Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event in Miramar, California

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Well, thanks to Colonel Holmes for that. 

 

General Rocco, for having me here. 

 

                And thanks to each and every one of you for what you do for us every single day. 

 

                You’re at a pivotal time and a pivotal place for our country and our Marine Corps.  And this is why, when I was talking to the commandant, Bob Neller, about the budget, which is an important topic, obviously, we’re going to be releasing it very shortly.  But more generally, when I was talking to Bob about all of the management challenges and command challenges that we try to work through together for the Marine Corps, he thought that this was a great place for me to come and get a feel for the opportunities we have to invest in the Marines, which we’re doing this year, making some important investments.  I’ll tell you what they are in a moment. 

 

                But why is that?  Why is this place central and pivotal at this time?  We’re making a strategic transition in our military today because we are realizing and we have the capability and the determination and we’re going to get the funding to both deal with the threats that we face today, and they’re very real.  You guys know this because you’re the -- you’re the first to fight, as the Marines always have been.  And it ranges from the need to defeat ISIL and to accelerate that defeat of this group, this has got to go -- right up to things like, you know, this week people are watching North Korea.  We watch North Korea every single day and have for, what 60 years, and you do that. 

 

       We have to -- at the same -- so at the same time you have to be ready for today’s fights, we’re also trying to make you and the rest of the force ready for tomorrow’s possible fights.  That includes high-end potential competitors, including countries we don’t want to have a war with but deterrence is important.  That includes countries like China and Russia that have very -- spend a lot of their militaries and with which we have a sometimes competitive relationship and we need to be ready and make it clear to them and anybody else who might come along in the future that if you tangle with the United States, probably better not to do that in the first place, and if you do, you’ll regret it.

 

                That kind of full spectrum of capability is what we need from the Marine Corps today.  And we thought that my being here at this time would both help me further inform myself, but more importantly, because I follow what you do very closely, signify the changes and their investments we’re making.

 

                The -- you have all tight model series out here, I mean, spectacular breadth of capability in the Marine Corps today.  I wanted to particularly speak to readiness to you because you are kind of the beating heart of readiness for the Marine Corps and so you see everything that is involved in keeping high readiness; crew proficiency, airframe availability.  And in that connection, airframe availability and just generally maintenance and readiness overall, particularly in Marine aviation, that’s an area where we’re making investments in this year’s budget. 

 

                And there are kind of two ways you do that.  One is by investing more in maintenance itself, it depot maintenance, in parts, spare parts, and I’ll say more about that, especially with respect to the F-18.  We’re increasing funding for depot maintenance for F-18s in recognition, which some of you know who work with F-18s, the -- particularly for the older models that we’ve worked extremely hard, they’re more challenged in the maintenance sense than we had anticipated and we need to -- we’ve got a backlog in the depots that we need to catch up with.  That takes money.  We’re going to fund that. 

 

                Elsewhere in the tactical air fleet, another way to deal with maintenance for the long run is to hasten the arrival of the new, then you don’t have to maintain the old, right?  And in that connection -- I announced this yesterday -- we’re increasing the pace at which we’re buying the Joint Strike Fighter.  Both the Navy and the Marine Corps variant will be buying more of those than we had planned in the next few years so that we hasten and more forward the arrival of that terrific aircraft right over there where -- which has reach IOC at this place, which is a huge achievement, by the way.  That’s a spectacular aircraft and an enormous amount of work went into making that aircraft successful.  And there were times when, you know, it took really a great deal of work on the part of everyone, but there it is and there it is at IOC. 

 

                So that’s another way that we can address the readiness issues for the Marine Corps.  And I think I wanted you to know that I was aware of them and that we were taking action in both of those respects, both putting more money into maintenance itself and also more in to accelerating the buys of new aircraft.  And I can say the same thing about the CH-53K and so forth and all the other aircraft that are represented around here because we need very high readiness in the Marine Corps.  We need it everywhere but we need it in the Marine Corps because you are the first to fight.  You’re our ready alert force.  You accomplish that mission all the time but because we’ve called on you to do that a lot, you’ve worked yourselves and also your equipment very hard and so we’ve got to catch up a little bit to the maintenance. 

