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Media Availability with Secretary Carter at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, San Antonio, Texas

Nov. 17, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF: Hi, everybody. Thanks for being here.

The secretary has a couple of opening remarks about his visit here and some other events, and will take a couple of your questions before we have to head out of here.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Well, thank you for coming here today. And it's great to be here in San Antonio, Military City, USA. And I had the opportunity to visit a number of installations here. And I want to speak about their importance.

First, I should just note in sadness that one of my predecessors years back, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who was secretary of defense for President Nixon, passed away and our condolences to his family. The Department of Defense is an institution that is committed to spanning the decades and the strategic eras, and continuing to protect Americans and make a better life for our children.

Secretary Laird did that. And we are always in the debt of those who went before us because they left for us, and it is my privilege now to lead the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

And the -- that that force remains the best is an important commitment that I have and that our department has. And so today, we were looking at a number of ways that we're building the force of the future to make sure that it is as fine as the force we have today.

And that means recruiting. It means training. It means retaining. And it means taking care of service members. And we saw that entire arc today. I was at Air Force basic training, which is spectacular, these gifted young Americans who have decided to volunteer to serve their country. We're very selective and we pick men and women on a very selective basis. And we're very pleased that a lot of very talented young Americans decide to join our armed forces and meet the qualifications. And I saw them being trained there.

And I met with some of those who were training them. And these are dedicated Air Force leaders who spend a part of their career imparting what they know to the new recruits. It's very impressive, really inspiring to see that knowledge passed on to the next generation.

Also I had the opportunity to be with some of the specialty skills, the battlefield airmen training initiative, which is a new thing for our Air Force, but very important. This is where the early training takes place for some of the most highly specialized airmen that we have. And that serve not only the Air Force, but the entire joint force. These are the forward-air controllers. These are the rescue jumpers who will go in and get a downed airman. These are specialty medical and meteorological experts, and they, too, are being trained there.

And it just shows you the incredibly high skill required to be the best in today's world. We live in a competitive world. We have military competitors. And it's important for us to build the force of the future that will be the best.

Also here -- right here at Randolph, pilot training. This is where pilots for all classes of Air Force aircraft are trained and it's a spectacular day to fly over beautiful San Antonio, see all of the wonderful military installations that this great city plays host to.

I also want to say that -- I mentioned that taking care of our service members is extremely important. That means especially the wounded, ill and injured. And San Antonio's also home to the Brooke Army Medical Center, called BAMC. I went there. I had lunch with a number of wounded warriors, talked to them about their care and whether we were doing what we should do, which is take good care of them. And we are.

And I met with the medical professionals there who not only take care of these Americans who have served and been injured in service, but you know, really love them and -- and watch after their families as well. So it's very moving and fantastic professional medical care. That's what they deserve.

So all in all, so much going on here in San Antonio relevant to our force of today and our force of the future. And I'm committed to that and confident that our armed forces will remain what it is today, which is the best in the world.

With that, let me take your questions.

STAFF: (off mic)

Q: (inaudible) -- Military.com.

In the spirit of today, and you had also mentioned yesterday the importance of aviation safety, the increasing of flight hours and the budget and such things. And certain services, such as the Marine Corps and especially the Air Force has opined about their shortage of pilots.

And so I was wondering if the Defense Department -- what it's doing, if you can give a few examples, of how it can address these concerns since they are occurring in more than one military service?

SEC. CARTER: They -- they are, and the principle issue is that our pilots, because they're so highly trained, are also sought after by the airlines and by business flyers. And that's a compliment to the skill of our flyers, but it's something that we have to be concerned about.

I remind you, this is an all-volunteer force. Our people have alternatives. I'm happy for them that they have alternatives. However, we really want to retain them.

So the answer to your question is the services and I are working very hard on various ways of ensuring retention, and one of those is to offer additional compensation for retention.

But I think the thing that -- the thing that keeps military pilots in service is, in my talking to them, the thing that brought them in in the first place, which is the mission. They know that this is gonna be a hard life, they know they're gonna be away from their families, they know that there can be danger, they know they're not gonna get paid as well as they might if they were working outside of the Defense Department.

But they love what they're doing and they understand the importance of what they're doing. That's why they stay and we're grateful for it.

STAFF: (inaudible)?

Q: Yes, sir --

STAFF: Can you identify yourselves?

Q: (inaudible) -- with -- (inaudible).

There was a report this morning out of -- (inaudible) -- that you've got a transition office set up in the Pentagon. Briefing books are all there, but the Trump people haven't been to it yet. And along the same lines, the NATO secretary general has said twice in the last week -- he's made statements expressing concern about U.S. treaty obligations under NATO.

