Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Updates Reporters on DOD Operations

March 29, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:   Hello, everybody.  Morning.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, it's Monday.  OK, good afternoon, everybody.  Just a couple things at the top.

I think as you saw earlier this morning, Secretary Austin joined Secretary of Veteran -- Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial down on the Mall to -- to pay honor and to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the three million men and women service members who served in Vietnam.  As you might recall, back in 2012, President Obama designated March 29th as the annual observance of the Vietnam War Veterans Day, and the secretary was -- was quite honored to be able to be down there with Mr. McDonough, lay a wreath, and, again, pay his respects to all those who -- who fought in that long and bloody war.

On COVID-19 response, we're pleased to announce today a contract award to Puritan Medical Products to increase their production capability of foam-tipped swabs that are used in critical COVID-19 diagnostic tests, part of the industrial base expansion effort.  The -- this award in the amount $146.77 million -- that's pretty precise -- will allow Puritan to conduct renovation to their facility in Tennessee and prepare the space for equipment that will help increase the company's total production capacity to 250 million foam-tipped swabs per month by February of next year, 2022.

With that, we'll take questions.  I think we've got Lita on the phone.

Q:  Hi, thanks.  So I was wondering two things: John, can you update us on any HHS request for bases for unaccompanied minors coming across the border?  Have there been any additional either requests or decisions on that? 

And then one quick other update: Can you update us on the transgender review, where I think that we're two months out now, pretty much, from the president's decision?  And are the -- all the formal guidelines finished?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Both are great questions, Lita.  I don't have any updates today on our support to HHS for the potential housing of unaccompanied children.  As you know, we have been working with HHS at Fort Bliss specifically.  We did help with some contracting support for -- for the construction of soft-sided structures to house the children.  As I -- as I -- as I -- as far as I know, that -- that work is beginning now, but beginning expeditiously.  But there are no children on site right now, and there's -- I don't have any updates either for -- for Lackland Joint Base, San Antonio.  That site, as you know, is a vacant dormitory that can house a -- a few hundred children.  But again, I -- there are no children on site right now.  So I don't have anything to update.  I don't -- there are no additional requests for assistance.  There have been no additional decisions made about sites in particular, so as soon as we get something that -- that we can pass on to you we will, but -- but nothing really significant to -- to update you today.  Our -- the only thing I would add is, we are working in lockstep with HHS, and we'll continue to -- we'll continue to field their requests and to support their request of the best of -- of our ability. 

Again, to remind, our support comes in -- in -- in terms of the space, the physical real estate, and then some limited contracting support.  Given the -- the need to move expeditiously, we understand that HHS doesn't necessarily have contract vehicles in place, and we do, that we can help with.  And so that's basically the limit of our support.

On your other question on the transgender policy review, yes, the -- the 60 days expired, I believe, last week, late last week.  Our -- our team is now going through what they've learned over that policy review process.  I don't have an update for you, any changes to announce or anything like that, but I do think you'll -- you'll be seeing some decisions and some implementation guidance coming out in the very near future, certainly, with -- I believe within -- within days.  But I don't have anything today specifically to speak to, as we're still going through the decision-making process on what the review taught us.

Here in the room -- Joe?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I -I would like to hear from you what's the Pentagon reading and reaction to the agreement made by Iran and China over the weekend.  The agreement is going to boost the military-to-military cooperation between the two countries.  Are -- are -- does the Pentagon have anything to say?  Is the Pentagon concerned about this agreement?

MR. KIRBY:  Joe, I haven't seen the agreement, so I'd be loathe to speak to it right now.  Let me take your question and see if I can get you a -- a better reaction, but it would be foolish for me to -- to react here, having just now heard about it for the first time.  I just haven't been tracking that.  Sorry.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  Back to the phones.  Jeff?

Q:  Thank you.  There was a media report that the DOD is kind of not taking seriously some legislation to tell Congress all that it knows about unidentified aircraft, and reports that these aircraft have been around ships and aircraft carriers, and I'm wondering can you respond?  Is the Defense Department taking this seriously?

