Remarks by Secretary Carter to Reserve Officer Training Corps Midshipmen and Cadets on the Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Efforts at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Good morning, everybody.
Thank you, COL [Michael] Donahue appreciate that for your kind words, and for your leadership of the Hoya Battalion.
This is a great crowd, a big crowd for what's for many universities and many subsets of the student body would probably be an early morning. But not for you all, and certainly not for me. We have cadets here. We have midshipmen here from Georgetown, the University of Maryland, Howard University, George Mason, and George Washington University all here today.
Wonderful it's a privilege to be with you.
The reason our military is the finest fighting force the world has ever known is its people. And taking care of our people...whether that's in Afghanistan, on bases around the country, or studying here in the nation's capital...taking care of them is my highest priority. And I want to thank you, each and every one of you you and your families for your hard work and your service.
As you know, there's a lot going on in the world...and a lot on my plate as Secretary of Defense. We have challenges in Afghanistan, with ISIL, Russian provocations, cyber attacks. We're also working to reform how the Pentagon spends money, recover from 14 years of war, and at the same time build the force of the future.
All of that is in front of us. It's serious business...and I know all of you and all those American men and women in uniform, all over the world, who will hear this message take it seriously. And we can't let problems, including the scourge of sexual assault in the ranks, undermine that important work and our vital mission. Instead, we have to confront them.
Ending sexual assault in the military won't be easy. But none of you signed up for easy...instead, you signed up for ROTC. And in doing so, you volunteered for early mornings, plenty of runs on the Mall, weekends in the field, and classwork on top of already demanding course loads.
Ending sexual assault in the military will require leaders...leaders like you. You are part of ROTC programs with rich histories of leadership. Those commissioned out your programs have led troops into battle, become flag officers, served as Army Chief of Staff, and advised presidents and Secretaries of Defense.
You made clear you were a leader the moment you chose ROTC, and you'll be some of our brightest and best-prepared junior officers when you are commissioned. Because you're studying in Washington at a time when sexual assault has gotten much deserved attention on campuses, in government, and in military conversations, you will have the understanding and the urgency to be leaders on this issue as well as leaders in every other way for years to come.
And I am counting on you to become one of those leaders.
Now even though sexual assault is a disgrace in any form, it happens too often across the country, including on college campuses...it's a particular challenge and a particular disgrace to our institution the military for a few very important reasons.
The first is that our military is based on an ethos of honor, and this is dishonorable. And second, we're based on trust. We have to have trust. You have to trust in the soldier in the foxhole next to you. You have to trust in the sailor you're underway with. You have to trust in the airmen on your wing. And you have to trust in the Marine on your flank. And these violations and these assaults are not just violations of the law, they are violations of that trust, which is essential to our mission.
Next, we, of course, have to put people in situations that are unlike any other. You serve all serve in a rigid chain of command, and for good reasons. You'll likely be separated from your families for extended periods of time. And you'll probably, at some point, live and work in austere conditions. Those types of environments are essential. But unfortunately, they present opportunities for predators to put our people at risk and compromise our missions and our values. And so, our institution has a particular reason to combat sexual assault.
And last, we need to recruit the force of the future, and sexual assault is an issue for many of our potential recruits. They care about it. I was at my old high school a few weeks ago in an auditorium like this, talking to students. And one of the students asked me about this issue. She asked whether it was safe for her she wanted to be in the military was it safe for her to do? And I was sorry that she had to ask that question. But anyway, it's an issue. And we can't let sexual assault make our all-volunteer force a less attractive path for the next generation of talented, dedicated individuals that we need.
For all of these reasons and the threat sexual assault poses to the well-being of our men and women, the Department of Defense has been working pretty hard on this issue now for the past several years, implementing over 100 congressionally-mandated provisions and fifty Secretary of Defense directives.
We've made some progress. We've seemed to have seen some decrease in the estimated number of assaults, and we've seemed to have seen an increase in those reporting an assault.
But last year, we estimated that at least 18,900 servicemembers 10,400 men and 8,500 women experienced unwanted sexual contact. And two of them too few of them, excuse me...particularly men, reported these incidents as assaults.
So, altogether that's 18,900 too many. No man or woman who serves in the United States military should ever be sexually assaulted.
One reason the military is among the most admired institutions in the United States is because of our code of honor and our code of trust, and also because we're known as a learning organization...we strive to understand and to correct our flaws. And, as we have spent more time and resources to better understand sexual assault in the ranks, we've learned some lessons.
