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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event in Afghanistan

Dec. 18, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF:  Hello?  Yep.

Okay, can everyone hear me?

All right, good evening, and climb to glory.  It's my distinct pleasure this evening to be able to introduce to you your secretary of defense.  The Honorable Ash Carter and his lovely wife Stephanie, who has already visited with many of you today.

Thank you very much both, sir, ma'am, for coming today.

We got to get this down.  Tone it down just a little bit because it's getting a reverberation.

For everybody out there, just a quick little bit of introduction.  Dr. Ash Carter has been a selfless servant of the United States inside the DOD for over 30 years -- 30 years.  So he understands not only what we do out here, but at the strategic level and even below.  Okay?

So he is here to kind of as his Christmas tour, but we have the pleasure to allow him to speak to us tonight.  And as we were walking over here he mentioned that -- he remembered back a few years ago when we didn't have MRAPs.  He was one of the driving forces behind that puts that on the battlefield to protect us and to allow us to do our job.  That's what he understands and what he does for us each and every day.

Sir, without further ado, thank you both for coming.  But I'll turn it over to you, they don't want to hear me.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thanks very much.  Appreciate it.  Stay up here for one second.  I -- this is my better half, by the way.  This is Stephanie and I'll tell you why we're here together in just one moment.

First I got to begin by commending Colonel Jones -- John Campbell.  General Campbell whom I have known for a long time who's done so many things for us and for our country, and -- but now is our magnificent commander here.  I have a huge confidence in him.  The president, chairman, everybody has enormous confidence in -- in John Campbell and the whole command staff here.  So many, many thanks.

Thanks for that -- thanks for that introduction.

Okay, two things for you guys.  First, it's Christmas time -- Christmas time's coming up and from our family to your families, thank you.  You're not with them, you're here.  We don't take that for granted.  You're doing the noblest thing that any person can do, which is provide protection to everyone else so that they can have their Christmas.  They can live their lives, dream their dreams, take -- wake up -- wake up their kids in the morning, send them off to school.  Go to work, do all the things that make lives full.

You can't do that if you don't have security, and you provide that to America.  And because of the kind of country we are - to much of the world as well.  And here in Afghanistan, you're helping the Afghans, but obviously we're here also because we -- because doing that helps protect our country.  Make sure that from here doesn't arise the kind of thing that could threaten the United States.  So thank you, and please, next time you're in contact with your family from our family to your family -- the DOD family, you know, we feel like family together, Merry Christmas and thank you so much.  That's thing one.

Thing two is the importance of what you're doing here.  I've been watching this for a long time and I -- I got to tell you, I -- if you had asked me five years ago, say -- yes, we working to get the MRAPs over here, the M-ATVs, particularly.  The new model that we got, because the one that we had in Iraq that we all -- you also see around are not quite right for the terrain here.  All those times the PTDS balloons out here and all that stuff, I -- I wasn't sure we'd get to where we've gotten.  So I am so proud of the accomplishment of you and those who came before you, I mean, it's amazing.

It's not perfect, the Taliban are still around, all these other groups are still around.  They all morph, they fight with each other, they join up, they go in and out and so forth.  So it's a dangerous brew of different extremists.  No doubt about that.  But the Afghan security forces are getting there.  They're fighting, number one, and number two, they're fighting more and more effectively as they operate more and more on their own, and we help them and enable them and give them the equipment and the wherewithal to stand on their own.

Remember, that's the whole idea.  And that strategy of helping them help themselves and enabling them so that we can gradually reduce what we're doing here and our help to them, and they can stand on their own two feet, that's the whole deal, right?  That deal's coming together.  And, you know, and I -- I -- if you'd have asked me to bet on it five years ago, I don't know I'd -- maybe give you even odds on it or something.  But it's coming together, and it's doing it because of you.  And that's of importance here, but it -- it has global significance, as everything we do.  Because these terrorist groups with now with social media and so forth, they all talk to one another and it becomes a world-wide sort of thing.

I just came from Iraq and Syria [sic] where from which one group that's prowling around here in Afghanistan, namely ISIL, arose.  Right?  All of a sudden fueled by social media.  And we're going to kill it in its home tumor of Iraq and Syria.  But then we have to recognize that there are little nests of it spring up all over -- all over the world.

