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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, California

Aug. 27, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

LT. GEN. DAVID H. BERGER: Okay, I won't -- you don't need a long introduction from me for two reasons. One is, every Marine who ever went through basic training had to memorize the chain of command, right? And second reason is every time when we have a talk together, the sergeant major is going to explain things beforehand.

So I know he went through his biography. And the secretary wouldn't -- wouldn't allow me to do it anyway. All I would tell you is a couple things.

First of all, we'd like to recognize and make sure you're aware that Stephanie is here with us this morning, his wife, which is really awesome because the two of them travel and see how Marines train and sailors train and where we live and the things that you wrestle with. I think it's great that both of them get to see it here today.

And the second one is our -- our local congressman, Representative Issa, who is also here. A great opportunity for him too to hear what the secretary has to say, and for the questions and comments that y'all have. So without any other delay, Secretary Ash Carter, sir. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Now, General Berger didn't mention himself, but you should know also we're very pleased that he is here. I've actually known him for quite awhile now. We worked on various things together. I'm a huge admirer of him. And you -- I know he's proud of you, and I'm going to --- and I want to say more about that in a moment, but I'm proud of him, and by the way, all the rest of the Marine Corps leadership.

I just picked a Marine to be presented to be chairman, and you have a new commandant, and you've got some really great people in your leadership.

Congressman, thank you for being here. Appreciate you honor us with your presence, and we're very grateful for your stalwart support. The Marines, and this is -- and that -- this is my better much more than half Steph here, who can't always travel with me, but she could this time, and she like I am all in for you guys. You are what we wake up to every morning. You are what we think about, what we care about, where our hearts are each and every day.

And we, like all Americans and on their behalf, if I can speak on their behalf, I want to say, but I think I do, how much we are in your debt, proud of you, admire you for what you do. You provide security. And without security -- I always say security's like oxygen. If you have it, you don't pay any attention to it. But if you don't have it, it's all you can think of.

And it's you who stands between Americans having to think all the time about their security and not. And of course, much of the world doesn't get to live the way we do, because they don't have Marines and the rest of the finest fighting force the world has ever known, which is the U.S. military, protecting them.

So, we're incredibly proud of you and incredibly grateful. And that's the first thing I wanted to say to the fantastic people of one MEF here. And the second is to tell you how I have watched and got a little taste, further taste of today. The great strategic transition upon which the Marine Corps is based now from what I'm very familiar with and some of you are old enough to, many of you now, participated in, but perhaps some of you didn't, which is the great -- the two great COIN fights of the last 15 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I am immensely proud of the performance of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think it has been -- was nothing short of spectacular, miraculous that you could put in to that -- to those kinds of environments, complex as they were, American men and women who could do such a good job as a enormous tribute to our military and thereby to our country.

That said, that was then and now is now. And we can't forget about COIN, but we're beginning to turn our sights to the full spectrum of threats and challenges that will characterize our strategic future.

And the Marine Corps fits right squarely at the center of that, because you have attributes of agility and presence, ability to operate from the sea, and therefore from sovereign territory, and then a flexibility for me and the president and the rest of the team that has to decide when and how you're employed, you offer a tremendous amount of flexibility.

And that's across the whole spectrum from high end opponents down to NEOs, and so forth. All of those things: we talk about a spectrum as though it's harder at one end than -- than the other, but actually, it's hard everywhere on that spectrum.

But we need you to have that kind of flexibility in your training for that kind of flexibility. And so you are, you in this room, right now, at this time and in this place, are at the center of the strategic transition that we're -- our military is undergoing in this era. You have a very bright future as part of it, because the Marine -- the necessity of a strong, well-resourced Marine Corps is certainly apparent to me, but I think is apparent to everyone in the country, and we have a few issues to work through as we try to make sure that the force remains in the next generation as good as you are.

We have to think about that. We have some budget issues, which I won't go into, but the congressman understands perfectly well, which I have actually nothing good to say about, so I won't go down that road because I am embarrassed by the conduct of Washington with respect to the defense budget, and not very happy about it at all, as you might imagine. But the -- I got some time here, I want to hear what is on your mind and what you're thinking about but two things for you, One is thank you and pride. And will you please take that back to your families.