And here are a few of them:
* We've learned that prevention is the most important way to eradicate sexual assault.
* And we've learned prevention requires us not just to stop assaults, but also to stamp out permissive behaviors like tolerance for degrading language, inappropriate behavior, and sexual harassment that too often contribute to and lead to sexual assaults.
* And we've learned that even the perception that those reporting, trying to prevent, or responding to an assault may be retaliated against may be retaliated against is a challenge for all of us.
We've also learned that in addition to all our institutional efforts, eliminating sexual assault requires individual action. We need leaders in the ranks with the courage to stand up to behaviors that contribute to sexual assault, the courage to step up step in and stop assaults, and the courage to act when others try to retaliate against those reporting, responding to, or preventing an assault.
One key to prevention is to understand that sexual assaults often occur in environments where crude and offensive behavior, unwanted sexual attention, coercion, and sexual harassment are tolerated, ignored, or condoned. These behaviors detract from our mission and put our people at risk, and you have to be a part of the solution.
Now, it won't always be easy. But to learn how, I encourage you to take a look at our Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy we released last May. It provides ways to create for you as leaders an appropriate culture, meet standards of behavior, and uphold our military core values.
We have serious work to do. And I need you to say 'enough'...enough to dirty jokes, to excessive drinking, to hazing, to sexual advances, and to any suggestion that coercion is appropriate. I need you to intervene when you think an assault may occur. And, if for some reason you're concerned about taking action, I need you to get help... from a friend, law enforcement, a chaplain, or from a more senior officer.
Sadly, for too many of those assaulted, the crime is made worse by how he or she is treated after the attack...after they've reported it.
When victims are most vulnerable, their leadership and their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines need to stand by them in solidarity, not turn their back or turn away. We need those assaulted to have people they can count on. It may not be easy, but I need you to be one of them...in person and also online.
I know young people live their lives online, in many ways. You Snapchat...you tweet your every move, you share the day's news on Facebook, you Instagram pictures from events like the military ball you had this weekend.
And that's why I need you to be leaders not just in the line of duty, but online also. I trust most of you would intervene if you saw someone being bullied around the campus. But too many people let that stuff slide online we know that and sometimes offline, too. We can't allow those who do the right thing either in reporting an assault or standing up to stop one to be belittled on Facebook, ignored at chow hall, passed over at promotion time, or mocked in the officer's club. That's counter to the ethos you signed up for. And it's just plain wrong.
Now, our nation is looking to the Defense Department to lead boldly on sexual assault because they admire our institution and its values and its culture of learning. And every one of us has to know and do our part.
Stopping sexual assault will be a focus of my time as Secretary of Defense. But as leaders of the future force, I ask that you too make eradicating these crimes one of your personal missions. Foster a culture of prevention, response, and accountability...dignity, respect, and integrity. Communicate clearly about what's right and what's wrong in everything you do not just by your words, but also by your actions. Aim to make a difference in your units, throughout the force, and around the country.
None of this is easy, but you won't be alone. You've made great friends at ROTC and at your schools. Each of you will be a leader in this effort and support each other in this fight, as in others. And I want you to know I'm standing with you and expecting that of you.
Courage is infectious. I've been impressed by the courage of those who stepped forward with their stories of assault, and the courage of those who stepped in to protect their fellow servicemembers. Their examples give us all the courage to do our part. And when you do...because you do...your courage will, in turn, inspire others.
Thank you. And now let me take some questions.
Q: Hi, good morning. My name is (inaudible). I'm a sophomore here at Georgetown. I study economics.
First of all, thank you so much for coming to talk to us. It's a huge honor and great privilege to have you here.
My question is on a strategic level, if that's okay.
SEC. CARTER: Sure.
Q: How can we get Europe more committed to their own defense, given their low defense budgets, ongoing debt -- excuse me -- debt crisis, and especially in light of the war in Ukraine?
SEC. CARTER: Very good question. I don't know if everybody could hear that, but, first of all, the honor is mine, to be with you.
The question is European defense spending, basically how can we get the Europeans to do more. They're not doing enough. They are spending a smaller share of their GDP than they have in the past, that we do now, and that many, like Russia, are spending. It's too low.
And if Europe wants to be a force in the world, it needs to be more than a moral and political and economic force, which Europe is, because it shares many of our values and demonstrates them around the world. But it has to have the military power that goes to that as well. It has to have the military power to be a capable ally of ours.
