Remarks by Secretary Mattis at National Guard Association of the United States Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks so much, ladies and gentlemen.

And just how sweet it is to be here with you in this all-American city.

You know, some things are work in this world, and some are just a downright delight, and this is a delight to finally spend some time with you.

Thank you, General Hoyer, for the best introduction, because it was the shortest I've ever had in my life.

(Laughter.)

A -- a man from West -- as I understand it, here, West by God Virginia.

(APPLAUSE)

I hear that -- understand you West Virginians like a brawl, and by now it has got to be in your DNA, since yours is one of the few National Guard units with campaign credit in the War of 1812 for service in the Indiana Territory.  Well done.  Indiana is still part of the Union.

(Laughter.)

General Milley, General Goldfein has arrived as well.  I understand General Lengyel, warriors all.

I want to thank you for being here, as well.  This is my opportunity, of course, to pay my respects to you.  I don't forget my debt to the National Guard over many years.  I also want to say that the generals in the active services and the National Guard, I would just tell you that the capable leadership you provide is critical to the defense of our nation and ensuring the Guard is ready.

General O'Shaughnessy, our NORTHCOM combatant commander, will join you too.  And believe me, he's one of our sharpest.  So we will be integrating you in the same way as we've done before, and looking for new opportunities to integrate you further.

I must offer my gratitude to our host, the Louisiana National Guard.  It's a pleasure to be back in New Orleans.  The first time, though, as the secretary of defense.  And it's a city redolent of the American spirit, of our diverse culture, our storied history, and certainly our unique music.

But I also remember its fighting faith.  I was first introduced to that, its fighting faith, when I was 8 years old; listened to Johnny Horton sing about the Battle of New Orleans.  A great history lesson right down to -- and I never quite figured this out, but powdering the alligators' behinds --

(Laughter.)

-- in the fight.

While I didn't understand it, ladies and gentlemen, that only increased the -- kind of the -- the image of that only increased my youthful respect for storekeepers and soldiers and militiamen, pirates and farmers who took up arms to defend this city back in the War of 1812.

I note that this is the first time the Association has met here since Hurricane Katrina, and a salute to this great city and its spirit.  That was a tough time, but you proved you were tougher.  And the National Guard was there.  And in such times, Americans always pull together, for we are too big of heart to do anything else.  And our joint military team was part of that effort.

It is a pleasure to be here, to be here and express my deep regard and my fondness for you, and pay my respects.

I also want to close any gaps between us, because by now I've grown rather remote from the young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, National Guardsmen.  I've grown remote by -- by nature of the -- of the position I now have.  But I would just tell you that, spread around the globe, you are some of the best ambassadors of the United States you could ever find.

You are the ones that carry on the tradition.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And I'll talk more about that role in just a minute.  But you are the ones who carry on the tradition of those rambunctious colonials who decided to pick a fight, at Lexington and Concord, with the Redcoats.

And remember, there was nothing sure about that.  Those are the same soldiers who, a few years later, would go on to humble Napoleon at Waterloo.

Yet whatever ranks we wear today -- or once wore, in my case -- we are, you and I, coequal in our devotion to this magnificent experiment that you and I simply call "America," and to protecting our people and our Constitution.

And I would make no mistake, here, that our people and our Constitution need protecting in this world that is awash with change.  And we can see the storm clouds looming.

So let me tell you, from my perspective, what we need from you.  The general noted our 2018 National Defense Strategy, the first National Defense Strategy in over a decade.

And that'll mark -- that marks America's emergence from strategic atrophy.  We recognize that great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary challenge to our national security, even as we continue the fight against terrorists, maniacs who attacked us on 9/11 thinking they could scare us if they hurt us.

Well, the National Guard and the rest of our military does not scare.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to talk to the group just a moment about our national strategy because it's not the Pentagon's national strategy, it's not even the military's national strategy.  It's our strategy.

It's our national strategy of the American people and should be subject to your review, and we are accountable to you, those of us who were assigned the responsibility to write it.

It's only got three LOEs (lines of effort).  I thought those ladies who sang the national anthem a few minutes ago gave one of the best renditions I've ever heard.  How about a round of applause for those ladies?

(APPLAUSE)

They're back behind the door, there.  They're back behind the door.  I hope they heard that.  I just thought it was beautiful.  I couldn't sing or dance, I ended up in the Marine infantry myself.