MR. KIRBY:  If -- if -- if you're asking if we're taking our -- our requirement seriously to -- to develop this report and to keep Congress informed, of course we are, but I don't have any details on -- on the specifics of the report itself for you today, Jeff. 

OK, in here -- Janne?

Q:  Thank you.  I'd like to talk to you about the last three weeks and North Korea routed missiles, because we missing Friday.

MR. KIRBY:  You didn't like what you heard on Friday?

Q:  Well, maybe you don't know a -- something.  This is like the answer those things.  Anyway, North Korea's Military Vice Chairman Ri Pyong-chol said that the North Korean missile launch was the -- the (inaudible) defense activities, and he also said that one -- one of -- further provocation, including SRBMs and some submarine-launched ballistic missiles and ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles.  How do you respond on this?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I mean, I don't have a specific response to that, but I would just go back to what we said last week, that it -- you know, we -- we noted the -- we noted the launch.  I believe you saw a statement out of Indo-Pacific Command about that.  And -- and I -- I really don't have more to add than -- than what we put out last week about this.

Q:  But what if North Korea proposes nuclear disarmament talks with the United States?  Do -- U.S. accepted it?

MR. KIRBY:  That is a hypothetical, one.  Two, it's a hypothetical much better put to my State Department colleagues.

Q:  Because North Korea's, you know, ultimate goal is the nuclear disarmament talks with United States.  They're prepared to do so.  That's not a hypothetical, so you have to make some ...

MR. KIRBY:  No, I don't actually have to, no.  I -- I can't speak for Pyongyang and what their intentions are and I'm certainly not going to speak for our South Korean allies.  When we were in Korea, Secretary Austin was very clear that we want to see North Korea denuclearize, we want to see stability and security on the peninsula, we also want to make sure that we are meeting our treaty commitments to the Republic of Korea and that we're taking those seriously and that military forces are prepared.  That's what our focus is on right now.

I -- I cannot and will not speak to the future of diplomacy with respect to North Korea.  That really is a -- a question better put to the State Department than it is to the Defense Department.  Again, our focus is on making sure that, as the saying goes, we're ready to fight tonight if need be.

Q:  These last two weeks, the -- President Biden, you know, mentioned about even North Korea escalated -- we will respond accordingly.  What is the -- DOD's, you know, response for this?  Because of -- the State Department answered my questions last Friday, that we're going to diplomatic solutions, but if it's not -- the diplomatic solution is not working, are you ready to do ...

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I'm not going to speculate about -- about the future.  No, I'm -- I'm -- I wouldn't do that -- I wouldn't do that in any circumstance.

Q:  We need a speculation sometimes.

MR. KIRBY:  I know you want speculation.  I appreciate that.  And I know that that would be a much more fun briefing for you.  It would also probably be my last one.  So I'm not going to -- I'm not going to do that, Janne.

Q:  (Inaudible) a lot of fun that really -- you know, I need some real answer from you.

MR. KIRBY:  I know, I know.  You get mad at me every day for not providing you real answers.  But see, my job's not necessarily real answers, it's just as good as I can get, and today, as good as I can get is to refer you to the -- my State Department colleagues about the future of diplomacy there.

Again, our focus -- and you've heard this from the Secretary when we were in the region -- is to make sure that -- that we keep that -- our ironclad commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea to make sure that the U.S. military is prepared for all contingencies.  That's what our job is and we would leave the diplomacy to the -- to -- to the diplomats to speak to.  OK?

Q:  Now you go -- you can keep your job right now.

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  I can keep my job now, yes.  Well, we have a few more questions to get through.  My job is still in jeopardy, I would suspect.  Stephen Losey, Military.com?