And give them a little reflection, which I'm sure they hear plenty of, but from me and from the leadership of the Department of Defense, how grateful we are for you, how proud we are of you. And what -- how wonderful it is that you are doing the noblest thing that a person can do, which is be part of something bigger than themselves, and give security to our people.

And second, that this place right here, right now, where you are stationed, and giving your service, is right at the heart of where the future will be charted for the United States, for its security, and the military. So it's an exciting place to be. And if you stick with us, which of course I always want you to do, you'll find that there is -- you're going to be right at the center of the action for your careers.

So with that, let me open up the floor here, and I think what you can do is there are a couple mics around, and I guess the idea is just walk up. It doesn't have to be a question. It can be a observation, piece of advice, something you think needs to be said, or something I need to hear, whatever you want.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My name is Lance Corporal Hashimi. I am a tech controller from 9th Communication Battalion, Alpha Company ~Data Platoon.

I watched -- let me fix that. I watched the annual Drell lecture for Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation on April 23rd, where you explained plans for the Pentagon to rebuild the bridge between Washington and Silicon Valley in order to strategize against cyber-attacks from criminals and terrorists.

During your lecture titled rewiring the Pentagon, charting a new path on innovation and cyber security, you explained that there would be a first of its kind unit called the Defense Innovation Unit X, comprised of elite military members and civilians.

My question to you is what criteria would you have those elite military members meet, especially for the future of the new unit as well as opportunities -- as well as what opportunities would active duty military members have that are interested in this unit?

SEC. CARTER: Great. Super.

Super. Appreciate the question.

And for those of you who don't have the background on this, this -- the reference was to a speech I gave in California some months ago in which the gist of it was this. One of my responsibilities is to you, who are the force of today. But another responsibility I have is to the force of the future, the force of tomorrow, and that's a people thing: hence my interest in making sure that we continue to attract and retain the best. And it's also a technology and learning thing.

People thing means that I need to make sure that we as an institution continue to be attractive to people so that they come in, that they have great opportunities when they leave, I hate to see you leave. On the other hand, if you do well when you leave, then that shows that the military is a good place to have been from, which helps me at the front end, to get good people in.

Technology and the connection to the rest of society is what DIUX is about. And that's a particular example aimed at the tech community and the entrepreneurial and innovative community of the bay area. But it's a principle that applies more widely around the country.

One of the ways that we'll stay the best is by staying open to new ideas as well as new people. New ideas, what's the best that's going on outside of our walls?

And where -- where that applies to us, not everything that goes on in civilian life can be applied to military life. But where it can, and people are doing things in a creative or innovative or particularly up to date way, I want to make sure that we're bringing that all in.

Because one of the things I'm proudest of about our military is that it's a learning organization. And one of the reason it's been great over the course of my lifetime is it has always had a free flow of ideas as well as people between civilian industry and commercial industry, including the high tech sector of California and the Defense Department. That's why we have -- I've always had the best technology. And we don't make that inside. I always tell people, we don't build anything in the Pentagon. All of our technology, all of our weapons systems and so forth come from outside.

We need that channel open. And we need it open for another reason. This is not so much about the technology community, and that is that you are a very small slice of American society. So, the 99 percent get protected by the one percent. And I want to make sure they keep knowing about us and we keep knowing about them.

So for all those reasons, building bridges, digging holes in the walls between government and civilian life, and the defense technology system and the commercial technology system. That's necessary for us to stay the very best. I'll be going to DUXes at DIUX as it happens, tomorrow.

And to your last part of your question was, what kind of people do you want there? From our side.

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: Yeah, they don't have to be geeks. They don't have to be technologists. They have to be some of our most innovative military personnel who are willing to listen, learn connect. Because it's supposed to be a place that we -- where we connect to the innovative part of our society. And so if you were part of that, just hypothesizing, if you were to join, it may be that you'll find a company that has a technology that we could apply for a problem that we had a military problem. It may be that you'll recruit somebody, and you'll say -- somebody will come away with you saying "boy, I'm really inspired by this national security mission because I learned that it was the most noble and honorable thing you could do."

And what an inspiring and consequential way to use my technical talent. And they'll join us, or at least be willing to work with us.

Q: What avenues would they be able to take to get there, Mr. Secretary?