And we see that slipping, and it's got to turn around. It's not that they don't have the money to do it. I realize that they're still suffering from the economic crisis to a greater extent or have recovered a lot less than we have in the United States. But they've got the money to do this.
I think when the Cold War ended, a lot of Europe figured that its security problems had ended. Now, they're beginning to wake up.
The Charlie Hebdo incident was a wakeup call. Russian behavior in Ukraine is a wakeup call. And you see what's happening in North Africa and the refugees coming into Southern Europe, which has many on the southern front of NATO concerned. You have Turkey, a NATO ally, right there on the front lines with Syria and Iraq and the fight against ISIL.
So it's not like they don't have plenty to do, and it's not like we have to do everything ourselves. So it's a very good question, and it's something that I press on them and the president presses on them to do and my predecessors did all the time.
And they've made some pledges to turn things around, get up to 2 percent of GDP each at the last Wales summit, and they've got to carry through on that.
Q: My name is (inaudible). I'm from the George Washington University.
I was wondering what skills do you think are important for officers commissioning now as opposed to those who commissioned 10 years ago.
SEC. CARTER: That's a really good question. I'm trying to give you a good -- good answer.
The -- I think one way to approach that, at least the way I think about it compared to earlier periods in my own career, is you will quickly find, as I have found, that the people you're leading are a generation younger than you, and you have to really stretch to understand what goes -- what's going on, what their lives are like, because things move so fast that every generation is – it gets different really fast.
And so I -- I can give you an answer from my point of view, and then you see if any of this is useful to you.
But as I look out on -- on all of you, I know you have grown up in an environment drastically different from mine in so many ways. And so I have to kind of find the common points with you, which are, to me, American values, military ethos, commitment to service. You find all of that in every generation.
But you've got to kind of see where people's heads are, how they spend their time, how you can reach them, what kinds of issues really matter to them. And it's -- it's -- that's why I talked about us being a learning institution. Leadership is a learning thing.
And you're constantly learning about -- you're going to command people who aren't like you, who didn't grow up like you, have a completely different background from you and -- but they're Americans, too. They're American service members, and you've got to try to understand them.
So it's a real stretch. And I can tell you, when you're my age, it's an even bigger stretch. But you, in the course of your career, eventually, you'll get here, too, will find it's -- it -- it gets tough. You have to think about it, and you have to commit yourself to learning about them so you can lead them properly.
Q: Good morning, sir.
SEC. CARTER: Good morning.
Q: Cadet Cunningham, Bowie State University.
I heard you touch on some of the challenges that are facing the Department of Defense, issues in North Africa and the Middle East and abroad.
I'm concerned with how we are supposed to maintain our fighting strength and continue to train effectively with the economic issues, such as sequestration, facing us.
SEC. CARTER: Really good -- really good question, and it's a big challenge to us.
Let me explain a little bit why sequestration is so bad. Sequestration is a sudden and arbitrary cut in the defense budget that we can't predict, and this comes up year -- year by year.
Now, as a manager, if you've got to suddenly cut your budget, where do you get the money from?
You grab the money mostly from readiness, because that's where you can get your hands on the money quickly, and you see our readiness go down, because training levels go down.
You begin to curb the rate at which you buy weapons systems, which drives up the unit price for them. You find yourself extending the period of contracts, which makes them more expensive.
In short, doing all kinds of stupid things that, if you had a longer period -- we still wouldn't like, of course, reducing our budget, even if we had extra time. But if we have some stability and some predictability, at least we could do it in an intelligent way.
Now, I believe that it's -- the suddenness and the level of sequester, we still have the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, and we will for a very long time. But we -- we -- we need to spend an amount of money that's adequate for the nation's defense and our missions around the world.
And this idea that you can skimp when the world is as tumultuous as it is and we have as much leadership responsibility as we do is false.
And the last -- last thing I'll say is, I'm always careful to say -- and I mentioned this in my remarks -- that at the same time, we have to show that we're aware that this is the taxpayer's dollar and that we spend it carefully. And of course, we don't always, right? We make mistakes, and there're cost overruns and so forth.
So I always try to say, "Hey, look. Here's the deal. You give us the defense budget" -- and by the way, the homeland-security budget, the law enforcement budget, takes a lot to make the country secure these days -- "You give us that money, and we'll do a better job at spending it."