Q:  Thank you very much.  U.S. Special Operations Command last week announced that they've chosen a Chief of Diversity and Inclusion, named Richard Torres-Estrada.   Over the weekend, Mr. Torres-Estrada came under criticism for some of his social media posts, including one that implicitly compared former President Trump to Hitler after the Lafayette Park incident.  SOCOM says they're investigating this.  Does the Pentagon feel that these kinds of posts are appropriate for a diversity chief to be sharing or do you (inaudible) comment on this?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the only thing that I would say, Stephen, is that the Secretary was made aware by General Clarke of -- of their investigation into these social media posts.  He appreciated the -- the -- being kept apprised of that and that he supports the work that they're doing to -- to look at this more deeply.

Obviously we take the -- the need to -- the need to promote diversity and inclusion seriously here in -- in the department -- the Secretary has spoken to that many times -- and we certainly want that work to be transparent, to be credible, to be effective and, of course, professional.  I mean, we -- we want -- we want everybody to -- to take the -- those duties and those responsibilities seriously and professionally but I'm not going to get ahead of the -- the Special Operations Command's investigation.

Again, the Secretary was kept informed and he fully supports General Clarke's desire to look into this further.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Dan -- yeah, you bet -- Dan?

Q:  Two questions.  One is on -- going back to Asia, the Philippines and China are in a -- a stand-off at the moment, as you know, in the South China Sea.  And Philippines flew fighter craft over -- over -- flew fighter aircraft over the area.  Is the U.S. Military assisting the Philippines in any way in the situation providing any kind of intelligence or other kind of support and has there been a request for any additional support?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'm not going to talk about intelligence issues here from the podium.  I don't know of any U.S. support to the Philippines in this specific incident, Dan.  I just -- I'm not -- I'm not aware of any -- and I'm not aware of any request that they -- that they might have made for any kind of military support.

Q:  OK.  And on Afghanistan, as you know, the Department used to put out numbers on air strikes and air operations in Afghanistan and then that stopped.  And I'm wondering have -- has the Department revisited that policy and would -- would -- is the Department open to sharing that operation?

MR. KIRBY:  We certainly want to be as transparent as possible.  I don't have an update on that particular issue.  But obviously we want to look for ways to be as transparent with the American people and the publics around the world too about what we're -- what we're doing in the national security interest.

But I don't have an update on that -- that particular issue.  Let's see, Sylvie.

Q:  Hello.  I have a question on Africa.  ISIS took control of the city of Palma on the coast of Mozambique.  And I was wondering if the U.S. plans to assist the government of Mozambique to fight against the Jihadis?

MR. KIRBY:  Sylvie, I don't have any operational issues to speak to with respect with that.  But I would say that we condemn the terrorist attacks on the town of Palma and Cabo Delgado Province in Northern Mozambique. 

These attacks show a complete disregard for the welfare and security of the local population, which has suffered tremendously at the terrorist brutal and indiscriminate tactics.  And we remain committed to working together with the government of Mozambique to counter terrorism and violent extremism and defeat ISIS Mozambique.

But again, I don't have anything operationally to speak to specifically with what we may be doing or not.  Pierre?  I'm sorry, Meghann, I'll get to you in a second.

Q:  Talking about the Suez Canal not being available for a few days.  Many ships are also stuck in the area.  Did it effect, by any chance, the US military operation?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I'm not going to talk about any specific operational impacts.  I think as you know though, in any circumstance around the world, the U.S. military has at its disposable -- disposable -- see, I'm going to get fired -- at its disposal any number of alternate ways of achieving mission success and meeting our mission requirements.

Without speaking to it specifically, this is something that all of our combatant commanders take seriously, none -- none anymore than General McKenzie in terms of making sure we have the ability to continue to meet mission requirements.

Q:  Does opening it make life easy?  Is opening the canal makes life easy?

MR. KIRBY:  OK, certainly opening the canal and making it available to traffic again will certainly facilitate greater movement.  Not just for military assets but civilian merchant traffic.  I mean it's a key choke point.  We call it a choke point for a reason and we've see exactly how that bears out here over the last few days.

I would also say we want to commend Egyptian authorities for the -- the only way to put it is a Herculean effort to get this ship free.  Now I understand that the canal, as I came out here wasn't yet open. 

