want to tell you is, thank you. Thank you for what you do for our country. We don't take it for granted the -- and I don't take it for granted either. For those of you, and everybody does it one way or another, has a family, thank your family as well, because we know that where you came from and what supports you every day is in part your family.

The -- I say I don't take you for granted -- the country doesn't, but for me, as secretary of defense, you are what I wake up for every morning. You are what I'm thinking about all the time.

You're where my heart is all the time. Your capability, your welfare, your safety, where that can be assured, and there are circumstances where it can't be, but still it's paramount in my mind.

And you have a grateful country that is very aware of what you do for them. And I travel around the world, about to head out to what Russ rightly called the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

And what I hear out there is countries that, first of all, know that we, America, provide much of the security, not just for our own people but for the whole world. They appreciate that, and they like working with us.

They like it working with us because they think you're very professional. You conduct yourselves very well. And you stand for things that are appealing to them. And that's what America is all about.

So I'm just incredibly proud of you. I'm proud to be secretary of defense. I love to boast about you. And I love to watch the pride swell up in the citizens when they -- when I talk about you and they see what you're doing.

Right here, right now in Alaska, you are at the hinge of a lot of what's important strategically, and what's happening strategically. And let me say a little bit about this. You all know this, but just so you know I know it, the -- Alaska is just geographically -- you know, maybe many people don't know this because they tend to look at maps that are flat on a wall rather than a globe.

But if you look at a globe you see that Alaska is on the way from the United States to just about everywhere else. And, of course, that's a two-way street, so it means that everything that could affect us comes over or by or near Alaska.

And that puts you at the center of an awful lot. It makes you very close to that Indo-Asia-Pacific region, which is so important to us. And the reason for that is half of humankind and half of the economy of the world resides there.

So it is of great consequence to the American future, more than any other single area in the whole world. Now it's not in the headlines all the time, like the Middle East is. And thank God it's not, because if things went south there, it would've had very, very great consequences for our country.

One of the reasons why it's not in the headlines is because of you and what you stand for. And you stand for 70 years of the United States being the pivotal power in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

That's the climate that has allowed all of that prosperity to occur. And we aim to keep that up. That's what the rebalance is all about, that we're going to do that. And whether you're -- some of you are Army, some of you are Air Force.

If you're Army you've been part of Pacific Pathways. I've been briefed on that today. That's a great innovation by the Army, to situate our Army at the center of this strategic transition, as they've been at the center of so much else.

For the Air Force, where you're thinking about missiles and airplanes overflying en route to the United States, you've got a lot of that mission to you. And when it comes to the aircraft that are based here, they're some of our quickest responders to contingencies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. So they're part of that American pivotal presence in this part of the world.

Also, Alaska is obviously close to the Arctic. And the Arctic is a region that's getting more and more important. And it will be important to the United States. It will be important to other countries. It will be important that we help keep the peace and a rules-based kind of order and way of thinking about things up there.

And that too is going to situate you all here and Alaska here very centrally in the American strategic future.

So, one, to you, each and every one of you, thank you, I appreciate what you do. You wake up every morning and do the noblest thing that a person can do. And that is protect their fellow Americans, and as I've said more broadly, fellow human beings.

And you happen to be right here in Alaska at this moment, which puts you at the hinge of America's future strategically. So thank you for that. And you have a bright future here ahead of you.

Let me take now questions or -- and it doesn't have to be questions. If it's a comment or an observation or something you think I ought to know or might not know, just have at it.

And I think they've got some stick mikes here, so just step up.

Q: Good afternoon. Is it working? Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Staff Sergeant (inaudible) from Eielson Air Force Base, 354th Medical Group.

Oh, sorry. My question is in regards to -- my question is in regard to sexual assault. We seem to be making progress on sexual assault in the military. Do you feel like that current programs for that are effective? And do you see any changes in that being proposed?

SEC. CARTER: The question was about sexual assault, and how are we doing, and do I see any changes coming down the road.

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. CARTER: So let me do the "how are we doing" part first of all. The first thing I would say is, you know, sexual assault, there's no kidding, we can't have it. It's not compatible with who we are as an institution, because the military life and military culture is about honor, and it's about trust, and it's about dignity, that's what the military profession is about.