And I'm as committed to that, to the reform side of things, as I am to fighting sequester. But I take every opportunity to condemn -- it's no way to run a government. It's no way to run the greatest country in the world.
Q: Thank you, sir.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you.
Q: Good morning, sir. (inaudible), Georgetown University.
Do you believe that when January of 2016 comes around, all positions in the military will be open to women, or do you think some will still remain closed?
SEC. CARTER: That's a very good question. I think most will. Maybe all will. I don't know.
And the reason I don't know is that the services that are working through the practicality of some of the most difficult MOSs and the most difficult -- most difficult from the point of view of reconciling traditional, at least, gender roles with combat effectiveness, unit cohesion and those kinds of things. Those are the things that people are grappling with.
I think they're grappling with them in good faith. I'm certainly grappling with them with an intention to do the maximum practical, because I think, for way too long, we have -- I think we've underestimated how well we can do.
And I talked about us being a learning organization. We can learn this, too. So I'm pretty optimistic.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. CARTER: Good morning.
Q: My name is (inaudible) from American University. Sir, our Army's current deployments in Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan are focused on training and building the military capacity of our allies.
Sir, how can we as future second lieutenants ensure the success of these missions, as opposed to traditional missions of engaging and destroying the enemy?
SEC. CARTER: It's a great question. And it is kind of the secret sauce of the American military that it not only prevails when it has to engage itself, but we are the best trainers and mentors of others in the world. We've just gotten really good at it. I mean, through sad experience -- Iraq, Afghanistan.
And it's important because we can't do everything. We can't keep the lid on everywhere. We can't combat extremism, terrorism, whatever, everywhere around the world. We need other people to do their part. An earlier question raised about it was raised about the Europeans, for example. But when it comes to other countries, we need them to keep the lid on, keep order, keep decency in their own countries. We can't be everywhere.
And so it's got to be part of our defense strategy and our military strategy to help others help themselves, because we just can't do everything ourselves. And I'm proud of how good we are at that. And I'm proud of also how rewarding people find it, that they can -- you know when they -- I've been pretty obscure places around the world in all the years I've been doing this.
And you know, you see an American unit out there in the middle of nowhere, training people. And it's really inspiring and they love it, by the way. They love it, because they can point to a unit that they trained and say, wow, that wouldn't exist, if it weren't for me. So it's a very rewarding part of work and it's necessary because it's kind of the force multiplier for our force.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is (inaudible) from American University. In the same vein that the Department of Defense is leading the nation on the issue of sexual assault, they also seem to be leading on the issue of climate change. With the recent report decisively naming climate change as a threat to our national security.
How, as someone with a scientific background, do you think our military is properly preparing itself and the nation for this threat?
SEC. CARTER: Well, it's a good -- good question. We're trying to. I can try to speak for us. I can't speak for the nation, as a whole, although there are efforts there, as well.
But why is it a challenge for us? It's a challenge for us because it changes the topography of the world. I mean, literally, islands wiped out threatens peoples' livelihoods threatened, which always leads to the possibility of violence and disturbance.
In the Arctic, it's a very significant issue, because whole new shipping lanes will be opened up. Whole new strategic vistas that we have long been a guarantor of Freedom of the Seas, Freedom of Commerce. And now we have a -- basically, a whole new ocean to guarantee that in. So many, many ways, drought, water shortages.
And so all these things put pressure on human beings around the world. That kind of pressure can lead to violence and we need to anticipate that, if we're going to do our part to make the world safer and ourselves secure. So it is a big deal and we're trying to stay ahead of it.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is (inaudible). I'm a security studies master's student here at Georgetown. I was wondering if you could speak as to how opening combat positions for women affects the military's fight to end sexual assault in the military? Are there particular challenges or perhaps opportunities for those to work together?
SEC. CARTER: Well, I think it's a very insightful question, because it -- you know, I think it actually cuts both ways. Obviously, as we get women into more unaccustomed positions, maybe dangerous isolated positions, maybe positions where they are fewer, in relation to the number of men. It opens up opportunities for predators, as I said earlier, that they don't have an ordinary life. They do have a military life, especially of that kind.
So on the one hand, it can lead in that direction. On the other hand, it -- I think it kind of signifies to -- everyone will get used to working, men and women together, to defend the country and do these things.
And I can't help but believe for many people, they'll learn better how to conduct themselves, how to interact across gender lines and so forth. And that will contribute to prevention and eventually eradication of sexual assaults. So you can see it kind of heading in two directions. Obviously, we want to have it head in this direction and not this direction.