But clearly they have done just amazing work getting that freighter off the -- you know off the canal bank and -- and back in the -- in the middle of it again.  I think there's still some assessing they have to do to -- because it's not just about the ship blocking it but now the -- the bottom of the canal needs to be, I think, looked at too to make sure that it is still safe for passage.  But they have just done amazing work -- amazing work.

And I think they -- I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.  Yes, back here.

Q:  Thank you, John. 

MR. KIRBY:  I mean to come back to you Meghann, and I and I keep forgetting.  Go ahead -- OK. 

Q:  I want to call out about North Korea.  And North Korea launched about six missiles last week and to take more provocative actions in the near future.  If the U.S. forces raise their alert level at the military bases in South Korea and in the region more broadly?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Are we -- are we -- I'm sorry.

Q:  Alert level military bases in Asia.

MR. KIRBY:  Are we making changes to -- I -- I know of no changes to the force posture on the Korean Peninsula that's born -- that had been born out of that missile launch.  Meghann?

Q:  SOCOM released its own diversity and inclusion plan last week and it has a lot of messaging in it but not a lot of concrete goals or numbers that they're working towards.  Would there be a benefit to putting some sort of concrete metrics in there in terms of accountability for putting that plan out?

And relatedly, last year Secretary Esper wanted to stand up sort of an independent commission on diversity and inclusion that kind of looked like the women's integration commission of the past and I was wondering what the status is on that?

MR. KIRBY:  I have to get back to you on the second one, don't know.  Wasn't aware of that initiative.  On the first question, I would let Special Operations Command speak to their diversity and inclusion plans themselves.  That's really not for me to judge here. 

I will tell you that it -- it's apparent to us how seriously General Clarke is taking this issue, though.  I had a chance to speak with him myself.  There's no question that Special Operations Command is -- is absolutely taking the issue of diversity and inclusion seriously. 

And that's appreciated.  Then we -- we want all the combatant commanders to take it seriously and they are.  But as to the specifics of his plan, again, I'd refer you to him.  OK.  Back to the phones.  Ellen from Synopsis.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  There are media reports out today that the Biden administration is reconsidering using the FEMA mass vaccination sites.  Has there been any word as to whether the military is going to be off that mission soon?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sorry, can you repeat the first part of your first question?  The -- the -- the Biden administration announced what?

Q:  There's -- they haven't announced it but there are media reports out this morning that they're backing off from the idea of the mass vaccination sites.

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen that reporting and so I would certainly refer you to White House officials to speak to that.  All I can speak to you is what we're doing.  And that mission continues.  In fact, as we speak here today, there are 3,554 active duty members that are assigned to that mission.  There's a total of 25 vaccination teams deployed.  We can get you the breakdown by state and type. 

But it is very much an active mission for the active duty.  And that's not even counting the support that the National Guard has for a long time been -- been contributing on -- on the ground in various states around the country.  Upwards to 20,000, I think, guardsmen involved in this mission.

So for us it's steady as she goes and all ahead full if you don't mind me using a Navy terminology, but I mean, we're still committed to this mission.  The secretary has made it very clear that he wants the department to lean in as much as possible to assist in these FEMA-led sites.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  You're welcome.  Abraham?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I know that you can't give us any further updates on HHS requests.  However, the numbers that were requested, the dates when they would like to have those available, you referred us to HHS.  HHS has declined to answer those questions, so I'll ask you again.  Could you tell us what number availability they would like for migrant children at these military bases?  What other site visits might be going on?  I think Peterson was the last one that's known.  And then, separately, I have a question about the extremism stand down.

MR. KIRBY:  I can't go into any more detail than I already did, Abraham.  I'm not going to speak to the numbers as I said last week.  That is really for HHS to speak to and just wouldn't be appropriate.  Our role is to prepare a site, to make sure than where and when it's required by them when they get -- when we get the request that we -- our job is the real estate.  Not the numbers of children and not how those children are going to be looked after.  That's really for HHS to speak to. 