(Laughter.)

But that strategy defends everything that those beautiful young ladies just sang about in such wonderful voices.

First of all, the way we are going to address the challenges we face is, we are going to restore readiness across our force.  And you're considered every bit as much a part of that force as any active element. And we're going to build a more lethal force in the process.  That's the first thing we're going to do.

Secondly, we're going to strengthen alliances with partners and allies, and we're going to create new partnerships and allies.  Recalling that in our revolution, that we had allies like the French, the Polish and the Germans who came to our support and helped us create this country.

The third line of effort is, we're going to reform and modernize our department for greater performance, accountability and affordability.  And one point I would make is we have tremendous bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

Eighty-seven percent of the Congress voted a couple weeks ago for the National Defense Authorization Act, 87 percent, Republican and Democrat.  They are with you.  The Congress is with you.  And that's because we are going to be accountable for every dollar we spend to build their confidence in the budgets that they have been providing.  That's the third line of effort.

But I want to talk, first about lethality because everything we, in this room, do must contribute to increased lethality and militaries in history that lost sight of that lost battles.

Americans, we Americans, we have no God-given right victory on the battlefield.  So we need you, my fine young National Guardsmen, at the top of your game.  Lethality begins when we are physically, mentally and spiritually fit to be evaluated by the most exacting auditor on earth.  And that auditor is war.

Standards are standards; we cannot have people who are over their fighting weight coming out of boot camp.  We cannot allow the enemy to steal the march and we must not be unprepared when destiny, in the form of M-Day, of mobilization day, taps us on the shoulder, for then it will be too late to do we could have done before.

Readiness means being most ready when our nation is least ready.  And readiness depends on preparation.  Look at the pictures of Baton to see what happens when war catches a nation unprepared.  Read, "This Kind of War," by Fehrenbach, for a glimpse of the butcher's bill we paid in Korea for being unprepared in 1950.

And remember too, since most of you are leaders here in this room, remember to, that attitudes are caught, they're not taught.  They're caught from you, the leaders, who must exhibit readiness to your units, your own personal readiness and establish our standards and hold strong or we will pay a price, history is very clear on this.

So, you must make our Guardsman fit in body, mind and spirit by modeling it yourselves, treating every month as if it were the last month of peace, the last week of benign behavior from Mother Nature.

We need you fit, deployable and team players, never advantaging yourself at the expense of your comrades.  And remember that Mother Nature has thrown her worst at us these last 18 months, from category for hurricanes that span a range of 2,200 miles impacting 30 million people from Texas to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And that we've seen the worst wildfires in our history, going on right now, with National Guardsman on the front lines.  There's no reason to think that Mother Nature will not throw more of the same in the coming months, so be ready.

Our governors, our president and our people expect you to be the varsity when varsity level problems appear.

So lethality, readiness all go hand-in-hand.  Our second line of effort, this department is laser focused on strengthening alliances and building new partnerships.  I've fought many times on many battlefields.

I had a great privileged to do so.  I have never fought in an all-American formation in history.  History is very clear, nations with allies thrive.  Those without allies die.  It's hard work and Churchill said it best, he said, "The only thing harder than fighting with allies, is fighting without them."

So, I had that privilege to fight many times, but I will tell you, that having allies at your side is a great, great asset when the chips are down.

I would point out that you Guardsmen have a unique opportunity to build connective tissue and confidence with partner nations, military to military, human heart to human heart, through the state partnership programs.

Last week I was in Latin America, where your units are building regional stability as we speak.  In Brazil, one of the subjects I discussed with my counterpart would be how to craft one of the most important strategic relationships that we face with that nation that is coming of age.

In Argentina, troops from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia were training alongside troops from the Andes and the Pampas.

In Chile, the Texas National Guard is being requested to enhance defense cooperation with a key Latin American Pacific partner, specifically on protection of Chile's cyber domain, an area of concern, I might add, increasingly shared by every democracy that I speak with.

In the Middle East, when Jordan led a retaliatory strike against ISIS for torturing and burning alive a pilot who had been shot down, that strike was planned and led by a Colorado Air National Guardsman, flying wingman to the king of Jordan; our National Guard, building confidence in a key ally's brave leader.

