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Remarks by Secretary Carter at Town Hall in Incirlik Air Base, Turkey

STAFF: Secretary of Defense Dr. Ashton Carter and his wife, Mrs. Stephanie Carter.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thanks everybody. Please sit down. It's holiday season, and that's why Stephanie is with me. She doesn't often get to travel with me because she works, like many of your spouses. But it is holiday time and we wanted to recognize the fact that families make a contribution.

Behind each and every one of you is a family of some kind, spouse, kids, parents, whatever -- people -- somebody who's close to you who supports you in doing what you're doing. And this is the time of year that -- that you'd like to be with them and you may not be able to be with them, and therefore, we want to tell you that we appreciate that sacrifice and that's the main thing I want to say to you is I -- I wake up for you every morning.

By the way, this is for our coalition partners, too. You're part of the team. But you should know that you are what I wake up to every morning. I'm 1,000 percent behind you in what you do here and I think the -- speaking for the United States, at least, that's -- the country is as well. But certainly, those of us in your -- in the leadership are 1,000 percent behind you.

So we thank you in this holiday season for what you do, for the sacrifice you make. We don't take it for granted. You do it with dedication, you do it with excellence. And also, please pass that on to your family. That's the first thing I wanted to say to you.

Second is to tell you how important the mission is. Actually, the missions that you're conducting out of Incirlik here. You are first and foremost, and I'll come back to this, hastening the defeat of ISIL, which has to occur and will occur, and this is a very important location in the point of the spear in that campaign. I'll come back to that.

That's not the only thing that Incirlik does. Incirlik also participates in anchoring the southern flank of the great NATO alliance, which has kept the peace in Europe for more than half a century and still does, and does so, by the way, in the face of some new challenges in addition to ISIL, and I'm speaking, obviously, of Russia and its activities in Ukraine.

Yet another reason for an intensification of our -- our -- that is the American presence in Europe and a new playbook for NATO, which takes recognition of that fact.

Let me say a little something about the campaign to defeat ISIL. It -- first of all, it is -- and I'm delighted that we are joined by some international partners. This is civilization standing up for the principles that we all collectively stand for to defeat something that is truly evil. We will win because we're good, it's against evil. We're the mighty and we will win.

But we need to hasten that defeat. That's why I'm so pleased that we have -- we -- that is, I'm speaking for America now, that we have partners. The Germans, I got to visit their unit here. Just joined here our -- first and foremost, our Turkish hosts that have long hosted us here. Thank you for being such gracious hosts and such stalwart allies.

We have the Qataris here as well, and I expect the -- the (inaudible) will be joined by additional partners in the future. We're looking to do more in the United States. I've made that clear, Chairman Dunford's made that clear, the president has made that clear. We're looking for ways to do more in the air, on the ground, in Syria, in Iraq to hasten the defeat of ISIL.

We have to defeat ISIL here in Iraq and Syria where the parent tumor is. Now, we also have business to do around the world, because this has metastasized to other parts of the world, including our own homeland. But the defeat here in Syria and Iraq is necessary and we need to hasten that, and that means thinking of all the ways that we can find capable, motivated partners on the ground, enable them, strike from the air, work with them and eliminate ISIL from Raqqa, eliminate ISIL from western Iraq and give the people back their -- back their territory.

That's the campaign in Iraq and Syria, and hastening that is what the additional members here represent, the additional U.S. aircraft and the ways that we're thinking creatively of different ways to attack this enemy and defeat this enemy.

The -- I should say that the -- in addition to those who have joined the campaign here, we really are looking for the rest of the world to step up. America's stepping up, we need our allies are partners around the world to step up and do more, and that's true in Europe, it's true in the Gulf, it's true -- by Europe, I mean all of NATO, including Turkey, and it's really true everywhere in the world where this is metastasizing.

And it's more than a battle in Syria and Iraq, we have also campaigns to wage in our own homelands, which have to do with homeland security and border control and law enforcement activity and the other things that are necessary in order to eradicate this enemy from our countries.