I don't -- as I said at the outset, I don't have any additional site visits to speak to this afternoon.  That doesn't mean that won't change.  I just don't have anything to speak to right now.  As for Peterson, yes, there was a site visit.  I would point you to HHS to speak to the degree to which that interests them or not.

All I can tell you is we've got two sites right now -- Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, which is maybe capable in a vacant dormitory of housing several hundred children.  Don't know how many are going to end up using it.  Again, that's for HHS.  And then we have the land at Fort Bliss upon which we are helping the contracting support to help construct some soft-sided structures that can house minors there.  Again, I would let in terms of capacity that's really a question better for HHS. 

This is a -- this is -- it's not something new to us.  We've done this in 2012.  We did it in 2017.  We know how to provide this level of support, but it's really important that people understand it's not a DOD mission.  It is an HHS mission.

Q:  HHS -- HHS declined to respond, so then I...

 MR. KIRBY:  I can only respond for what we're responsible for and what we're doing, and that's what I'm doing here right now.

Q:  And then extremism...

MR. KIRBY:  For you right now.

Q:  Thank you, and then the extremism stand down, could you kind of update like where DOD is right now?  Can you -- can you confirm that that DARPA training material that's been out in the media now, is that -- can you authenticate that?  Can you say how it's used and where's DOD right now in that process?

MR. KIRBY:  Technically the stand down's still ongoing.  I'm not going to get ahead of the feedback that the secretary is going to expect to get soon from the service chiefs, and when we have more to talk about what we've learned we'll certainly do that, but it's ongoing.  And it's the secretary's view that the services have taken this very seriously, so he looks forward to speaking with the service chiefs in due course here about what they've learned.

As for the DARPA training slides, I'd refer you to DARPA about that.  I'm not in a position to validate press reports about some slides that they -- that they put out.  You really would need to go to DARPA to talk about that. 

Regardless of the validation of it, it's -- as I said at the outset, it's clear to the secretary that the services and the defense agencies are taking this seriously, and that's what he wanted.

Q:  A timeline for when the secretary will speak -- a timeline for when the secretary will...

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a specific timeline to give you today.  You mean when he's going to speak to the service chiefs...

Q:  When he's going to receive information from them and in...

MR. KIRBY:  I would say in coming days.  I don't have a specific date certain for you today, but I think, you know, within the next week or so I think he’s expecting to get some feedback.  Yes.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  Tony Bertuca from Inside Defense.  Oh, no.  You don't have a question.  Sorry.  This is why I have reading glasses and I should use them.  Mallory (inaudible)?

Q:  Hi, thanks.  Back to the Suez Canal, the blockage has highlighted the vulnerability of how the U.S. operates regionally, so I'm just curious is the Ever Given situation causing the department to rethink how it would operate in the Middle East and Africa?

MR. KIRBY:  They're called choke points for a reason, Mallory, and the Suez Canal isn't the only one around the world.  And because we've long recognized the fact that narrow waterways like this are maritime choke points, we always make sure that we have alternate capabilities to meet mission requirements.

So it's not -- I wouldn't go so far as to say the Suez blockage has caused us to rethink anything about how we are postured in the Middle East or how we meet mission requirements there, our national security interests there.  It's we have -- we have recognized the fact that choke points like the Suez Canal could suffer blockages like this, and it's factored into just normal operational planning.  Lucas.

Q:  John, does the secretary support the continuation of the National Space Council?

MR. KIRBY:  The National Space Council.  I think that's a White House initiative, Lucas.  I won't speak to the White House and their view of the National Space Council.  That said, we have a Space Force, a sixth armed service here at the Pentagon that the secretary remains committed to, the administration remains committed to.  And the secretary takes it very seriously the challenges in the space domain.

And he wants the Space Force as well as joint staff planners to be thinking about how we better operate in space and how space can be used to further or to not -- to not impinge upon our national security interests in that regard.  That's policies.  That's programs.  That's what kinds of capabilities we need, what kind of operational concepts do we need for the space domain.

