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Remarks by Secretary Carter to Troops at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California

Nov. 15, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; General William Mullen, United States Marine Corps

GENERAL WILLIAM MULLEN:  Please, please take your seats.  Hi, Marines.  How are you today.

 

            MARINES:  Good, Sir!

 

            GEN. MULLEN:  Thanks for coming out today, and it's my honor to introduce the secretary of defense, the Honorable Dr. Ashton Carter.  

 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thanks, General Mullen.

 

            Let me first of all say something about Bill Mullen.  I've known him for quite a while now.  Most recently in Iraq, where he did extraordinary work, and in a moment, I'm going to explain the significance of that and where what he started has gone since his time there.

 

            But the real reason I came here is to thanks all of your for what you're doing right here, right now, at Twentynine Palms at this moment in our strategic history.  This morning I was out, and the reason I came here was to observe the training evolution there, the final exercise of combined arms, full spectrum training. 

 

            This is extremely important at this moment in our strategic history because we focused for the better part of 15 years of necessity and very -- and with great excellence on counter-insurgency.  That was necessary.  We did that, but it took up a lot of the management time and attention, including myself, but more importantly, took up a lot of Marines' time focusing on training for that kind of mission exclusively.

 

            Now, we're beginning to move to full-spectrum, and that's what I saw today, and the reasons for that are that in today's world we face challenges that are really across the strategic spectrum, and that require of our Marine Corps an extraordinary range of skills.

 

            But let me start -- let me just kind of walk around the world for you and you'll see how it unfolds.  Let me start with where I began, which is destroying ISIL.  That we are doing, and that according to a campaign plan that General Mullen was an important part of creating. 

 

            Over the last year, we have successively taken back and expelled ISIL from Ramadi, then Hit, then Rutbah, Qayyarah, Makhmur, now Mosul as we sit here right now.  That all in Iraq, because it is necessary that we destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  That's where this cancer began, and it absolutely necessary.  It's not sufficient that we destroy it there, but we must destroy it there, and that's why you see us working on Mosul now, also Raqqah, which is of course the major city they occupy in Syria from which they do plotting against our country and our people.

 

            And also what they call the capital of their so-called state.  And we can't allow there to be and will not allow there to be a state based upon the ideology of ISIL, be a state based upon the ideology of ISIL.

 

            So we're in the process of destroying that, and I just wanted to give Bill Mullen a lot of credit, because he was part of the command team there that with General Dunford, our chairman, and your former commandant and myself, put together that campaign plan that the president approved around this time last year and we have been conducting that campaign systematically ever since.  And I'm absolutely confident that we'll destroy ISIL, both in Iraq and Syria.  That's not enough, as I said, it's not sufficient, so we're also operating in Afghanistan, we're operating in Libya and other places where this cancer might arise.

 

            And we're also working with our law enforcement and intelligence colleagues to make sure we protect ourselves here at home.

 

            So that's the counter-ISIL front, but that's just the beginning.

We also stand strong every single day on the Korean Peninsula against the North Koreamissile, nuclear and general threat.

 

            We have to counter the malign activities of Iran in the Gulf, protecting our friends and allies.  We have to stand strong against Russia, particularly in Europe and against the possibility of Russian aggression of the kind that we saw in Ukraine.

 

            And then in the Asia-Pacific, where the -- actually, the unit I was with earlier this morning is destined to go, there, there are tensions that go back many decades.  The peace has been kept there for 70 years, importantly because of the constant role of the United States and the United States military.  And that has been -- and the Marine Corps has been central to us playing that historic role.

 

            And that's the peaceful environment in which Japan became an economic power, and its people rose and prospered.  And then Taiwan.  And then

South Korea, and then Southeast Asia.  And today, India and China.  And that's fine. 

 

            But one can't take for granted that that would occur peacefully.  That's why we need Marines in the Asia-Pacific.

