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Media availability by Secretary Carter at Fort Knox, Kentucky

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Hi, everybody.  Thanks for being here.  I won't be long.  Just, first of all, to the community around Fort Knox, thanks for supporting this incredible installation.  The -- its role is essential in our Army and our military today, which is, among other things, a very wide spectrum of training.

I came here today in particular to talk to ROTC cadets, which I did.  I had a nice lunch with them, been talking to a bunch of them now about their experience.  And this is important and it's important to the future of our military because we have an all-volunteer force.

And the future of the force, as I call it, is a major commitment of mine.  Among all the other things we need to be doing all around the world and all the other issues that are before a secretary of defense, one of my responsibilities is to make sure that the military of the future is as fine as today's.

And the reason that we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known is because of our people.  And for commissioned officers it starts, importantly, for 40 percent of the Army, in ROTC.

So these are spectacular young people.  And to have an opportunity to talk to them and ask them why they joined, what they thought was -- we were doing right, what we could improve, how they saw their lives going forward, how we can continue to keep, retain, and develop the best among them, all of that was a very important opportunity for me as we constantly rethink how we manage our personnel in the Department of Defense to hear directly from these young cadets.

And then, of course, it makes us all proud.  Any American would be proud getting to look at these kids in the eye, how dedicated, how disciplined, how talented, how principled they are that just make you so proud.

And then if you think on top of that of what they're doing for us all, which is to protect us and make a better world for our children, that makes you even prouder.

So it's spectacular.  So I thank both the community, the leadership here, and then above all, these wonderful young people who are the future of our Army.

So with that, I'm ready for your questions.  And I think Peter will be the impresario here.

PETER COOK:  (off-mic)

Q:  Mr. Secretary -- (inaudible).  The idea of having women be required to register for Selective Service, is that along the lines of with broadening opportunities come broadening responsibilities?  And do you see that becoming a campaign issue in this cycle?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it stands for reason that since women are now able to serve, if qualified, in every operational specialty in our military, that they would be the subject of discussion, which is really a congressional matter, on the Selective Service system.

The reason that we opened up all positions in our military to women is a very simple one.  It is that we have an all-volunteer force, which means that we pick from the American population.

That's a very important principle to me, because that's why I get the very best people.  I don't want a cross-section of America; I want the best qualified people.  And to have the best-qualified people I need to be able to choose from the widest possible pool of people.

Well, half of the American population is female.  So I don't want to set aside half of the population of the pool from which I can choose an all-volunteer force.  So that was the reason why we did it in the first place, to have a better force, a better quality in our force.

And just to reiterate, we're not looking for a random cross-section of Americans.  We're looking for the very best.  That's the all-volunteer force we have.  And it's one of the glories of the United States.

Now that imposes other responsibilities on us, like making sure we stay up-to-date in how people are thinking about careers, and how younger people are thinking about their lives so we can make military life something they want to do.

We can't change everything, because we have to be what we have to be, right?  It's tough.  You have to go where we tell you to go when we tell you to go.  And there are some parts about the profession of arms we can't change.

But where we can make military life more attractive for more Americans to consider, so we can pick among them, that's good for our military, because once again, the strength of our military is our people.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, when you were speaking to -- with cadets, you mentioned that part of the reason our military is so strong is because of our relations with other countries.  Are you worried that some of the rhetoric in the current presidential campaign could damage those relationships?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, first of all, I'm not going to say anything about the presidential campaign now or ever.  And nobody in our department is going to be.  And I’m just going to insist upon that as a principle.  And the reason for that is that we, in the Department of Defense, and in national security more generally, stand apart from politics.

We will transition to a new administration in an orderly way as we have for a long time.  So I'll make no comment on the political issues or political debate at all.

What I was telling the cadets today is that as we work around the world, which we do do and must do, because that working with others is a way of force-multiplying ourselves.  That's why in the fight against ISIL, for example, we work with an entire coalition.