I'm confident we'll do that, but we need to do that as fast as we can. I'm looking to you, and I've told the American commanders this. If you have ideas for how to get there faster, we want to hear them.

Finally, I should say something about Russia, because -- and I know Secretary Kerry has arrived in Moscow today. In Syria, defeat of ISIL includes and will necessarily entail a resolution of the civil war in Syria, and that means a transition from Assad to a government that keeps much of the structure of the Syrian state that involves the modern opposition, creating a new government for Syria and -- (inaudible). That's the end state that we're looking for in Syria.

The Russians can contribute to the achievement of an end state in a positive way or a negative way. So far, they've mostly been off on the wrong foot, as I've said repeatedly and -- and the United States and others have said repeatedly.

They have been propping up Assad rather than assisting the transition. And they've said they were coming to fight ISIL. And they have, instead, been striking the opposition and not always conducting themselves professionally.

That needs to change. I think that's what Secretary Kerry will be talking about. In the meantime, we will continue to wage our campaign. (inaudible), nobody will get in our way.

I hope that the Russians get on the right side and do the right thing, but I'm not sure they will. But in the meantime, we're going to carry on our campaign.

So, that's the way it'll unfold. I want you to know how seriously we take the work we do here. That we're looking to intensify it, and that we're very grateful, especially in this holiday season, for this effort. We will defeat ISIL. We will succeed. We need to succeed as fast as possible, and that will require all the ingenuity and effort represented in this room, not just by the Americans, but by our coalition partners.

So, with that, let me ask Steph if she wants to chime in at all. But I appreciate your being here. You know, this is a -- as I said, a family business, and we feel that way ourselves. And so, I'm grateful to you for coming, and we have a little chance to talk to families, and it makes a big difference in this season. And that's first and foremost why we're here.

Now, there are a couple of mics around and coming -- and so, I invite you to stand up -- Americans, non-Americans, ask a question or tell me something you think I ought to know.

STAFF: I'm going to leave you on the field. But so you know.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. You're going to leave me on the field, she said. Okay, good.

STAFF: Thank you guys for inviting. All of you.

Q: Hello, Mr. Secretary. I'm (inaudible) heavy aircraft maintainer with seven years' experience in three different heavy aircraft.

My question is, are there any incentives being created for aircraft maintainers to want to stay in and re-enlist?


SEC. CARTER: I don't know about you, but to me, that's a great sound. I always wonder about these people who complain about air operations in the neighborhood of their base. Sound of freedom.

The question was incentives to retain maintenance folks. And let me answer it in a more general way. The answer is yes. And it's -- but it's more than just -- it's the entire force.

I want to find ways -- and we're looking at this, and I'll name some in a moment -- ways to persuade people who are at that pivotal point in their career whether they're trying to decide whether to stay in or not, to stay in, if they're qualified, assuming they're qualified.

I want you to stay in. I can't make you stay in, it's an all volunteer force. Fortunately, you have opportunities outside, and I know that. People understand in America and I can't speak for other countries, but they understand that veterans make excellent employees. You're dedicated, you're disciplined. You're skilled, you've had experience way in excess of what a civilian of your age and level might have had. You make excellent employees.

So, they're tempting people to leave. I know that. That's a good thing. I'm okay with that. I hate losing you. The only good in all that is that somebody who's just starting out and thinking about being a maintainer will say, you know what, I'm going to do that, because that'll get me somewhere.

Even when military's a good place to have been, therefore it's a good place to be, and I'll get some at the other end of the pipe. So I want to keep you, but I also want you to have opportunities.

What do we do to keep people? Just a few things to -- obviously compensation is part of that, and we're committed to continuing to compensate our military members the way they deserve, although you can't pay people enough to do what you all do.

Another thing that's real important is to try to -- to the extent that we can, make military family life possible for you. Now, we can only do that within limits, because we need you to go where we need you to go when we need you to go, and that's part of the profession of arms.

But where we can make it more compatible with family life, we try to do that. We try to carry the educational opportunities and employment opportunities for spouses. Educational opportunities for children and improving schools.

