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Media Availability with Secretary Carter en route to Washington, DC

March 23, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: Well, first of all, thanks for coming. I hope you had as inspiring a time as I did.

This is right before your eyes the force of the future. That's what I talked to them about in two ways. First, I met with some of the incredibly impressive technical experts here, both students and faculty. That's important, as I've stressed consistently, since it's fast-changing world. And one of the strengths of the American military has always been technology and being more innovative than others. We need to keep that up.

And I was encouraged to see what they doing here, and that's -- that -- I'm very supportive of what they're doing here.

The other part is the -- talking to these cadets about their own careers and their leadership. As far as their own careers are concerned, I discussed with them and a number of them raised with me -- they may have as well with you, how they see their future in the U.S. military. That's important because we're an all-volunteer force, so they don't have to -- they have to put in a certain period of time to pay back their West Point experience, but after that, we have to compete for them.

And so we talked about how they saw their futures and so forth. And as you know, I've had a couple of important parts of the force of the future effort already. We talked with them about the first part of that, which was giving our service members an opportunity to spend some time outside of the military, just to have a chance to become acquainted with practices elsewhere in the world. That's a healthy thing.

Also, to bring in the best talent and technology from the outside into the military. Up here, there's great understanding of that and making major contributions to that.

The second thing we talked about with these young people is families. The military is a family institution. We know that 70 percent of our officers and more than half of our enlisted are married people. So it matters to them, married life.

That's why we pay attention where we can, consistent with our readiness needs, to trying to make it possible for them to do what we need them to do and also meet their family responsibilities. That's the reason for lengthening maternity leave, paternity leave, child care centers -- all these things that we do wherever we can. We can't change everything. We're the profession of arms, but where we can make it easier for families.

Women in the service -- I met with some women cadets here who have now had the opportunity since I made the decision in December to open all specialties, all branches as they say here, including artillery and infantry to women; some of the women who have decided to change their field of specialization.

And it's interesting what they said to me, which is that they appreciated the opportunity represented by that decision, but what really made them take it was seeing those three women who graduated from Ranger school. And what that tells us is that we're right as we think about implementation of women in service to think about the leadership issue, and understand that everybody likes to look above them and see someone who's like them who has succeeded. That's an inspiration to them to join and succeed.

And that will be necessary as we go forward. We just had an example of that this week in Lori Robinson, the first-ever female combatant commander who is going to take over NORTHCOM. So they do have some example. I thought it was interesting that it was those Rangers.

What I told them was -- was I'm glad you have this opportunity, but you need to understand to me, it was me taking advantage of an opportunity, which is you. And I look at it the other way around. I'm glad that you have that opportunity. But what I'm really about is the mission of the Department of Defense. And the reason to open specialties is that I want to have half of the population participating in what we do, because I think I'll find good people there.

Not everybody's going to get to do what they want. Not everybody is going to qualify. But I know that there will be spectacularly qualified women. And I can't walk away from any spectacularly qualified person in today's labor markets. I need to get good people. So I said, "You look at it as an opportunity for you, but for me it's an opportunity for our military."

STAFF: Time for questions.

Q: I'll start off with just quickly on Brussels. I mean, after the Paris attacks, it seemed like there were some significant changes in the way you approached Iraq and Afghanistan -- ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the acceleration with the attacks yesterday, what changes, if anything?

SEC. CARTER: Well, we've -- we have been accelerating our campaign since well before the Paris attacks, but that -- those attacks galvanized Europe to do more. And they have been doing a great deal more as well. What Brussels indicates to me is the necessity to continue to accelerate the defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, which we will do. But it also is a reminder that while I believe the military effort is essential, we must defeat and we will defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria. That's necessary but it's not sufficient.

There's going to continue to be a law enforcement, an intelligence and homeland security dimension to this campaign, and Brussels involving as it did citizens of that country is a reminder of that.

Now that said, I continue and I repeat that it is necessary to complete the military defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq because that'll show that there's no state, based on this kind of ideology, that is acceptable to their -- rest of the civilized world, and we can't have that in order to protect ourselves. And that is the reason why we're doing everything that we can wherever we find opportunities in Iraq and Syria to hasten the defeat of ISIL.

And what I -- I talk about opportunities because what I mean by that is capable local forces that we can enable, because we know that we need not only to defeat ISIL, we need to keep them defeated. And that means that there need to be local forces that participate. That's the strategic approach.

And we're doing a lot to accelerate it, and we'll do more. And every day, we're fighting more and taking advantage of every opportunity we have.

Q: Last year, you launched this package of initiatives that has come to be called the Force of the Future, very ambitious in scope. This year, maybe we're seeing the limits of what can be accomplished within your tenure.

Brad Carson's stepping down, does that have anything -- have you had to scale back your expectations?

SEC. CARTER: No, no. The Force of the Future is full speed ahead. I respect Undersecretary Carson's decision not to pursue confirmation, but he and his office have done excellent work with respect to the Force of the Future. I'm completely committed to the Force of the Future.

It is a necessity for sustaining the quality of the all-volunteer force in the future, and that is whether it deals with making sure that our military is able to attract the very best, whether we give them all the skills that are necessary to be the best in the modern world, where we borrow as appropriate from the private sector techniques in talent management and so forth that are appropriate to the profession of arms but that are fully modern, that we do things like our -- like adjust maternity and paternity leave so that we can continue to retain families of child-bearing age or people who are thinking about having families, and we want to, where it's possible, to make it possible for them to stay with us after 10 -- let's say, 10 years of investment by us. We don't want to lose them at that point.

And so if a family is something important to them, can we -- without getting in the way of readiness -- make that possible, we should be thinking about that kind of thing. So those are the things we've done so far in Force of the Future. There's much more to come. And it will continue because it has to continue. It has a logic that goes -- that is quite clear. So it's full speed ahead on Force of the Future.

STAFF: (inaudible) you get the last word.

Q: Excuse me. Well on that note, you know, how do you -- you know, how do you go full speed ahead? How does -- how does -- sorry.

STAFF: (inaudible) last year, the last year of your tenure?

Q: Exactly. You know, how do you push these through, you know, as, you know, a new president comes in and -- eventually and --

SEC. CARTER: Well, I mean, I think when we're -- when we're doing something that clearly makes good sense for the country and we've shown the way and we've articulated and explained why it makes sense and everybody in the department knows that it makes sense, I'm confident those things will stick because they clearly will make a better military and they have logic and support.

Q: Is it -- oh.

Q: Is there -- just briefly, is there a consensus in the department about some of those final issues on Force of the Future, like the -- things affecting promotion and up-and-out and those sorts of things? Is there a consensus within the department?

SEC. CARTER: Well, there is about some parts of them. And -- but we're still exploring others. And so people are still learning. That's what I would say about these things.

These are things that are complicated things and -- when it comes to the management of people, and so sometimes -- so we really are very careful to think things through with all the services and all the chiefs and look at our analyses, look at our surveys, see if we have a basis for things. Where we're not sure, we might try something and see how it works and then follow the evidence where that leads.

So it's important to act with resolve and not wait, but it's also important to do it thoughtfully. And everything this department does, it does thoughtfully. That's one of the reasons why I'm proud to be associated with it.

STAFF: All right. (inaudible) we've got to go.

Q: Great. Thanks.

STAFF: Okay, thanks.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Good. Thanks, guys. Thanks for being with us.