SEC. CARTER: I'm very -- I'm going to give you one, but I think it's probably this centrally important one. A lot of people who are outside are beyond the point where they're necessarily going to join. They know that if they're 40 years old, they can't come in as a junior enlisted person, because they would have died on the beach of there this morning, where I was, and you can't be hired as colonel, right?

Q: Right.

SEC. CARTER: You have to -- that's the military profession is one in which you advance by mastering.

So most of those are going to be people who work with us or for us temporarily.

They may come in for a time to the department and work, as I have many people who do. Just one year. Just two. Or they may work for a contractor who works for us and have an interest in it or bid on one of our jobs because they've gotten to know us. So it'll probably be temporary, and because -- and they will stay connected to the rest of the commercial technology world and the civil technology world, but they'll give some of their time to us. And my experience in talking to young innovators is they're really excited by the problems that we have to work on.

And it makes them feel good the way it I think makes you feel good to -- to have contributed to this noble, challenging mission. So they get in, they get a taste of it, and they love it.

And I'll just tell you the last thing, this is a long answer, but that's how I started. I came in supposedly for one year. Long time ago. And I just said to myself, "wow, this is a place where what I know how to do is helping out and this is the most significant thing that I can do with my life."

And so I in one way or another have stayed with it ever since. I think we can snag a lot of really good people that way. And that's kinda separate from the way we snag good young people to come into the Marine Corps. That's important, too. But it's another channel for getting good people.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: It's a long answer, but I'm really passionate about this people thing. It's people. It's not the equipment, it's not the technology, it's our people that make our military the best.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Master Sergeant (inaudible).

My question is in light of our current complex and volatile security environment, what are the most challenging, most significant challenges you see us facing during your tenure?

SEC. CARTER: Good, good question. And they are increasing in number. So let me just be frank about it, right? The -- we have had over the last year the ugly phenomenon called ISIL that originated in Iraq and Afghan -- and sorry, and Syria, and which we must defeat and we will defeat, but it's going to take some time and some effort, and that's the effort and time that we're -- we're expending. But they have got to go.

And that was something that essentially emerged just last summer from the ashes of Al Qaida and radicalism in that part of the world. And it's going to be something that we're going to have to defeat and we will defeat, and of course the Marine Corps will be part of that, of inflicting that defeat.

The other thing that's happened over the last year, which is -- is unfortunate, but we also have to respond to is the behavior of the Russian government under Vladimir -- I'm going to be very honest, just straightforward, under Vladimir Putin, which was signified in Ukraine, which is I think taking Russia in the wrong direction for his own people.

But it seems that that's the direction he wants to take them, towards one of more confrontation. And we're simply going to have to check that. Both on our own -- in our own security interest and because we have important allies and friends in that part of the world, and we have important treaty commitments in the case of -- of NATO.

So were I here18 months ago, and you'd asked me the same question, those two things wouldn't have been as much uppermost in my mind, along with all the things that we've been worried about for a long time in North Korea, Iran, China, in some aspects, terrorism worldwide, and other challenges that we have. Those two over the last year have loomed larger. We're going to have to counter them both.

You have an important role in both of them and it just shows you that there continues to be strategic evolution. And in order to protect our people and make a better world for our children, we have to stay at it.

Q: Thank you sir.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Sergeant Durant, I'm a career planner at VMM 364. My question is about security on the home front, specifically going into the Chattanooga shooting. Our service members on recruiting duty, they don't -- what is the way ahead to ensure that they are protected and that this doesn't become a common -- a common occurrence being that they are the ones that bring in our service members and make us the Department of Defense.

SEC. CARTER: Yeah, well force protection is job one for all of us. And that's not just -- not just abroad, but here at home. That's the world in which we live. And there will be a few troubled losers who are on the internet too much and so forth and decide to take up and -- and attack Americans, including service members. And we have to protect ourselves, and we need to protect you -- the -- without losing contact with the society from which we're recruiting people.

So that's the trick. And the -- the -- and we've taken some measures since Chattanooga. We're going to take some additional ones. I'm waiting for the services to sort out which ones they want to recommend, and the only reason it's complicated is that our facilities are some are in strip malls, if you're talking about recruiting centers. Some are in isolated areas. Some are in Times Square.