So he's fully committed to better understanding and better developing policies for rules-based orders -- order in space, but with respect to the Space Council I just don't have anything on that.  I mean, obviously if there's a desire to have DOD participate in an interagency function like that, certainly we would do so with pleasure. 

Q:  Why is it important to have a Space Force as an independent branch as opposed to be underneath the Air Force?

MR. KIRBY:  I think this argument has been had and answered, Lucas.  The decision has been made and been so legislated, and the secretary fully supports having a U.S. Space Force.

Q:  Can you explain how satellites help with detecting North Korean missile launches, for example?

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  No, I cannot.  I can't even -- I can't even tune my DVR at home, so no.  I cannot speak to satellite technology, but even if could...

Q:  How about in general satellite (inaudible) technology?

MR. KIRBY:  Obviously look, I'm not an expert on satellites, Lucas.  They obviously play a key role in our ability to operate around the world and around the clock, and they do provide a lot of capability both for the civilian and commercial interests as well as for military interests. 

Nobody's interested in the militarization of space, that's not what this is about.  But I can't speak with -- you know, with greater certainty or detail on satellites.  I'd refer you to the Space Force -- we have one, and I would refer you to them to speak to specifics about that.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  You know, on the resources that the Space Force and Space Command have at their disposal, given the ramp-up in civilian access to space coming down the line here in the near future, do they -- are they adequately resourced?  Because they're a vital part of safe launches – Space Force – in terms of the satellite positioning and how the space launch is able to be coordinated by civilian resources so...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Right.  Without getting into detail because, as you know, we're preparing for next year's budget, but the secretary is interested in speaking to Space Force leaders about -- about their resourcing requirements.  And he, as I tried to allude in my answer to Lucas, he takes this and their work very seriously.

And he will want to make sure that as with the other services, that they're properly resources to execute the strategies of the United States and of this particular administration.

OK, Peter Loewi?

OK.

Q:  Hi, thanks very much, John.  I am here, just a little slow.  The -- the -- on extremism, the prevailing narrative coming out of DOD and in fact former Secretary Panetta just brought it up again today, is that there is extremism in society because there is -- there is extremism in the military because there is extremism in society.  But that's really about statistics, because the military isn't demographically representative of society.

Several weeks ago, you blew off a question at the very end of a briefing about how you define extremism, and my question is, how do you define extremism?  And if you don't have a definition for it, how do you attempt to count, track, and address it?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I kind of want to push back on the premise that I blew a question off.  I don't think I did any such thing.  What I said is that one of the things we know we need to get a better grip on is the extent of extremism in -- in the ranks.  And it's really more about extremist ideology that inspires conduct and behavior that itself is prejudicial to good order and discipline in the ranks, and could potentially cause harm to our teammates.

So I don't have a textbook definition for it today, but I can tell you that one of the things that we're going to try to learn from the stand down -- and I think you'll see more efforts after the stand down is over to better get a handle on the degree to which this really is a problem.

We know there's extremism in the ranks.  We think it's less than the headlines might suggest and more than we're comfortable with.  But it is -- it is in all ways a kind of ideology that works against our values, and certainly works against our teammates in the ranks.

I got time for a couple more.

Yeah, in the back there?

Q:  Thanks for doing this.  I am Hiba Nasr from Asharq News.  I have two questions, if you don't mind.  My first question about Saudi Arabia.  Given the ongoing attacks by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and you said many times that they are supporting Saudi Arabia defending its territories.

I want to understand from you, how do you characterize an offensive move from a defense move?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a question for Carl von Clausewitz, I think.  I -- I -- look, just to put it simply, what President Biden decided is that we weren't going to provide support for the Saudi-led coalition's offensive operations in Yemen, actually striking inside Yemen as part of their efforts there.

But that we do have and -- and take seriously our commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks that are launched on its territory, largely across that southern border with Yemen, and we still do that.