Similarly, Alaska's Air National Guard has provided critical support to Mongolia as it develops a new air force capability.  And remember, Mongolia had a choice of partners in this, the U.S. or their close neighbor, China, or perhaps their other close neighbors, Russia.

They chose America because they trust us, thanks to you Alaskans who worked this for years, building trust one day at a time.  This is not a one-time mission, and the Guard is uniquely suited to sustain allied efforts over many years, thanks to the amount of corporate continuity that you maintain in your ranks.

Your relationships establish that continuity between our country and those we will work with or fight beside when future challenges arrive, if we can hold their confidence.

In all of this, ladies and gentlemen, trust is your coin of the realm.  If you cannot establish trust across units, civil military lines, service lines or with allies and partners, then your leadership is obsolete and you're of more use to the enemy than you are to your own nation.

We have no room for arrogance or complacency as we defend this great big democracy.  Now, I recognize that not every ally or partner has the same capability or training standards that we have.  So you must see what partners can do, and not focus on what they can't do.

As a two-star commanding general of a division in Iraq, my headquarters was guarded by Tongan marines.  Now, could they have done as well as my U.S. soldiers or U.S. Marines in fire maneuver?  No.  They hadn't had the experience and we tried to train them up but they did not have everything it took because for -- the nature of their organization from that, out in the Pacific island.

But I would tell you, too, they took a load off of us which allowed me to put more of my Marines in the field, and they all bring something to the table if we'll simply open our eyes and find it.

I need you to be open to being persuaded by foreign nations, not just to listen to them.  Recognize that not all the best ideas in warfare come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers.

When the tough times comes and the thin veneer of civilization is stripped away from us, we are tempted to close ranks, interacting only with those who look like us, dress like us, speak like us, think like us.

You must not fall into that trap because trusted and honest allies have always got their disagreements between themselves, politically or on some economic issue.

But military to military, those who believe today's debates are unprecedented have not read enough history.  These things have always happened, but we have been able to fight together on the battlefield with like-minded nations.  There's nothing new under the sun.

We certainly faced nothing more complex than the Suez crisis of 1956 or the Ural missile debates of the 1970s, so I need you to use your example and your persuasive force of personality; your example to make our allies and our partners sense that they are valued for what they bring to the fight, reminding them by your word and deed that they can count on us in bringing out the manhood in their troops, and sharing their confidence that builds theirs.

As I said before, our world is awash in change.  It's a time of great promise, but it's also a time of great peril.  For our experiment in democracy to long endure, our country needs citizen soldiers willing to go, as the poet puts it, "far from the well-lit avenues of life," when called upon.

What does that look like?  Go back to Fehrenbach.  The noted military historian from Texas, himself a veteran of the Korean War, writes, "Without its tough spearman, Hellenic culture would have had nothing to give the world.  It would not have lasted long enough.  When Greek culture became so sophisticated that its common men would no longer fight to the death, as in Thermopylae, but became devious and clever, a horde of Roman farm boys overran them."

In our brilliantly colorful history of America, we have had many patriots of undaunted courage willing to fight to the death so that America, on its worst day, could still stand as the shining city on a hill.

Thomas Baker, Jr. was one of them.  A kid from upstate New York who grew up along the banks of the Hudson River, Baker began his military service in 1935 in the New York National Guard.  He ended it in 1944 in a place called Saipan during the Mariana Islands Campaign.

By then, Baker had made sergeant, demonstrating heroism in several tough fights.  But two days before the Battle of Saipan ended, Sergeant Baker was wounded in a heavy Japanese assault.  As he was being carried to the rear -- to the rear, the soldier carrying him also went down wounded.  Baker refused to be carried any further, saying he would rather die than risk his brothers' lives, he asked them to sit him down against a tree and go on without him.  He also asked for a pistol with eight rounds of ammunition, and a cigarette.  When last seen alive, Sergeant Baker was propped against his tree, calmly smoking a cigarette, pistol in hand, facing the direction of the enemy.  He was later found in the same position, the pistol empty.  Eight enemy soldiers lay dead around him.  His cigarette had burned down to the butt.

Sergeant Baker fits the bill for Fehrenbach's common man.  He was not too sophisticated to fight to the death to save his friends.

So today, you Guardsmen are stewards of his legacy, just as you are stewards of the legacy of those Minutemen in New England.  I have every confidence that you will carry their spirit forward in the days to come, no matter what the challenge.