And sexual assault is completely contrary to that. So it's just -- it's against everything we stand for. So we've got to, got to, got to fight it.

Now I'm not proud of that it happens in our institution. I am proud that when we see a problem like this, we stand up and say, OK, we're going to take it on. And so to get to the part how are we doing, we're taking it on.

And we're learning a lot. Let me give you an example. One of the things I so appreciate about the Department of Defense is that attitude that you take on, whether it's COIN in Afghanistan or sexual assault, or whatever it is, we take things on. And we figure them out.

And we're figuring out sexual assault as well as combating the aspects of it we do understand. But let me give you an aspect that we're only starting now to fully understand, and are kind of getting to going after.

And it's retaliation. This is something that I don't think we appreciated early on. And it's a dynamic in which, you know, people go after the victim or somebody who reported it or something like that.

So as you think about this and we work on it, we ask -- realize it has other aspects and other dimensions. And we've just got to keep at it, because it's just -- you know, it's in our society as a whole. It's not like it's only in the military.

But it's just completely unacceptable in any context. But it's really contrary to what we stand for. So we've got to, got to, got to get after it. And we are.


Q: Sir, Sergeant (inaudible)from 354th MSG at Eielson Air Force Base.

Sir, suicides within the total force have been trending upward again this year. Are we looking at a different approach to reduce suicides in all of the military forces?

SEC. CARTER: So this was about suicide, another serious issue. Totally different dynamic, but also really serious.

And, you know, it too is something that afflicts society as a whole. And I guess what I would say to you is a little bit similar to what I said about sexual assault, which is, I'm proud that we're recognizing it. I'm not proud that it goes on. It's sad.

And if there is anything we can do to help a service member not take that step, obviously we want to do it, because we're one family here, right? So we do really care about it, even if somebody is having a struggle or something, we care.

And if there's anything we can do to help them get through that and avoid that, we want to be able to figure out how to do that.

So it too is something we're learning more about. And I would say this. And I've seen this in our treatment of other types of health issue that we happen to see and recognize first.

And traumatic brain injury is one. And that's because we're fighting wars, right? And problems of amputees and prosthetics and so forth. So there are certain areas in which we, because of our size and that ability to be a learning organization, and in some cases because we recognized something early, we got after it. And we taught the rest of society.

And I'd be proud if we figured out suicide in a way that was helpful not only to our own members who are having that problem, but to society as a whole. So maybe we will.

Q: Sir, Major (inaudible) from the USARAK Aviation Task Force.

We always hear about the importance of our missions to operate in the cold and mountainous environments. But 4-25 is being reduced. Since Congress continues to struggle with budgets, what's the outlook for our units here in Alaska?

SEC. CARTER: The question was about what's the outlook here for units in Alaska, and relatedly, how about the budget situation. So let me take the two things if we have time.

Well, because this is at the fulcrum of strategic change, first of all, there is a lot happening here. The introduction of our most advanced combat aircraft, F-22s, F-35s, and the likelihood, some of our most sophisticated training ranges, you mentioned the cold weather aspect, but there are others as well.

It's one of our premiere training areas for full spectrum training, which is what we're going back to after spending a lot of years on COIN.

Clear radar upgrades, missile defense, I mean, these are things that are going to be part of our strategic future for sure. And so they'll be part of the Alaska military footprint for sure, for a long time.

And that said, things change. So to Pacific Pathways, which I mentioned earlier, is something that 10 years ago I don't think was on anybody's mind. So circumstances change, the world changes, and we have to change at the same time.

Some of our change is budget related. I'll come back to that. Some of it is strategically related though. So, for example, those of you in the Army know that the Army is reducing its size.

A lot of that reduction has to do with the end of the COIN wars, because we increased the size of the Army in order to service the rotations for a large overseas COIN presence. And we're not going to retain that.

We'd have to rebuild it if we got another long circumstance like that, but because it would take some years to get into that, we'd have to recognize it and rebuild. So it's not a good -- the Army has decided that it's better strategically to use its funding elsewhere.

And your and my new chief of staff, Mark Milley, I mean, I recommended him to the president. And the president picked him because he thinks these things through very thoroughly. He's very strategic and thinks about it.

With respect to the budget, you know, we've had gridlock in Washington now for seven years. This is the seventh straight year we have begun the fiscal year with a continuing resolution.