Here, Paris even in a very indirect kind of way, but via the magic keyboard, San Bernardino.  So we got to watch out for this everywhere and we got to beat it.  We're going to beat it, but it becomes a global matter.  And so everything we do wherever it is in today's world has global significance.  So what you're doing is very meaningful for American security in Afghanistan.  Very meaningful for American security everywhere.

And I just wanted you to know the centrality of your mission, and that means a great deal to us as well.  So similarly, when you're saying to your family that you were thanked by your leadership, really your country, for what you're doing for them that you also were reminded what you already know, which is you're at the center of a very, very important mission, and that mission is succeeding and is going to succeed.

So that's what I wanted to say to you.  I -- I want to get a chance to shake each and every one of you -- your hand individually, get a picture with you.  Look you in the eye and say exactly that.  Thank you.

First though, we do have a little time, I believe -- Peter, we have time for?  Okay.

Yeah, I -- I mean -- for -- he says questions.  It doesn't have to be a question.  If you have -- it can be something you think I ought to know, or some observation, but there's a mic.  I don't know, people want to share this one?

Here we go.  He'll pass the mic around.  Question or comment from anybody.

Any subject -- any subject whatsoever.

Q:  Hi, sir.  My name's Lieutenant Buckingham.  I'm an Air Force civil engineer, and my question for you is do you foresee Afghanistan turning into a South Korea where we'll have sustaining bases like Osan and Kunsan?

SEC. CARTER:  I -- I don't see it on that scale, simply because I don't think that's going to be the need here.  Because -- but I do see an enduring security partnership, yes.  And I, you know, two things about that.  One is, this is a -- an important part of the world to have friends and a foothold in, if you think about it.  I mean, look around.  Just look at a map, and look at all the neighbors.

And here, in Afghanistan we have a government -- the Ghani-Abdullah government that wants us here that is an -- an effective, willing partner and in a dangerous part of the world.

That's going to be an important asset for us in the future.  What -- because things will continue to happen in this region, not just the things we're -- we've been combating over the last few years, but whatever security challenges arise in the future.  And it'll be good to have a place where we have friends and we're used to operating with them.  And in that sense, it's like South Korea and many other places around the world where we have capable, friendly security partners because it's a -- it's a world that's all connected now.  So all of our alliances and partnerships are connected. I -- there are coalition members here, maybe some of them I -- we have an Australian colleague over there.

Same thing.  We've worked with the Australians for years and years and years.  The only reason I said there's a little bit difference with South Korea, remembers South Korea is rate -- and I was just there a few weeks ago.  Its challenge is a big trans-border assault from another country to the North.  That's not exactly the situation they're facing here.  This is a different kind of thing, more -- kind of counter-terrorism and -- and insurgency kind of fight, so it's just different.  And so our force posture on the Korean peninsula, which is also a very important daily mission -- deterrence of -- of North Korea is -- requires a force presence there that is heavier kind of forces than we anticipate having here.  And then, of course a massive reinforcement if war ever does occur to destroy the North Korean forces, and -- and end the war.

So it's a different kind of theater.  Same thing.  And I guess the last note is -- is, why is it that we have so many friends around the world?  You might ask yourself.  Because a lot of our antagonists don't -- we have a lot friends, why is that?

Well, one of it is, part of it is we're effective.  Part of it is you.  People like working with Americans.  You treat them well, you're good at what you do, and they like what we stand for.  And that's why we have so many friends and so many partners.  And if Afghanistan is going to be one of those partners in the future as I expect it to be, I think that's great.

Q:  I'm Staff Sergeant Richards, field artillery.

My question is, sir, what can you tell us about your plan to change retirement and benefits from the current 20-year based model?

SEC. CARTER:  Good -- good question.  It's on -- on retirement.  I guess, two main things.  First, and this is important, we are going to be offering to new service members a different kind of arrangement, and I'll explain why in a minute.  But, for you, it's important for you to know nobody's going to change the deal on you.

So if you're already in, it's -- you -- you can use the old plan, no problem.  That's important, because I don't think it's fair to change the game on people.  If you made an understanding with them, you don't change it, right?

