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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois

July 28, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF:  It's my distinct pleasure to have the secretary of defense on base today here on Naval Station Great Lakes, the quarterdeck of the Navy and your Navy here in the Midwest.  So without any delays, it's my pleasure to introduce the honorable Ash Carter, 25th secretary of defense.




      SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thanks very much.  Please sit down, please sit down.  First of all, Admiral, thanks for your hospitality.  First, most important thing, thanks to each and every one of you for what you do.  In a minute, I'm going to say why your mission is so important from our point of view -- the nation, the department as a whole.  But just a word that I will say to you, but I said all the way down to your new recruits today.  I saw their birthing, their standing there scared to death. 


      I'm not even sure half of them knew what the secretary of defense was in the first place.  But, I told them a little the same thing that I'm sure animates you.  And that is by doing what we do and being part of the mission that we're part of, I think that is the noblest thing that a person can do with their life.  There's nothing better than being part of feeling or protecting our people, leaving a better world for our children, and it's worth all what we put up with in the way of service and what you put up with in the way of service. 


      And you can see in those young eyes the beginning of them getting that and that they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.  And it's an inspiration that, for me anyway, I've been doing this a long time, it never stops. 


      It's as fresh as it was the first time I felt it in our mission, in our -- what we do.  You specifically do what I consider to be the most important part of our military, and that is our people.  And there are lots of things that make us the best in the world, there's a lot that makes us the finest fighting force the world has ever known.


      There's technology, we're very good at that.  We keep trying to get better and stay ahead and be the firstest with the mostest in all the new technology fields as we have been historically.  We stand for good things.  We stand up for big things.  People like us because of that.  We have all the friends in the world if you haven't noticed.  Our enemies don't.  And that's not an accident.  They don't just like us because we're powerful, they like us because of how our people conduct themselves, and what they stand for.


      And they tell me that every where I travel around the world.  They say, you know I really like working with your people and that makes a huge difference.  And it's a strength of America, but the biggest strength we have is our people. The biggest strength we have is our people.  And that's where you all come in, and you take these young kids who in today's world - I'm looking around the room, and you're not as old as I am most of you - but they're different.


      Kids are different today, so we take these kids who are today's kids and try to make sailors out of them.  And you're incredibly successful at doing that.  I had lunch with some RDCs today who were so incredibly impressive.  Because first of all they're really good sailors, they're very experienced people.  But then they have some of the same spirit that brings you here and brings me here, which is that feeling of satisfaction you get when you make somebody better at serving our country.


      And you can just watch it happen.  And in that connection -- in connection with the critical importance of people, I have been talking about and making changes to us wherever I can see ways that we can improve the way we manage and develop and recruit our people.  I call that the Force of the Future, and it's very simple.  I look at an audience like you and I say somebody yet is going to come after me, my successor's successor's successor down the road.


      And I'd like them to be able to stand at the podium like this and look out at an audience as good as you are. We can't take that for granted, we have to work at that, we have to build that.  And that's your mission.  And so the Force of the Future has to be a commitment we all make and we have to push ourselves to think about new and better ways we can do that.  And I'll just give you some examples of things I've been doing just in the last few months. 


      And you'll see me keep doing this, every time I see something that we’re not doing that we can do better, I'm going to push us to do it better.  I'll just give you a few examples.  Made some changes a couple of months ago in how we're able to access talents of a particular kinds that we're short of, is part of a general move making it for our people to get in and out a little bit. 


      Like all of you, I'd like to have the opportunity - if it works for you and it's sensible in your career path - to have the opportunity to go and do something outside of the department for a year or so, and then come back in - can be an important part of personal development and it can't look like your taking a vacation.  It's got to look like you're doing something that’s essential to developing you as part of our armed forces. 


      Another little thing - not a little thing, but important thing - we change parental leave rules, also a couple months ago.  Now why did I do that?  Partly, I like to be nice to our people and I like to take care of - and taking good care of our people is an important thing, but the real reason was retention.  Because there are people who reach with their families a decision point, and they're trying to decide whether to stick with us or not stick with us. 


      And an important part of their thinking at that point in their lives is how does this fit in with how they manage their family.  So we're not sensible if we don't recognize that and do what we can do.  Now I can't do everything for them.  I can't promise them we're not going to send them where we need to send them. That I can't promise them.  Because that's going to be part of what we do, and I don't have any flexibility in that regard.  But where we have flexibility, we're going to try to exercise flexibility.