 

            So those are the five challenges that we have immediately in front of us.  And then, of course, we have an uncertain strategic future as well.  I'll get to that in a moment.  But if you look at those five, you see they cover, in terms of the operational art we require of you, a very great range.  That is full spectrum.  When we talk about full spectrum, it's making a Marine Corps that is capable of operating against -- across that entire threat spectrum.  That's different from what we were asking the Marine Corps to do years ago when our principal focus was on Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now we have a much wider focus, so we're asking you to do a lot.  But you're at a moment of great transition, and -- in Marines Corps, and you should be very proud.  The Marines have risen to that occasion extremely well, and I and the entire country are incredibly proud of your for that.

 

            Not only that, but you are successful at dealing with today's challenges.

 

            But to get to the future, another thing that you do here is experiment, innovate in tactics and in overall operational approaches with technology.  That's important because we need to stay ahead of our enemies.  We need to remain the best.  You are today the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  We need to make sure it stays that way.

 

            One of the ways we make it stay that way is by staying innovative, being open to changing the way we do things so that we continue to be one step ahead of all our potential enemies.  That's another thing that goes on here at Twentynine Palms.

 

            Last thing I want to say is just for each of you personally.  You know, Thanksgiving time is coming up.  I want you to make sure that you convey to your families on my behalf, and on my behalf, I'm really speaking about the leadership of our country and the people of our country, the tremendous gratitude that we owe to those in uniform.  I think -- and I tell people this all the time -- you get to be -- we wake up every morning, all of us who are in the Department of Defense, doing the noblest thing that people can do with their lives, which is protect their fellow citizens and leave a better world for their children.

 

            You have that feeling.  I know it's demanding.  I know it's tough.  It takes -- it's tough on you, it's tough on your families, and it can involve great risk.  At the same time, it's the noblest thing you could be doing with your lives.

 

            I am grateful that I have people as good as you today.  One of my commitments, and this is true of myself and your commandant, General Neller, and your entire leadership, is to make sure that we continue to get Marines as good as you are 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now.  Because remember, we're an all-volunteer force.  None of you has to do this.  And so I need to find people as good as you are here, and that's a challenge.  I can’t make anybody do this and we have very high standards.  We're very demanding of you.

 

            And therefore, we need to make sure that we are accessing the entire pool of Americans who can meet our standards.  That's the reason why we're so determined to make sure that we're recruiting in every geography.  That is the reason why we opened all combat arms specialties to females.  This is an important part of making sure that our force remains excellent in the future.  We need the best people because technology's important, there are lots of things that are important.  But what makes our military the greatest is you, and I'm confident in you, but we need to make sure that your successors and your successors' successors are as fine as you are.  We've got to think about that future.

 

            So these are the things that we're doing, and all of that you can see here at Twentynine Palms.

 

            So it's a great pleasure to be back here.  I've been back here before.  You've been doing different things in different eras.  But it's a great time to be at Twentynine Palms, because you're being part of American strategic history right here.

 

            With that, let me ask you -- anybody who has any questions or something that you know and think I ought to know.  So either a question or a statement.

 

            I think there's a mic right there. 

 

            Yes, just go ahead up.

 

            Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  Corporal Connor with First Battalion Seventh Marines.

 

            My question is with tensions building on the borders of Russia and Norway, are we going to be placing more resources than originally requested by the Norwegian government?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Okay, yes.  This is in Norway.  The Marines have a big presence those of you who don't know. 

 

            We are going to do more in Norway, and we are requesting more money in this budget that we're begging, by the way, Congress to approve.  And we'll do even more next year.  And our Marine presence in Norway has tremendous strategic significance to the Norwegians.  I was just there a couple of months ago and your profile there as part of standing strong against the possibility of Russian aggression in Europe, your profile as Marines is extremely high there, and we're going to be doing more of that.

 

            Now, that is something we haven't had to do really for 25 years, is to take seriously the prospect of Russian aggression in Europe.  Now we do.  One of the ways we're doing it is with a Marine Corps presence, including PREPO and other stuff in Norway.