But we are offering new service members who come into the service a more flexible kind of system.  And why?  We've looked around at -- at the rest of the world, and of course, the rest of the world will never -- never be like us.

The -- the profession of arms is different, so you can't look at companies and say, "well, maybe we want to be like a company," because we're not like a company.  We'll never be entirely like a company, but that doesn't mean we can't learn things.

And I -- I have to look ahead to the future and make sure that the force of the future is as awesome as you guys are.  And I can't take that for granted.  Generations change, the economy changes -- I've got to look ahead and say, "what's going to draw into my military in the future the best of its generation, the way you represent the best of your generation?"

That's what I'm -- that's the Defense Department I'm supposed to leave to the person who is secretary of defense sometime in the future, because that's the gift I was given by my predecessors.

In that connection, I need to say to -- I need to ask, we -- we did a whole lot of studies, and there was a commission, and so -- and they looked at this and they thought it was a good idea to offer people, instead of you -- you get nothing up until year 20, and then your benefit kicks in, to give people a -- the ability to accumulate benefits earlier in -- in their time.

So if somebody came in for five years or 10 years, they wouldn't get nothing.  They'd get something.  And the feeling was -- the analysis was that that would improve our ability to attract and retain, on -- having that flexibility.

Now, some people will stay, and of course, we want good people to stay.  I want all of you to stay.  But some people aren't going to stay until year 20.  They deserve to get something in the way of retirement.

And in most places, if they had worked somewhere else, they would get something.  They'd have a little something accumulated in their retirement.  So that's the reason for doing it.

It's not, principally, a way to either save money or cost more money.  That wasn't the -- it's -- it's not a cost thing at all.  It was really, how do you get the best people.  What's the best way to attract and retain.

But I want to reassure you -- you -- those of you who are already in the service, no changing the game on you.  This is for people in the future -- who join in the future.

Yep, you got it.

Q:  Good evening, sir.  Specialist Tyler, (inaudible), I.T. specialist.

With advancements in technology and demand for cybersecurity, how will the battlefield change with an increase in cyber-terrorism?

SEC. CARTER:  How would what change?

Q:  The battlefield change.

SEC. CARTER:  Very, very profoundly.  It's an excellent question, and it -- you can start by thinking about what I just talking about a little while ago, which is one particular evidence of that, which is ISIL.

ISIL’s the first social media terrorist organization.  They're fueled by this.  They talk to each other this way, and the honest truth is that we're behind in countering this kind of tactic by an enemy.

And we got to get better at that, and we're working really hard at that, at -- at denying the enemy the advantages of communication and connection, exploiting their communications so we know better what they're up to and who they're recruiting.

And -- you know, also, this isn't so much a cybersecurity matter as it is a just common sense matter.  We need to -- and we will, by showing the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, that this is not a happening thing.

This is something for losers, and that's why the defeat -- their defeat is so important, because otherwise some confused person may come to the conclusion this is a cool thing to be part of.  It's not going to be a cool thing to be part of.  And that's not a cyber matter, but it is an important strategic matter for us.

But the cyber battle -- battlefield, it's not a matter of the future.  You can see it right now, and we need people like you, because we need to be ahead of the game.  Just as the United States, militarily, has always been the firstest with the mostest -- I'm proud of that.

That's why the link to technology is so important.  You know, we're the first one with drones.  We're the first one with precision weapons.  We're the first ones with stealth.

We need to be first, because that's one of the ways that we stay safe, and that's got to be true in cyber, as well.  We're spending an enormous amount of money, as -- according -- I'm about to approve the FY '17 budget -- fiscal year '17 budget.  Major new investments in cyber, for just that reason.

STAFF:  (off-mic)

SEC. CARTER:  Okay.  He's saying one more.  These are my two top advisers -- (Laughter.) -- and one is saying, "you've got to go now," and the other is saying, you know, "come on."

Okay, one more?  All right.  Eric's trying to help.  All right.

Hey, listen.  Once again, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much for what you're doing.  We're so immensely proud of you.  We're immensely proud -- the entire country is proud of you.  You're fantastic.  So tell your family how proud we are of you and of them.  (Applause.)