Dealing with the medical health care issues, and making sure that that's top-notch and so forth and so on -- making all those conditions of service as good as we can possibly make them, so that your choice is to stay with us. Because we do want you to stay with us.

Can't make you stay with us, love the fact that you have opportunities outside, but we want the people, our good people, to stay.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: Doesn't have to be a question. Could be an observation.

Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) from the 728th Maintenance Squadron, or Air Mobility Squadron. I have a question for you, sir.

I know to support campaigns, like we're doing here, requires fiscal responsibility. And so, I'm just curious as to where your DOD budget priorities lie? And how those correspond to Air Force budget priorities currently?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. The question was about budget priority. And the first thing you have to say about the budget -- and I'll apologize to the non-Americans here. A little bit of local news.

But my biggest frustration over the last few years has been gridlock in Washington. That -- this year seems to be being overcome. And what we need in the overall budget picture of the United States is for everybody to come together, put gridlock behind them, their animosities behind them, around an overall perspective on the budget, which can't just be about defense spending.

It can't just be about discretionary spending. You can't balance the books on the backs of discretionary spending. You just do the math. It doesn't work. People have to take on the hard issues. And they're not our responsibility, but they're there. They are revenues, taxes and mandatory spending, so-called entitlements.

They have to be in the picture. They can't just be our budget. Because we need the budget we need to make our country safe, protect our people, leave a better world for our children.

To get to the Air Force I talked to the secretary of the Air Force. the chief of staff of the Air Force all the time about the particulars of the Air Force budget, and we see things pretty much the same way.

Obviously you'd always like to have more money, but we try to make the best use of every dollar the taxpayer gives us. Whether that is money for enduring facilities, or whether it's for a surge for a war, like the one that's being conducted here out of Incirlik.

And finally, in any balance -- in any budget, you're trying to balance all these different ways that the chief of staff of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Air Force and I can apportion the money.

We can pay you more, or we can get you newer equipment. We can give you better training. Because we never want you to go into action without all the training that you need, and we can build more bases. So, that's how we can spend the money, and we try to balance all of those things.

And I just want to commend your leadership, for those of you in the U.S. Air Force, you have fantastic leadership and Mark Welsh and Debbie James, and they're on top of it. And I think they're striking that balance in the best possible way.

But I'm really glad to report, just in the last few weeks, it seems to be that Washington's coming together. And we're all just sick as can be of gridlock, right?

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: (inaudible).

Q: Yes. Mr. Secretary, I am Colonel (inaudible) from the German air force. I'm the wing commander of the German air wing.

I might be out of place for this, but I would like to use this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude for the support the German air force has received in the past days.

We are really proud to be here, and really proud now to start fight with those fine men and women from the U.S. Armed Forces. So again, thank you a lot to all of you here for the support so far, also.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you for saying that. I'm actually not surprised to hear you say that. Both because I know how fantastic our people are, and I know how generous-spirited our German colleagues are.

So, on both sides, I'm not surprised to hear it. It's -- it makes me proud to hear it. Because – I’m, so incredibly proud of our people. You're -- the Americans here. I'm so incredibly proud of you. And you should be proud of yourselves.

Likewise, we are proud to have friends and allies like Germany. And you know, you might ask yourself, why do countries have allies? Why is the -- why is it now, I'm just going to speak for the United States. Why do we have so many friends and allies? Not just in Europe, but around the world.

And a lot of our principle antagonists do not. It's not only because we're strong. It's mostly because of what we stand for, which is things that they stand for too. That's what glues together the NATO alliance. That's what's going to glue together the coalition that defeats the barbarity of ISIL.

Nobody has to join that. Nobody has to join NATO. We do it because we're a family of people who see life and civilization in a common way. And you fight for it on behalf of all those people.

That's why we have an alliance. That's probably a -- so, I'm proud that you're here. I'm delighted that the German people had the debate, made the decision and brought you here.

It's -- adds to the strength in the physical sense, and it adds to our moral strength. Thank you. Thanks for being here. Thanks for saying that about our folks.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Lieutenant Colonel (inaudible), Spanish Patriot commander here deployed in Incirlik. I have an opportunity to say hello before, and since my German is open for the international floor, I'll take advantage of it.