Thank you for taking up the patriot's burden, and what I would like to do is take a few questions here in my effort to close the gap between us.  Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, again, thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, as the secretary said, we've planned for the secretary to take some questions.  So if you'd like to come down to the microphones.

And Mr. Secretary, if I could, I'll ask the first question.  You have many of the leaders of the National Guard here.  I know you can't get to every member of the guard.

If there's a particular message that you would like these leaders to take back to the men and women of the National Guard, what would that be?

SEC. MATTIS:  I think the most important thing right now, ladies and gentlemen, is we have got to recognize that the overmatch we once enjoyed technology-wise, that sort of thing, as you know in this information age, has dissipated.  Many nations have capabilities that, a few years ago, we alone had.

So there are human factors, human qualities that we are going to be more reliant on than ever.  And I think if I was to sum up the two most important, it would be initiative and aggressiveness.

As you promote people, we need to find people with those qualities because institutions get the behavior they reward.  We need young NCOs and young officers promoted who are not only showing initiative and aggressiveness, but are given license to use their initiative and aggressiveness and get out in front and leading on standards.

So I would search for those two qualities and promote it wherever possible.  Thank you, gentlemen.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, I believe we have a question in the center here.

SEC. MATTIS:  Okay.

Q:  Yes, sir.  Lieutenant Colonel Sanchez with the New Mexico Air National Guard.  I want to thank you for speaking tonight, and I completely agree with our need for readiness and lethality.

But I believe --

SEC. MATTIS:  Hey, General.  Promote that man.

(Laughter.)

(APPLAUSE)

Q:  I believe the Guard is uniquely poised to also defend the homeland.  And with 72,000 deaths due to drug overdose, how do you see the continued support of the National Guard Counter-Drug Program including the Army Lakota Program and the Air RC-26 Program?

Because our law enforcement agents are always requesting from the military our intelligence support and our aviation support.  And those seem to be the big ones that really help our law enforcement out.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  This opioid crisis, we -- we have a kind of a two-pronged challenge, as far as the drugs go.  We are in complete support of DHS, Department of Homeland Security, on this, of the U.S. Marshals who are working it inland, of the Border Patrol.

And where we can provide some sort of backup for them, where we can provide intelligence, support, that sort of thing.  Of course we stay out of any kind of law enforcement when it comes to inside our own nation.  That is not a -- a military function.

But you see it where we have more National Guardsmen providing the very kind of support you're talking about on the border right now, when you look at (inaudible) South down in the Florida Keys, you see what we're doing right now.

And we stay very, very attentive to what else -- what other kind of support they could use.  For example, Secretary Nielsen and I meet probably easily once every week or two.  Our staffs are meeting literally daily on these issues, and we look for what is the specific need that they have.

I don't want to just throw capability to them.  I want to know, right down to the detail, what they need and what we can be providing for them.

We'll continue to do this right now.  I can tell you that she is completely satisfied with the support.  We are increasing some of the overseas support about -- well, let me just say in certain countries, it's been requested by those national leaders, so it's not just about here in the homeland, either.  It's also trying to make a forward presence to try to interrupt this drug scourge that's coming to the country.

But right now, it's, of course, inside countries led by DHS, and we're -- we're very responsive to them.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, I think our next question is off to your left.

SEC. MATTIS:  Okay.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hoyle, Delaware Air National Guard.

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Sir, a lot of what we're doing here is really promoting our equities to assure the National Guard are full partners.  One of the challenges that we face, both Army and Air, is older, outdated equipment.  We can't -- by 2020, we won't be able to fly C-130s overseas.  We got outdated alpha models, and Black Hawks, and I can go over, and over, and over again -- recapitalization to fighters, as well as ground pounders having the right equipment to keep them safe, fighting the fight.

So my question is, how we assure that the National Guard stays relevant, as we continue to battle and fight, not only our near-peer competitors, but also, the -- violent extremism?  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, it's a -- it's a great question, and when President Trump came into office, he was adamant that we were going to restore readiness, and he didn't say of only the active force, or only the Reserves, or only the National Guard.  He said, "We're going to bring the whole force back up."