      I opened up all military specialties to women.  And that's really important because females make up - if you haven't noticed - half of our population.  And so, and we're an all volunteer force so we need to pick from the widest possible pool of people.  That doesn't mean that every body gets to do what they want.  It doesn't mean that everybody meets standards, and everybody gets selected, but the principal of the all volunteer force is we get to pick and choose.  That's why we have such good people.


      So there are lots of things we're doing, and this week I've had - been travelling around the country and kind of seen every link in the chain so to speak of getting our people - or at least some of our people.  I went to New England recruiting, talked to some recruiters there, because New England - talking about making sure we have people, we're fishing in all the ponds - New England has lots of kids who are graduating from high school and who are physically fit, but we're under represented there in terms of military recruiting.


      So I'm looking at, and saying hmm, we’ve got to get in that market.  Then this morning down at MEPS downtown, swore in seven kids, cute as can be, standing there with their right hands up.  They're all lined up and I say, I say state your name, and one of them states his name.  And I said, no everybody state your name.  We got through it. They got sworn in. 


      And then today to see those very same kind of recruits here, and what you put them through and turning them from promising young kids, but kids, into much more buttoned down people on their way to adulthood.  That's not easy.  And you do that.  I’m incredibly impressed with everything I saw and every one I saw.  Yesterday, the other end of things at Ft. Bragg, it's sending off the 18th Airborne Corps to beat ISIL, which we're going to do. 


      And off they go to Iraq and Syria, which is where ISIL was born, so we need to destroy it there.  We're going to destroy it there.  And then everywhere around the world, but we need to destroy it there also.  And that's what they're off to do.  So you can see in that just in a few days the whole sweep of what it's about with our people.  So I just wanted to commend you here, I'm very glad to be here.  Tell you how much I value what you're doing, how excellently you are doing.  Everything I see. 


      (Inaudible) join in the effort to continually improve ourselves, doesn't mean we're not doing a good job, it only means we could do it better.  And we got to keep thinking and keep pushing ourselves and keep stretching ourselves.  So that's what the Force of the Future's about.  I've got some great ideas today.  That's just how I figure out what it is that we need to do and should do.  Talk to people and hear from the people who are at the frontlines, and that's you.


      So I appreciate it, I appreciate your insights.  Please know how much I value you.  I told these kids our people are what I wake up for in the morning.  Every single day, you and all these kids and everybody in between.  So thanks for what you do in here.  With that, I think we have time, Peter, for a few questions.  Andrew, are you in charge?


      STAFF:  (Off-mike)


      SEC. CARTER:  OK, Tony's pointing to somebody.  OK, Peter, you're in charge.


      STAFF:  (Off-mike)


      SEC. CARTER:  Anybody.  It doesn't have to be a question, it could be a statement.  Yes, sir.  Mic coming.


      Why don't you just say it and I'll repeat it.  They can hear me.


      Q:  (Off-Mike)


      SEC. CARTER:  His question was, more upcoming in the Force of the Future.


      I'll give you some examples.  One I mentioned already, which is, as we look at the demography and the geographics of service, try at - see whether we have - if we are properly balancing or can rebalance our weighted effort to get into some geographies and some demographics that we are not in now where there are good people.  I mentioned New England just as one, but that just happens to be one.


      We are this wonderful American institution which is however not as well connected to American society - or automatically connected as it was decades ago.  You know, there was a draft, there was World War II, and generations go by.  So we have to work harder at connecting to the country. 


      We can't just keep taking people who are in the families of the people who were in - you know what I mean?  We need to push ourselves.  That's one thing you will see.


      Another one, another completely different example is ROTC and how we are managing that.  Again, it's a little bit of re-fishing in all the right ponds and giving everybody who could be really superstars for us the opportunities to do it. 


      Another thing I'm looking at is, professional education and training for people at your levels, who are our most sophisticated people.  Do we give them all the opportunities they need to continue to develop and get better as they get older?  All of us want to continue to learn; it's not just these kids. 


      Even at my age, I would like to learn things and get better.  Learning's moved from being something you do when you're a kid, and then you don't do anymore to something you do your whole life.  That's got to be a part of what we do as well.  So those are just some examples. 


      The bottom line is, our Force for the Future is across everything we do.


      I'll mention one other one, in managing people, look around us and see are we doing everything we can possibly do?  I'll give you one other example of it.  I set up a bunch of advisers to me, and one of the people I asked to advise us, is the guy who started LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.  Now, why did I do that?  The reasons is that, that's an interesting way of connecting people to jobs.