In addition to, of course, the principle benefit is we get the benefit of more talented people eligible to serve in certain military roles. And as I said, people are the key. That's what makes our military. It's not the airplanes and the tanks and the technology and so forth. It's the people that make us the best.
Q: Good morning, sir. My name is (inaudible) from the University of Maryland. My question relates to your essay published last year in foreign affairs in which you said the Pentagon typically had issues reacting to threats on the ground immediately, for example, the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was wondering, what the Department of Defense is planning on doing for emerging threats right now, perhaps, like the UAV proliferation that's expected around the world, especially in the wake of recent budget issues?
SEC. CARTER: That's a great -- it's a great question. And that -- what I was pointing to as a challenge for us at wartime, is as your question indicates, also a challenge in peacetime or where you're not in a war, but you're trying to deter a war or prevent a war or prepare for a war, if one occurs.
For those of you who didn't read the article, what it was saying was that we had more difficulty than probably any of you would think, responding to the ever-changing needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were running into problems we had never run into before, like IEDs. And I was extremely frustrated at our institution's inability to rapidly adapt and adjust.
And why is that? Well, two reasons for it. One is that we come from a Cold War heritage base institutionally in which things change very slowly. And if you had a problem, you'd have a 10-year or a 15-year program. And you'd make this fantastic doodad 15 years from now and that would be okay. We need the things in 15 weeks, in the course of those wars. And the system just couldn't move that fast. And it was very frustrating to me and to my boss at that time, Bob Gates.
And the other thing is, you know, in Washington, people even in the Pentagon, get involved in Washington. They get involved in budgets and squabbles and testifying on the Hill and what's in the newspaper and so forth.
And I found that, every once in a while, you had to shake somebody and say, "Hey, remember what this is all about. These guys are over here risking their lives for us. Now get up in the morning and make them job one."
And of course, as soon as you said that, somebody will say, "Well, of course, I mean, I understand. That's why I love this institution. That's why" -- but you have to remind people more times than you think you would.
So, what does this mean for going forward? It means that, let me take the examples of China or Russia or Iran. Now, of course, nobody wants to have a conflict with any of those, but we have to be ready, because readiness is part of deterrence.
They're constantly changing, just like the Taliban did. They're modernizing, they're upgrading, they're changing their tools, their techniques. Because technology moves fast now.
So, in order for us to have a deterrent that keeps up with the pace of potential conflict, we need to be agile in a day-to-day basis, and we can't, with the wars winding down, go back to the old Cold War model. That was okay in the technology eras of decades ago and a slow and stodgy Soviet Union. It's not gonna work against today's advanced nation-states or terrorist groups.
So we have to be agile. We have to be agile. And we're still fighting that fight, and I am, in the department. We're getting better, but we're still not good enough.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
My name is (inaudible). I am a -- (inaudible) -- from the George Washington University.
My question to you is, first, what, specifically, does the administration envision for the United States Army in the pivot to Asia? And what are your concerns with the long-term viability of the pivot with regards to a continued crisis in the Middle East and now Ukraine.
SEC. CARTER: Great. That's a great question. Let me take the second part of that first, sort of what's the importance of the pivot or rebalance, as it's called, to the Asia Pacific?
It's as simple as this, half of humanity and half of the economic activity in the world upon which we depend is in the Asia-Pacific region. And so, much of our future lies there. And so, its security and our role in it are central to the American future.
And you have to keep that in mind, even though what's on, you know, TV every night is the Middle East. That's where there's a lot of violence. And I'm not belittling the importance of that, but you have to remember, when you're doing strategy, you have to remember what the fundamentals are.
And one of the fundamentals is this is an important part of the world. And so, the rebalance is trying -- was with a -- was a word used to signify our awareness that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, and even as the fight against ISIL begins and there's continued turmoil there, we have to, have to pay attention as a country to the Asia Pacific, because that's our future.
Now, you specifically asked about the Army, and it's a good question, because you, you know, get out your globe and look at the Asia Pacific, it's all water, right?
And so you think, well, it's all water and air, what's an army gonna do out there?
But actually the Army's found plenty to do. And one reason for that is almost all the militaries in the Asia-Pacific region are dominated by their armies. That's kind of history at work.
And one of the earlier questions was asking about partnership and building partner capacity and working with other militaries. Well, if we want these countries to be our friend, to be strong and stable and be able to stand up with us against threats, then we need to work with them.