I mean, that's embarrassing. And so I say that, and on the other hand, just in the last week we have something hopeful, which I couldn't have said -- if I were here a week ago I couldn't have said this.

But now I can, which is, it does seem that people have come together in Washington, which is what they've needed to do, come together, rise above all this stuff, and deal with the country's problems, and did a budget deal.

Now that's not something that we do, right? But it is something the Congress does and the president does. And so just watching it I have been very grateful, because it's a chance to get us out of a ditch, at least partially.

Now is it going to give me all the money I want? No. But, you know, secretary of defense, right? I could always think of good stuff to do that we can't afford to do.

Last thing, you mentioned, you know, force size, but just to remind you all, you know this, but to -- if you think about where the defense budget goes as it affects you or you or you, for me, I can pay you more, or I can have more of you, or I can buy you new equipment, or I can train you better.

That's where the money goes, right? And you can see, you kind of want all four of those, right? So General Milley and I are trying to balance those four things as we decide how to allocate the funds we have.

And we have to balance those things depending upon what the circumstance of the world is, and what the country needs to protect itself. And that's where the strategy and the change in circumstance comes in.

OK? Peter says another question? But not to be a question?

Q: Good afternoon. I'm Airman First Class Wilcox from 354th Operations Group at Eielson Air Force Base.

What are your concerns in the next two to three years for the world?

SEC. CARTER: What are the concerns over the next few years for the world, which really means for us in the world.

I wish I could give you a short list. Unfortunately it's not a short list. So I'm sorry about that, but that just shows the importance of what you do. So I'll just start.

We've got to beat ISIL. We're going to beat ISIL. These guys are evil. And we are, as I've said, the noble and they are the evil. And we are the many and they are the few. And fundamentally we're the strong.

So we will beat them. And we're doing that now and figuring out how to get better at it. And the reason it's tricky is that the -- it's not so much a matter of beating ISIL, it's keeping them beat.

And we can beat them, but keeping them beat means somebody who lives there has to be part of the defeat and take over. And that's the tricky part, is finding capable and motivated local forces whom we can enable, but we can't substitute for them if we're going to have a lasting -- we know that, right, from experience. So that's ISIL.

Then I'm about to head to Korea. Since, you know, the North Koreans are, well, the North Koreans. And so we have to be ready, as we say, to fight tonight every night on the Korean Peninsula.

And it has been like that for, what, 60 years, right? So a long time, but there it is. And we have got to do that. So that's an oldie. ISIL is a new one. Korea is an oldie.

Russia is kind of in between, right? And we didn't really think about Russia as being aggressive for -- since the Cold War ended. But now we see things going on in Ukraine and elsewhere, and realize that we have to be concerned about that as well.

China, similarly, we have a big trade relationship, lots of good things going on between us and China, but in the back of your mind you have to -- peace isn't kept automatically. We have to work at it all the time. And that's true with respect to a country like China.

But then there's Iran, also in the Middle East. Again, you know, it's not entirely black or white, but Iran continues with what -- malign activity in the Middle East that is concerning to us, to friends and allies, Israel, the Gulf states. And so we have interests in that part of the world.

So I'm sorry that's a long answer, I mean, I really am sorry that's a long answer, because I wish we had one thing or two things, but we don't. We have a number -- I can keep going too, sadly.

There's humanitarian stuff and, you know, the Nepal earthquake. And the things that you respond to, our military is tasked to respond to, it's a lot. It's a lot of stuff. And that gets back to the earlier part about resources.

I mean, this is why I think the country needs to recognize that you've got to resource the national security mission, by the way, other missions of government too: law enforcement, homeland security, diplomacy.

I mean, these things are essential to security. So even though they're not us, I respect them and they need funding too. And I believe that. That's in order to protect our people.

But anyways, so the bad news is there's a lot. The good news is that you wake up every morning being part of the solution to all those problems. And that is a tribute to you. But it's an honor and privilege to live your life being part of something bigger than yourselves.

And you guys each get to do that. So thank you for that.

Now I look forward to looking each one of you in the eye, we'll get a little picture. I'll give you a coin. They're Ash Carter coins. They're still relatively new. So they have some market value. And I'll give you one of those. And you can take it home.

So come on up.