Carter Pledges Commitment to Troops, Describes Challenges at ‘Stand Up for Heroes’
In remarks at the 10th annual VIP reception for “Stand Up for Heroes” in New York City yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter lauded service members, veterans and families for their sacrifices and announced new Force of the Future outreach efforts to attract and retain the best talent in the nation.
The gala featured veterans’ advocates, military leaders and other champions of the military community at the fundraiser event to assist wounded warriors and their families.
“Each soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and veteran is dedicated, driven; they’re awesomely capable, and together they have made America’s the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter said. “We should all take pride in them … quite simply they do one of the noblest things a person can do, which is to help defend our magnificent country and make a better world for our children.”
Today, U.S. forces confront five unique, evolving challenges, Carter said.
“They’re countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe,” the secretary said. “They’re managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific, the single-most consequential region of the world for America’s future.”
Carter also noted U.S. forces strengthen deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile provocations. Additionally, he said, they’re checking Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Gulf region, and helping to defend allies in the Middle East.
American forces also are accelerating the certain defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Carter said, “destroying it and its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and destroying it in Afghanistan, Libya and everywhere else the ISIL cancer metastasizes around the world.”
Supporting Strength, Readiness
Carter pledged his commitment to America’s service members, specifically to their welfare.
“I’m doing everything I can to support the strength and the readiness of today’s fighting force, investing in the right training, the right force size, the right compensation and benefits that our troops deserve,” the secretary said.
DoD should spare no expense or effort to supply the tools to accomplish the mission and to protect service members, Carter said, whether with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles or with new lightweight combat application tourniquets that have saved countless troops’ lives.
The department should continue to assist service members transitioning to the next chapter of their lives, the secretary said.
Carter said that he’s “very gratified to see the way employers’ attitudes toward veterans have improved during the course of my lifetime.”
The secretary underscored the U.S. military’s need to attract and retain the most talented people the nation has to offer.
The DoD will strive to better communicate the value of military life, and carry that story to a broader range of audiences nationwide through social media, parents, coaches, teachers, and others who influence young Americans’ lives, Carter said.
The department will sponsor service member-volunteer initiatives in local schools to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the overall value and benefits of military service in support of its missions, the secretary said.
Force of the Future Links
Carter said Pentagon officials have continually developed Force of the Future links based on feedback through online communities and through in-person engagement with troops and military leaders.
He noted new on-ramps and off ramps, in which people outside of DoD can contribute to the mission for a project or period of time, and conversely, “more people in our military can spend time at a leading university or company to gain skills and perspective to make us better.”
The next link, Carter said, focuses on increasing military retention by supporting military families at a critical crossroads, such as when they’re starting or expanding their family.
“The majority of our force is married, and families are a big factor when our people decide whether to stick with us or not,” Carter said, noting in earlier remarks that 52 percent of the enlisted force is married as are 70 percent of officers.
The defense department has expanded maternity and paternity leave, extended childcare hours on base, and now offers more military families the possibility of extending their time in an assigned military community, the secretary said. “We’re making it easier and more desirable for military members and their families to stay with us,” he said.
Carter said DoD will attract, promote and retain the best possible officers by “infusing more flexibility into the system, and continuing to ensure that promotion is based as much as possible on all relevant kinds of merit and talent.”
Carter noted that though there are 2 million service members in uniform, there are also 700,000 civilians who support each of the service branches in various capacities.
“Not everyone will choose to serve in uniform and critical jobs await people,” he said. “By directly hiring civilians on college campuses, which we’re now able to do without the long waits for a job offer that make it nearly impossible for us to be their first choice.”
Other changes include the recent opening of all combat positions to women and lifting the ban on transgender service members, which Carter said facilitates the ability to draw from “100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer force,” and focus purely on a person’s willingness and ability to serve the country and contribute to the mission.
The department is working hard to bolster its veterans’ outreach programs and communications with the U.S. public.
“Because of the success of the all-volunteer force … many Americans have become less familiar with us,” the secretary said.
Staying Familiar to Younger Generations
Data taken from DoD-sponsored surveys of civilians indicate that almost half of all young Americans said they have little or no knowledge about military service, Carter said. And, as military recruiting trends shift based on where or whether their parents serve, Carter acknowledged the military’s recruiting pool is shrinking with more and more people coming from fewer and fewer states.
“Today, young Americans from rural areas are two times more likely to join the military than young Americans from urban areas,” the secretary said, “and 40 percent of those who join the military come from just six states, including New York.”
And, most U.S. military officers are from Northern states, while the vast majority of the enlisted force comes from southern states, Carter said.
A Family Business
The military is also starting to resemble something of a family business, in that those who have a parent who’d served in uniform are almost twice as likely to join the military as those who didn’t, Carter said.
Absent a familial tie, many Americans, Carter said, have only media upon which to rely for information about their military. He noted that while some popular images are true, they’re only a slice of the military’s jobs, lives and stories, “which in reality are as impressive, as varied as the more than 2 million men and women serving in uniform today.”
The final Force of the Future link, he said, is bolstering the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which in recent years has helped an additional 120,000 students benefit from its scholarships in areas such as cyber and military intelligence.
Carter also noted efforts to augment graduate school scholarships for law school and medical school for undergraduate college seniors, as well as DoD efforts to increase sponsorship for high school students to shadow ROTC students.
In building the Force of the Future, Carter expressed confidence the military will meet the challenges he described, keeping in mind what the linchpin to that success will be.
“Each of our service members and DoD civilians makes me incredibly proud,” Carter said. “There are almost 3 million of them, serving across this country and around the clock, in every time zone on Earth, in every domain: in the air, the shore afloat and even in cyberspace, all in service of this great nation.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)