We're the strongest member of it.  We're the leader of it.  We're the indispensable member of it.  But we're stronger because they help us with their basing, or geography, or additional airplanes, or additional troops, or better knowledge of the particular battlefield or country in which we're fighting.

So one of the things I'm proud of in our troops is how much I hear from foreign leaders about how much they like working with Americans, because they think our soldiers are great people in addition to being great soldiers.

And they think our country stands for good things.  And that's the reason why we have so many friends around the world.  And it is a strength of our country that we have so many friends and allies around the world.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, is it your view that North Korea's most recent missile launch shows that it has made more progress in its ballistic missile program than previously thought?  And if so, what options does the U.S. have to really stop this program?

And then I have a question on Syria.

SEC. CARTER:  OK.  Well, with respect to North Korea, North Korea's missile and nuclear program is the reason we have been embarked for some time on a variety of missile defense programs, short-range, medium-range, as in the case of the threat posed by the Musudan missiles, which is the ones tested in the last day or so, one of which flew for a long time.

I don't know whether it was successful.  I don't know what the test objectives were, as seen by the North Koreans.  But for whatever reason, and with whatever level of success, this shows the need for us to continue to do what we're doing, which is build these missile defenses of various ranges to protect both our South Korean allies, U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and U.S. territory.

We have defenses for all of those -- defenses oriented towards all of those.  It's also a reason why it's so important that the United Nations keep taking the steps it has done with Security Council resolutions and sanctions against North Korea.

And, by the way, since we're at an Army installation, it's incredibly important reason why our Army, but actually our joint force on the Korean Peninsula, remains, as we say all the time, ready to fight tonight.

That has been a necessity since 1953.  And so we have to keep deterrence strong there.  And we do.

And what's -- and then you had another one on Syria?

Q:  Well, one thought on North Korea.  The launch itself, did it accomplish more?  Have you had the chance to assess?

SEC. CARTER:  The missile flew for longer.  I do not know what the test objectives were.  But I -- in previous tests, it didn't -- it flew for such a short period of time, it's hard to believe that that was the objective of the test.  This one flew for a longer period.  But I can't say more than that.

But no matter what this or that test went to in terms of time of flight and so forth doesn't change the plans that we've had for quite a while, which is that we need to stay ahead of the threat by making sure that our missile defenses are good qualitatively, but also constantly expanding.  And that's what we're doing.

Q:  And the one Syria -- just one on Syria.  A lot of the cadets here, they may see combat, you know, in the not-too-far future.  If they are wounded in action, is the Pentagon's policy to disclose the circumstances of how they were wounded in action and report that information?

SEC. CARTER:  There's no change, and I want to be clear about this, because this is important.  There shouldn't be any -- we've made no change in our policy with respect to disclosing information about wounded service members.  None, whatsoever.

It's not any different.  And one of its features is we do not disclose all features of all battlefield wounds.  And there are a number of reasons for that.  But one that anybody can understand and relate to is, we don't disclose somebody's personal injuries.

That can be a very private personal and medical matter for an individual.  It's not up to us to disclose it.  For that and many other reasons we don't do that.  We haven't done that.  And there has been no change in policy at all.

And I'm glad you asked, because it's important people to know there's no change.

MR. COOK:  We've got time for one more.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, as our armed forces continue to evolve into the modern day, what role do you see this base playing moving forward with our American military?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think that one clear thing that Fort Knox provides, not only the Army, but the joint force, including some Special Operations forces and so forth, there's really a tremendous training facility.

You see it used around the calendar.  You see it used across the spectrum of conflict.  It ramps up, and I'm very glad of it, here in the summer for our ROTC.  We have a big volume of people coming through here in ROTC who have their summers available.

That's the only time they can be available to us for this kind of intensive training.  We don't have any other place to do that kind of thing but here at Fort Knox.  So it's unique in the breadth and the scale of the training environment it provides.

MR. COOK:  Thanks, everybody.

Q:  OK.  Good.  Thank you all, appreciate it.