Firstly, I will make a – how proud we feel to be here also, part of the coalition also in Iraq, here deploying a defensive mission. But also, I would like to make a bit of publicity of my culture for this (inaudible), that you have the opportunity to go, in future, to Morón .

And why I mention Morón in south of Spain? Because I think the fight against ISIS, or Daesh, since they have the word, I use it. It is also global, and Libya is close to us. And we enjoy the presence of Marines and special forces in Morón , in the south of Spain, so this is not only here.

And since you are there, since I was a child, I was in the -- (inaudible) -- in Morón with my father. That brings to my mind. So, this is not new. We've been partners for a long time, and we're proud to be here.

Well, apart from my comments, you told me -- a small question?


Q: Here we are since one year. And I have a small little question. I have a special friend among the airmen here. He's working in the military police, (inaudible). He has detained a couple of my soldiers, singing late at night.

And he's about to face his promotion board for senior and master sergeant. Who can we make suffer for it?


SEC. CARTER: I love the way you think. I got it.


I got it. Well done. Well done. Okay, I also want to thank our Spanish colleagues. And now, you mentioned Moron, and for those -- most of you probably know.

But it just so happens that several weeks ago, Stephanie and I were in Morón . Why? Because Spain, like Germany and other represented in the room is an ally of ours, a friend of ours and a partner in civilization against ISIL.

You're right, also. Even though the parent tumor of ISIL is in Iraq and Syria and has to be defeated here, it's more than a Syria and a Iraq fight. It is global.

In Morón , you're right. We are Marines and special forces, and the Spanish forces are trained, positioned, ready to respond and combat ISIL in the Mediterranean air, the so-called southern flank of Europe, which is afflicted by ISIL.

And the spill over of the civil war, which has -- takes the form of refugees and so forth. I had the real pleasure of traveling with your defense minister, who is a incredibly skilled executive is -- as is, by the way, the German defense minister.

I'm blessed to have colleagues like that. So, you're good partners and wonderful hosts there. Appreciate it.

Oh, good ahead. All right. Well? Great. One more.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- (inaudible) -- 39th Security Forces Squadron. I've been in the nuclear security business for the past ten years. I overheard you say that we have three missions here.

So, from your level, sir, how are we doing? Because in the past ten years we've over come so pretty big obstacles.

We've had a lot of successes.

SEC. CARTER: Good question.

Q: We had the force improvement program. We even stood up an (inaudible), which was a first in 27 years.

SEC. CARTER: You bet.

Q: So from your standpoint, how are we?

SEC. CARTER: Well, NATO does have a nuclear deterrent. It's American, and also, there are some other countries that contribute to it. It has preserved its policy, which basically says that, if you go to war with the NATO alliance, no weapon is off the table.

And that nuclear weapons are part of the armament of the NATO arsenal. We intend to keep it that way for the indefinite future. That gets to the Air Force role here, which is your question.

The Air Force isn't the only U.S. service that operates and maintains nuclear weapons, but it's an important one, and you're right. I think in the last few years, we have begun to invest more in the nuclear profession in the Air Force.

Not just in the weapons, but in the people, in the facilities, and making sure that we're modernizing this capability, because we intend to have it for the indefinite future.

So I appreciate the specialty that you represent in the Air Force, and I appreciate what the Air Force has been doing in the recent years. We're completely supportive of that.

It's really just a sign of how wide-spectrum the capabilities and contributions of NATO are, and are -- they run all the way from the very high end of nuclear conflict, way down to humanitarian operations and everything in between, including defeating enemies like ISIL.

Tremendous range of issues to deal with in the world and that's why I'm so proud we have forces that have that dynamic range, including nuclear forces.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Well, listen. Once again, tell your family how proud we are of you, how grateful the United States is. This is true for the Americans present and those who are not Americans. And it's wonderful to be part of the enterprise of destroying ISIL.

We're up to that. We're doing that. Let's find more ways of doing that, bringing in more partners, more contributors and get it done faster.

Thanks very much. Happy holidays.