Now, what we've added, as I mentioned earlier, is bipartisan support by Congress for what can only be considered record-breaking budgets.  The amount of money that we have achieved, $700 billion for this fiscal year coming up, or this fiscal year; $700 and probably, 16, Maybe 19 billion for next year.  The idea is to raise the capability of all of our forces.

What you’re talking about is not unique to the Guard.  What you're talking about, as far as a lack of readiness in the past, could have characterized all of our forces.  So we're engaged on raising the forces.  Obviously, the first out the door are the ones that are getting the front of the line, and we'll keep right on raising everyone, including the Strategic Reserve.  And due to an absence of alternatives, the Strategic Reserve, which is critical to this nation, is heavily invested in all of you.

So this is going to be a rising tide that raises everybody, and we've got the joint chiefs, who meet together.  We make certain that those prioritizations are in the best interest of the strategy, and we're pressing on.  I just can't thank Congress enough for their willingness to take a lot of political heat.  In many cases, people are running for office this fall, as they've funded for the -- for the -- the democracy's military at a level that we have never seen before.

So we're working it, and we've got the challenges, the readiness problems across the force -- active reserve, National Guard, and we will get it up, but it's going to take some years.

Q:  Thank you, General.

SEC. MATTIS:  Sure.

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, to your right, and I'll point out, it's the adjutant general of Indiana, who, as you pointed out, West Virginia came to help out in 1812.

(APPLAUSE)

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Major General Courtney Carr of Indiana.  And on behalf of the great state of Indiana, we want to thank the -- the West by God Virginians for -- for the assistance back in 1812.

(APPLAUSE)

Mr. Secretary, we have National Guardsmen deployed in every combatant command around the world.  I've got -- personally, I've got airmen in Niger.  We're in Gitmo.  We're in Kuwait.  We're in Iraq.

Our soldiers and airmen want to be relevant, and my units that have the highest levels of retention and reenlistment are those units that are conducting relevant missions for our nation.  And so my question to you, Mr. Secretary, is how do you see the operational reserve in maintaining the Guard as the primary combat reserve, and keeping us relevant, and keeping us in the war fight, where our soldiers and airmen want to be?  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, I think what we've got to look at here is not breaking at the same time, with all the enthusiasm, as you point out, that you have for those who are actively engaged; not breaking the social compact on the other hand, with -- with our folks, because they're not in their civilian jobs enough to stay competitive for promotion.  They are citizen soldiers.  They're -- they're living two lives, and we're grateful for it.

But at the same time, between the Strategic Reserve, which only you, frankly, can carry out, and the operational reserve, I think that what we see is between the state partnership program and the active operations that we're engaged in, there's going to be a continued knock on the door for the National Guardsmen.  That's just the way it is.  It's -- it's burned into our DNA by now.  It's been proven on the battlefields by now, and by now, we recognize there's also a value to making certain that Guardsmen don't go 20 years and never deploy, and wonder why they lose a sense of purpose.

It's a balancing act.  We're going to need all of you adjutant general to make certain that what we're doing is using them right.  We also have strategic decisions to make about the Strategic Reserve, because at any point, we get much smaller in the active force, it's going to become a purely operational reserve, and now, we lose our Strategic Reserve, which we must have.

There is no way that you can anticipate everything that's going to happen in the world.  So you can have everybody committed and say, "Oh, my gosh," when one more thing comes up, and now, we're in a -- we're in a -- well, you know where we're at, at that point.  And so --

(Laughter.)

I'm trying to clean it up, Chaplain.  You know --

(Laughter.)

But -- but you -- you -- you all have proven to be a Godsend.  We just have to make sure we're not getting sloppy on the use of them.  But believe me, there'll be plenty of fighting.  Don't -- don't worry about that, General.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. MATTIS:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, next question is center and left.

Q:  Morning, Mr. Secretary.  My name is Tim Reisch.  I'm the adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard.  Thank you so much for -- thank you for coming to see us here this morning.

My question is about the budget, and I know we've got a two-year budget here awhile ago.  We're kind of coming down the home stretch for the -- for the next fiscal year budget.  Might be a C.R., but I think we're -- feel confident we're going to get a budget that is what the DOD needs.

I'm concerned about the out years, after this two-year budget deal is over.  People are talking about the real reality of probably a reduced budget.  And when I came in as stag seven and a half years ago, there was budget cuts, and -- and the Guard was not getting along very good with big Army and big Air Force.  And we all get along great when there's plenty of money, but it's harder when -- when there's budget cuts, because we have differences of opinion.