      So as we think about recruiting, as think about doing our personnel management and decisions about who goes where, I mean, we are still doing a lot of paper and people type processing.  It's not clear that we are completely up to date and that we are using the best talent management techniques that are available out there in this institution, which is the most important to the country.


      So we got to keep our antennas up here. All your, you know, and look out there at what's going on in the world.  We can't use everything because we are not a company, but we ought to look out there and say, "hmm, what are people doing out there that just might be useful to us?"  So those are some examples across the board.


      But you know, this isn't just me.  You all be thinking and drive yourselves, push yourselves to do things differently.  And if something isn't right, make a fuss about it, and we’ll try to change it. 


      Q:  (Inaudible) Lt. Cmdr. (inaudible) from the personnel support detachment. As you say, many of the Force of the Future initiatives and policy changes are focused on career flexibility and allowing for people to move in and out of the Navy.  So from a full force perspective, how are you adjusting for our manpower analysis and recruiting and training programs to account for this?  And ensure we have the right amount of people, training, and experience for operational requirements? 


      SEC. CARTER:  That's a good question.  I don't know whether everybody got that. 


      The question was, if were doing as we are doing -- looking at creative ways of changing how people come in and how people go out.   How is that going to affect the overall personnel management of the Navy in this case.  I think that's basically the question.  Excellent question. 


      I think the reality is that I think we need to take credit for the fact that in the main, we do a really good job.  We have a very good system.


      So for example, in the up or out system for example in the military is a good thing in general.  So I'm not -- in that particular case, we are not going to change that in its fundamental principle.


      The changes that we are making there are meant where it is too rigid and doesn't take account of some flexibility that could be made available to commanders that would mean -- when they knew they weren't doing the right thing, just because the rules said they had to do that -- they would have a little flexibility there.


      So I think we ought to be proud of the system we have.  And so I think in terms of overall manning the fleet, I think our basic system is a good one of recruiting, training -- the way we do both our commissioned and non-commissioned officer corps.


      I think the things that are going to affect force structure most in the future are not going to be our personnel management, they are going to be the mission that people.  And so, it's going to change the complexion of the people that we need and the skills that we need.  And it's going to mean that some of us are going to be asked to do new things.  We are going to have to be flexible throughout our careers because the mission of being a naval officer is going to change in the course of your career.


      I can't change you out because I can't go out in the street and hire somebody at your rank.  You have to grow that.  I know that.  We can do that in some cases for some specialties, but for the profession of arms at large, it's something that has to be - that starts when you're young and you develop those skills of command and experience over a lifetime and that matters.


      Q:  (Off-mike), over at training command. I was curious to see what are some of the anticipated challenges for the implementation of the transgender policy going forward.


      SEC. CARTER:  Yes, the question is, the implementation of the transgender - lifting the ban on transgendered for basic training.  Good question.  I did get a chance to walk through there today.  Two things about that.


      First of all, I have great confidence in the ability of the Navy command to implement this change.  I am giving them considerable latitude and time to do that.  But I have complete confidence that they will do it. 


      You might also ask, why are we doing this in the first place?  So let me answer that question.  There are a couple of reasons for that. 


      The first is, something I mentioned earlier, which is - we need to look around our country and make sure that we are tapping into every pool of talent we can and that we are retaining people on their merits and not retaining them for some other reason.  So that's important to mission effectiveness.


      The numbers here aren't large, it's not like women that are half the population.  It's a smaller population, but still an important population.  That's the first reason.


      The second reason is we that have transgender members in service today.  They are there.  And they are serving well.


      Their commanders are dealing with this issue, and without guidance from the department.  That's not fair.  It's not fair to the commander and it's not fair to the service member.  So it's right there.


      And the third reason is decency and fairness.  We - people ought to be able to serve and we ought to look at their service on the merits of how they accomplish the mission, period.


      And so those are the three reasons why.  I have complete confidence that we will do it.


      Admiral Richardson, the secretary of the navy, and all your leadership, will work that out.  But I am giving them considerable latitude because there are lots of different situations, and they need to think it through and have the proper procedures.  We are working through that.


      Q:  Thank you.


      SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.


      STAFF:  And so we're going to do the coins (inaudible).


      SEC. CARTER:  And now, I get a chance to thank you each individually, look in your face, shake your hand.  I will get a picture with you and get it for everybody.


      Just once again, to you, thanks.  Make sure your family knows that and just how incredibly proud I am of you.