I guess first off, can you tell us if it is true that the transition office has not received a visit yet from Trump's people? And have you got concerns about that?

And secondly, what do you think the NATO secretary general's comments seem to --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. CARTER: Sure, sure.

On -- on the first point, we are ready to welcome President-elect Trump's transition team to the Defense Department. I'm committed to an orderly transition to our new commander-in-chief. The -- we're -- we have prepared for their arrival. We will welcome them warmly. We will help them to hit the road running.

They have not arrived yet in the Pentagon. They'll do that when they're ready. But we're ready for -- for them.

And as far as NATO is concerned, the -- NATO and we as members of NATO have been focused on two principle axes of threat to the security of the NATO -- us and our NATO allies. The first is from the east, and that is from Russia, a threat we hadn't had to worry about for a number of years and now do. So we're taking a number of steps to strengthen our military presence in Europe. This has been going on now for a year and a half or two years.

And then the other is from the south, which is the spillover from the chaos in the Middle East, particularly the Syrian civil war which as caused refugees and other issues in southern Europe.

So both of those are things that NATO has been working on and we work with them. A lot of our deterrence is done in tandem with the alliance. And the alliance has been very strong.

Q: Have you -- have you had any reason to -- do you have any sense of why the NATO secretary general is so concerned?

SEC. CARTER: I don't. I can't speak -- I can't speak for Jens Stoltenberg. I'd only say that NATO has over the years always proved that it was able to adapt to changing times. Remember, it was an alliance that was formed to fight the Cold War. It did that and won. Fortunately, we didn't have to fight, but it stood strong for decades and then was important in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans and then Afghanistan, and now, as I said, to deterrence against threats from the east and south.

STAFF: Justin?

Q: So you've talked a lot about how defense secretaries make investments with an eye toward not just the near term, but the far term. Earlier this week, you sent out a memo making the Strategic Capabilities Office sort of more of a permanent organization of the Pentagon.

What other specific initiatives or actions that you've taken as your time as defense decretary do you believe need to continue on well past your time?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the SCO, so-called, is one of the ways that -- but only one, but a very important one -- that we're trying to continue to be the most technologically innovative military in the world. That's important. We've always had the technological edge. I already said our people is what make our military the greatest, and next to the people is our technology.

And so we're making big investments. We have made those in the budget that is before Congress now and that we hope we -- finally gets passed. And we're preparing a budget for fiscal year '18, which we'll obviously hand off to the new team there. But again, that has that same emphasis.

We spent 15 years of necessity very focused from the point of view of our investments and operations on counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. We still need to be able to do that and we need to continue to remember everything we've learned. But we now are preparing for a wider spectrum of conflict, including higher-end opponents that are more technologically challenging.

That's what you saw yesterday at Twentynine Palms, the Marine Corps preparing for that and making that transition. Technology's an important part of that, so that's part of our investment portfolio. The SCO is particularly focused on taking weapons systems that we now have. It has been one of the things -- places where it's been more creative and giving them new missions.

So for example, it took an anti-air missile -- excellent missile -- of the Navy's and figured out how to make it also capable of attacking ships. Very sophisticated, long-range, fast, very lethal weapon. And we had bought it for one reason. They found a way to use it in another way as well, sort of doubling the value of our investment. That's the kind of thing we've gotten out of the SCO. Very creative group of people that work with and for all the services and help them figure out how to be even more innovative with the programs they have.

STAFF: All right. We've got time for one last one, then we got to go catch a plane. Any local questions?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

Q: (inaudible) -- one more. Thank you very much.

When you were out at Lackland have you talked to anyone concerning the changes that have been made –at the base since the scandal there several years ago? And do you have a sense of whether that era for the Air Force has passed and they -- they've gotten past the problems that the base had back when something like close to 30 people went on trial over there for various things, most of them sexual assault?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think it's not just the Air Force, but it's all the services, and it is certainly me as secretary of defense, have been very intent on eradicating sexual assault in our military. Doesn't belong.

You know, the military is a -- and the profession of arms is based upon honor and it's based upon trust, and sexual assault is contrary to both honor and trust, and therefore, to the profession of arms. So the entire leadership is committed to eradicating that.

I did talk to trainers there. I certainly -- and they were describing the training they received and also the training they gave. These are the people who -- who are the military training instructors there. Both in the training they receive and in the training they give, the issue of sexual assault figures and figures strongly, as it should. It's not just the Air Force and it's -- it's the other services as well.

And we're not going to stop working on it and trying to improve how we approach it until we've eradicated it. It doesn't belong in our military.

STAFF: Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.