So sir, I would be interested in your -- first of all, I want to reach out to you and say that the 54 National Guards, we've got direct connections to the 535 members of the Congress.  I can pick up the -- a phone any day, get a member of Congress on the phone, and get signatures, and really, rally support.  And we get a big state like a California, or -- or Texas.  They -- they can really provide some muscle.  So I would tell you, don't leave that on the table.

But going forward, I'd like to have -- get your input on, what do you think is ahead past fiscal year '19?  And what can we do to help you, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  Well, it's a great question, General.

I did not go into line of effort number three, ladies and gentlemen, out of the interest of time with you.  But that one, where we're going to perform our DOD budget mission -- and it is a mission -- with a higher degree of affordability and accountability.

For the first time in 70 years, we are going to conduct an audit of every bit of money that we're spending in DOD.  We're going to find problems, and I'm going to correct every one of them.  But this is part of how I can look Congress in the eye and say we're accountable for what we're doing.

So part of this is to make sure we build confidence in the Congress, that we're spending the money wisely for what they gave it to us for.

If they don't feel that trust, all the phone calls in the world are eventually going to be talking into a well, because they just can't stand the heat if we're buying, you know, $600 toilet seats, you know -- you know the old story.

It is a joint force.  It's -- it's absolutely a joint force.  And none of us can avail ourselves of some advantage at the cost of some other part of the force.

I'll guarantee you, the faster you remember:  I don't have stress, I create it.  Okay?

(Laughter.)

(APPLAUSE)

The surest way --

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For example, your -- your general, he sits on our Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The surest way that I'd find a new man for the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- or woman -- would be to find one of them availing something for themselves that was not in the best interests of the joint force.

I still remember Admiral Mullen, when he was the chief of naval operations, fighting like the dickens to increase the size of the U.S. Army, which was deep in combat in Iraq at that time and not big enough.  And you all will remember those days, when you were activated for 15-month tours overseas in the combat zone.

And there was the chief of naval operations fighting for the Army's budget.

That's what I expect from everybody:  that we pull together.  Nobody goes into self-advocacy mode.  I have no time for it, and I'll -- I'll be dismissive of it.

But I would also point out, the U.S. Congress right now, for all that you read, ladies and gentlemen, about how the country's being torn apart, okay, we're going through a rather raucous time in our democracy.  That's nothing -- that's nothing all that brand-new, and we'll pull together.  We'll rediscover the common ground, we'll pull together.

But the U.S. Congress has already proven that.  When you get 87 percent, we're in good shape.

But you point out that the Budget Control Act comes back into effect here, and you're exactly right.  I expect generals to be the sentinels for their forces, watching for these kinds of things.

In this case, I'm going to try to use savings inside the department, that this audit's going to reveal, to continue to increase the budget for the lethality and the warfighting piece as we cut out other things.

It's going to hurt in some cases, but we're going to have to do it as we adapt to this brave new world.

So internal solutions are what I want to go forward with, while building trust on Capitol Hill that we really are taking care of the money.

Does that answer your question, General?

Q:  Yes, sir.   Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  Thanks for the question.  Very good.

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, that was all the time we had planned for questions.  But we greatly appreciate you again coming to visit with us.

SEC. MATTIS:  Let me just say one thing to you all.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- I've gotten to the point --

(APPLAUSE)

Ladies and gentlemen, you know, we're a great big rambunctious country and -- and I've grown remote from so many of you who carry the rucksacks and strap into the cockpits.

And I just want you to know, I may not know you personally, but I know every one of you can be off spending your time with your family on picnics instead of weekends wearing a uniform.  You could be off, you know, enjoying vacations and being home for the holidays, but in fact you're in Lithuania, getting them ready for the NTC rotation coming up that just -- you all just went through.

So while I don't know you personally, ladies and gentlemen, let me just tell you that I don't forget my debts.  I know it was just good fortune -- I mean, I was -- I was a pretty average Marine.  It was just good fortune that put me here.

And let's hold our Gold Star families close.

And I salute you from the bottom of my heart.  I'm grateful for the commitment that you are making.  And I will do my best for you.  That's the best I can tell you.

So God bless you and our beautiful country.  And those three ladies who sang the national anthem, that's everything we stand for.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)