 

            And I can just tell you, from the point of view of the Norwegian people and their feeling of solidarity and that they're protected by an excellent military also.  But the profile's very high.

 

            They work with us -- I should say something about the Norwegians while we're at it.  They are excellent partners of ours in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan.  I was up where their special forces train in a city called Bodo up on the Arctic Circle and these guys are very capable.  So they're good people to have on our side, but they know we're on their side and one of the reasons they know that is because the Marine Corps presence there is so large.

 

            All right (inaudible). 

 

            Yes?

 

            Q:  Good afternoon, Sir.  PFC (inaudible) Marine Communications and Electronics School.

 

            I was wondering what kind of policy changes you would expect to see in the near future with the Armed Forces as a whole, but particularly in regards to the Marine Corps?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Well, let me say one thing because you may be getting at the fact we obviously just had an election, right, so we're going to have a change of administration.

 

            So let me say something very important right at the top about that, which is I have been extremely careful over this last long period of this election campaign, as has the entire leadership -- and you've probably noticed that -- never, ever to comment on the election.  That's not what we do.  We stand apart from politics.  And you've seen myself and all of our senior leaders have been very scrupulous about doing that.  And so I'm not going to start now.

 

            And obviously, there will be a new commander-in-chief.  He will be our commander-in-chief.  We're working to make the transition go as smoothly as possible so that our new commander-in-chief, President-elect Trump, can hit the ground running.  And he'll be making his own decisions as they go.

 

            As far as the major strategic direction of the United States is concerned, I think it's clear to all that the issues that I described are the issues that face us today in the world, and that we need our military to be up to the job of dealing with them.  And it is, and it needs to continue to be.

 

            And so I think both supporting our military in the present and helping build it for the future, whether that's through innovation or making sure we keep getting people as good as you, those are all things that I think will continue.  As I also think we'll continue the support for our military.

 

            In our country, one of the things I'm proud of is our military is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in our society.  That's as it should be, but that's not something we take for granted; it's something you earn and you should be proud of.

 

            Q:  Thank you, Sir.

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.

 

            Come on.

 

            Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  PFC Spangler (inaudible) student, communications training battalion.

 

            In your opinion, sir, is the United States military completely there in -- with regards to a global force for good?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  A global force for good.

 

            Q:  Yes, Sir.

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think we -- America is a force for good.  No question.  I don't have any doubt about that.

 

            And I'll tell you, not only do I deeply believe that, but everywhere I go around the world, I talk to foreign leaders -- foreign military leaders.  They always say to me, you know, our guys really like to work with you -- with your people.  And it's not just that you're awesomely capable.  It's that but it's also the way you conduct yourselves, the things you stand for.

 

            They just like working with Americans, and if you think about -- and I was saying this to the folks I was having lunch with today -- we have all the friends and allies.  Most of our enemies or potential antagonists have none.  It's not an accident that we have all the friends because I think they recognize that the things that the United States stands for and that we're defending for ourselves are also things that other human beings value around the world.

 

            So I've been -- I have no question in my mind that the United States is a force for good.  Absolutely none.  And it's not -- and of course, I believe that and I'd believe that no matter what anybody else said, but just so happens that a lot of other people agree with that around the world.  And it's because of you guys.  They see you and they like working with you.

 

            Q:  Thank you, sir.

 

            SEC. CARTER:  That's a great question from my point of view.  You can tell where I stand on that one.

 

            All right.  Now, I get a chance to shake everybody's hand and just look you in the eye and say thanks.  And on the eve of Thanksgiving, I hope you'll take it back to your whole families with the gratitude of your country and our determination as a Defense Department and a Marine Corps to continue to meet all of today's challenges, but also get ready for tomorrow's also.

 

            You're doing that right here, right now, with your life at Twentynine Palms.  You should be very proud of that. (Applause.)

 

            -END-