And the Army has fantastic relationships with them. I take my hat off. They call it "Pacific pathways." And they're working out there in the Pacific, it's a great thing.
One last note is, you've always got to remember that the Asia Pacific has no NATO. There's no structure there for security. And in NATO, the wounds of World War II were healed, over decades, with France and Germany and the United Kingdom and so forth, all working together. And there was a structure there for reconciliation to be made after World War II.
That never happened in the Asia Pacific. And you still see them pointing fingers, and there's still a lot of residual hostility there. Why has the peace been kept in the Asia Pacific for decades and decades, which has led to all the prosperity there? Us. It's been -- the secret has been the pivotal role of American military power. That's what's kept the lid on.
And what the rebalance aims to do is basically keep that good thing going.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you.
Q: Good morning, sir. (inaudible) -- University of Maryland.
A lot of the focus for foreign affairs and all the crises have been in Asia, Europe and the Middle East-North Africa. What about South America and Central America? They're our closest neighbors and there's a lot of turmoil down there. What is our interaction with them?
SEC. CARTER: It is -- it's a very good question. And you -- it's -- your question's just a reminder -- I mean, if you're talking about the Asia-Pacific community, you can't take your eye off anywhere, because all the world is connected in a way it didn't used to be, and we have global responsibilities.
The -- for South America and Central America, instability fueled importantly by narcotics, the narcotics trade, is a centrally important dynamic there.
And it leads to terrorism, the founding of revolutionary groups, to migrants, illegal migrants into the United States and so forth. And it will be really unfortunate if we found -- let me put it this way, the kind of thing that you see every day in the Middle East in -- that close to our own borders.
So what we're doing there is working with the militaries of that region to try to build their capacity, make sure that they behave with the same skill, but also the same values that we do, which are necessary to long-term -- you can keep short-term order by force, but you want to keep long-term order, you have to be -- have some goodness behind it. And we try to instill that in them.
And it's worked incredibly well. I mean, the best example is Colombia. Colombia was a mess. And Colombia is a lot better now. It wouldn't be that way without the partnership of us and the Colombian forces and the Colombian government.
So we have some success stories here, but there's still challenges. And this is why you can't take your eye off any part of the world in my job.
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) -- will be your last question.
SEC. CARTER: Okay.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
One of the obstacles that's existed in previous sexual assault reporting cases is the fact that the jury, judge and executioner is oftentimes the same person within the chain of command.
And I was wondering what you thought of recent efforts to make the -- the adjudication process for sexual assault cases outside of the military or outside the chain of command.
SEC. CARTER: It's a good question. And that's -- it's been a point of study and debate and contention. And let me give you the two -- and it goes on. Let me give you the sort of two sides of the coin here.
One side of the coin is the one you say, namely that if there is a commander in the chain of command who isn't doing what I've asked you to do today, then, since it is the chain of command, because the military organization depends upon chain of command, we have a problem.
So we're attacking that in two different ways.
One is to make sure that they're fewer commanders who don't know what they're doing, don't know what their duties are or aren't aware of what their duties should be to carry them out properly.
And the second is to give an alternative to the victims and their helpers. And that's what some of our counselors and special-victim councils are about, to give another chain -- another -- not another chain of command, per se, but another avenue for reporting, redress, punishment and, above all, care for the victim.
The -- the other side of the argument is that chain of command is essential to our ethos, and if you don't hold people responsible for everything about their command, the welfare of their people, including sexual-assault prevention, that's not what we want from commanders. We want commanders who -- who have all of those responsibilities together. We consider it not only an important part of military proficiency but an important part of instilling the culture of proper command.
So we're trying to do that and, at the same time, we're trying to provide alternative avenues. That's the path we're trying to do now to balance.
But we're still studying it. It is still debated, as you probably know, and there are differences here in our military community and in Washington about the approach to it.
But that's the essence of it, is to try to have -- have it both ways -- have the virtues of a chain of command and a command culture without the possible abuses when you get a bad apple in the chain of command. That's kind of the essence of it.
Okay. Well, listen, let me thank you all first and foremost for being a part of our wonderful institution and for being the leaders that you will be in the future.
I hope you took on board this topic. It's a really important one for you to be on top of and to reflect in your conduct and in your command conduct.
We have great, great expectations of you. You're what make us great, and I'm confident, looking out on the faces here, that you'll make us proud in the future.
So thanks very much.