And so we need to think through what's the appropriate force protection posture for each one of those. But force protection and protecting those who protect us, has to be job one, and will until we inflict the final defeat on this particular movement, and I'm sad to say this, but the -- terrorism is going to be part of our future, unfortunately, as far into the future as I can see. Because you -- and not necessarily this particular kind, this Islamist extremist kind that was behind Al Qaida and that was -- is behind ISIL. But other forms of extremism, it just exists, and -- and I can't tell you that once we defeat ISIL, this is going to be all over. There are going to be disturbed people and there are going to be radical people, and who knows what radical ideas they'll have in the future.

And one of our jobs is to protect our society. And in order for our people to do that and your families to do that, we need to protect our military. So force protection, job one.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: Okay, one more question.

Q: Yes sir.

Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Gunnery Sergeant (inaudible).

This question is also for you know, California congressman who's here as well. You -- segue off the sergeant's question in regards to force protection. Would a concealed carry permit ever be consideration for the Department of Defense, especially with California having such a strict policy on concealed carry?

SEC. CARTER: I cannot speak for the state of California. I'll let the congressman do that. I can't -- speaking for ourselves, we are looking at a wide variety of force protection techniques, tactics, and procedures for the variety of our facilities, and obviously having armed people as we do at many of our facilities, not all of our facilities now, is an option. I cannot speak for the state side.

Congressman, do you want to address? I don't know the state of California issues.

CONGRESSMAN ISSA: I don't -- I don't want to speak for California. It's -- Sacramento and I have this disconnect. But I would like to answer maybe in a way that you know, the secretary speaks for all of the armed forces, so I think your cautioned answer was a good one.

Members of Congress speak only for themselves. But I can tell you that I'm not alone in people who felt that the policy that guaranteed no weapon on recruiters was a -- was a failed policy, and now that as I understand it, the policy is a would-be terrorist won't know.

I think that's a middle ground that makes sense, and I think the secretary said it extremely well.

We can't assume that in New York City, a weapon for whatever reason or not, on our military personnel, particularly to be candid, your uniforms are not designed to conceal a weapon.

That creates a real different situation in an urban area where there's a cop on every block. But I do believe that Chattanooga taught us one thing, which is our uniformed service personnel need to at least not be guaranteed to be without arms.

But I'm going to say one other thing, which I think we all have to look at. In France just a few days ago, we had three young men who disarmed a man with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47. And they paid a little bit of a price for it. He was pretty beat up. And I hope the thumb works as well as my disconnected thumb did to get me back on active duty.

But I think that military personnel, in most cases in a similar situation, most would be people realize you're a hard target already.

So under the secretary's leadership, being not a guaranteed without weapon target, I think is a good middle ground. But I also think that if every one of us was packing, that would send the wrong message for recruiting, and it certainly isn't the way we want to have all of our -- all of our uniformed personnel just as you know, you go off-base in uniform but you don't go into a bar.

Okay, we have a certain standard that I think all of us that represent our country have. And I think that recruiters do a superb job. And so I commend the secretary. I think he couldn't necessarily answer as straightforward as we're never going to let that be a guarantee that they're going to walk in and find our people without weapons.

But at the same time, we're not going to all pack, and I think that's a good middle ground. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: Thanks, congressman.

Good question. Let me just add one thing, just to second what the congressman said.

Those guys on the train in France make you proud, number one. Number two, on a little sadder note, but also proud note, Stephanie and I were -- went to Chattanooga the weekend before last for the service there and obviously a very sad thing, but uplifting in one sense, which is the service members in the two facilities that were attacked there resilient in mind. Their families, the community resilient. We are the great, the noble, the strong. And we're going to win this. And we have to think it through. We have to take care of one another. We have to do the smart thing to protect ourselves.

But you -- you have to look at the -- what the congressman called, what a hard target America is, and the hardest target of all is the American armed forces.

Q: Thank you, gentlemen.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Let's do this. I'd like to get a chance to look each one of you in the eye, shake your hand, and thank you personally.

We'll get a picture. And so I don't know how we'll organize that, but come on up, and I really want to get a chance to say what I said to all of you collectively, which is thank you. And we're so proud of you.