I won't speak to the specifics of how we do that, but that's how we -- that's how we're making the delineation.

Q:  My second question is on Iraq.  Iraqi prime minister, yesterday, speaking to Arab media, he said, "We don't want combat forces inside Iraq, we want air support."  Did he convey this message to the Pentagon, to the administration?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of a particular message conveyed to the Pentagon based along those lines, but I would remind you that U.S. presence in Iraq is very much focused on the counter-ISIS fight in helping enable and support, advise and assist Iraqi security forces as they go after ISIS on their territory.  And we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

Did you have one more, or no?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  No, I thought you said you had three.

Q:  I have two, but I can ask...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  No, that's fine, don't make up a third just on my account, no, it's fine.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  The less questions for me, the better.

Go ahead.

Q:  Any update on a climate change working group with specifically reference to energy?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any specific updates for you, but Joe Bryan on the staff, our special assistant for climate, is hard at work on this and if you have specifics that you want to know, we can make sure Joe and his team get back to you on that.

Q:  Just a follow-up to Peter's question.  Is talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the workplace, is that considered partisan?

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, Lucas, I'm not -- I'm not able to answer that question.  Look, it's -- we could go down a rabbit hole on a million different things.  What we -- what we're trying to get after here is the -- the kind of ideology that inspired conduct and behavior that, as I said, is prejudicial to good order and discipline.  That's it.

And it's not about one side or the other on the aisle, it's not about what god you worship or choose not to worship.  It's about ideology that inspires you or can inspire others to bring harm inside the force, and that's what we're trying to get after.

And no -- you know, I understand that maybe not all my answers are -- give you the level of clarity and fidelity that you'd like.  That should say just how hard this is to get your arms around, and it's why we're taking it so seriously.  So I recognize the frustration in some of your questions.  Please know that it's -- that it reflects our own -- the seriousness with which we're taking it, and how much we -- how well we recognize that this is a hard problem to get our arms around. 

But we can't just put our head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist, we can't just say, "Well, it's not a problem."  It is a problem.  The other problem is we don't know how big it is.  And so that's what we're trying to learn, and I think you're going to see this unfold over time.

I'm not going to be able to come to the podium this week, next week or the week after with a plan and say, "This is it, this is how it's defined, and this is exactly how deep the problem is." 

This is going to be something -- and Secretary Austin has made very clear, he's going to work on, every day that he's the secretary of defense, it's not something that you can take your foot off the pedal on.  You have to constantly apply leadership and effort and focus on it.  And that's what you're going to see from him.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Let the record state, no frustration in the question.

MR. KIRBY:  OK.  Maybe not from you.

Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  In an interview that aired today, Senator Tammy Duckworth suggested that changing the type of news that was that was shown to troops from the Pentagon Network, to CNN, to Fox News, has something to do with rising extremism in the ranks.  So can you talk about the type of news that is shown to Soldiers, and if Fox News has a contributing factor in extremism in the military?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen the senator's comments, so I would not be in a position to speak to that.

As I have said before the Armed Forces Network tries to reflect an appropriate amount of coverage that American citizens see back home.  That's the mandate, is to -- for them to be able to see news, entertainment and sports that are roughly parallel, where you can't get cable coverage.  You know, this is in overseas and in austere locations, where you can't get your, you know, normal cable coverage.  We try to show them what their fellow citizens are seeing back home, and we try to do that in as fair and as equitable a way.

Q:  Is there -- are you looking at the type of...

MR. KIRBY:  And I know of no -- I know of no linkage between content that's aired on AFN and conduct in the ranks.  I have -- I have no information that would -- that would lead me to believe there is such a linkage.

Q:  Will it be under consideration as part of the extreme -- look at extremism?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get ahead of a process that's still beginning.  Again, we -- we take seriously our obligation, through Armed Forces Network, to be able to show troops and families programming that is akin to, or as close to, as that -- that programming that their fellow citizens get to watch everyday.

OK.  Thanks, everybody.