 

                I wanted you to know that we are paying attention to that.  And also, importantly, to the full spectrum training necessity that has to do with the fact that we need to be ready for today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights and for relatively low-end but still necessary-to-win conflicts, right up to higher end.  For the Marine Corps, that means combined arms, full spectrum training.  That’s mostly done at 29 Palms and I wanted you to know that I’ve -- we’ve also addressed that and our budget addressed that to make sure that we fully fund combined arms training, which is full-spectrum training for the Marine Corps. 

 

                It’s important to get back to that because we spent many years of necessity training specifically mostly for COIN, right, and because of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now we’re making the transition to a wider spectrum of needs, and so we need you and the Marine Corps, generally, to be trained to that wider spectrum and that requires combined arms training.  That’s the kind of thing that’s done down at 29 Palms. 

 

                So those are some of the highlights for the Marine Corps budget.  We’re specifically making investments in the Marine Corps because of the necessary role it plays in our defense strategy.  And we’re making specifically, among others, the investments I’ve described to you, because they’ll show up right here and they’re relevant to what you do right here. 

 

                So I wanted you to know that, but the main thing I want you to know is how incredibly proud I am of you.  You are what I wake up for every day.  We have the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  I’m exceptionally proud to say that.  We’re -- and we’re -- it’s important that that be true, not only today but tomorrow, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.  And that’s why investing in equipment, investing in people so that the people that come after you are as good as you are.  That’s why we’re constantly thinking about how we manage people, how we attract people, how we retain people, so in every generation we keep people who are -- and get people and keep people who are as good as you. 

 

                But you get to wake up every morning and do the noblest thing that any person can do, and that is defend their people, defend their country, defend the great civilization represented by our country, and also make a better world for our children, and that’s pretty great, wake up and be part of something bigger than yourself.  That’s a great feeling that you all have that I share with you and it makes me immensely proud of our country, and especially proud of the wonderful Department of Defense. 

 

                What we can do now is I’ve got some time and, first of all, to take some questions, or if it’s not a question, maybe it’s comment, something you think I ought to know, whatever you want to say.  And then I’d like to get a chance to get a look at you, each individually look you in the eye, shake your hand, give you a coin and tell you what I just told you; thanks.  And it’s not just thanks to you.  So next time you’re in touch with your family, whoever it is, a spouse, parents, kids, whatever, pass it on to them so they know that I know that behind you is a family and also they know how proud our country is of what you do for us. 

 

                OK, any questions?  And I think there’s a mike that can circulate around.  We’ve got somebody right here.  Where is it?  Hi.  I’ll repeat it. Go ahead. 

 

                Q:  (OFF-MIC)

 

                SEC. CARTER: OK, it’s this -- so the question was, with all that’s going on, where do you think the Marine Corps will be employed next, number one?  And what are the most important threats to our future?

 

                So let me take the first one first.  And by the way, you cited both counter ISIL and North Korea.  For sure we, and that means you, too, we, the -- are going to be involved in fighting ISIL.  We need to do that in Syria and Iraq because that’s where -- I call this like a cancer.  That’s where the parent tumor is.  It needs to be destroyed there so that it’s clear to everybody there is no Islamic State based upon these principles. 

 

                We have to recognize also this ideology and -- has spread to some other places and so we’re going to need to take care of it there.  And we’re going to need to defend ourselves here at the homeland.  I’m certain the Marine Corps will be involved in that.

 

                If, to get to the other part of your question, God forbid, something happens on the Korean Peninsula, and we stand ready every day to make sure that the North Koreans understand that’s not a good move for them.  But the reason that they should believe that and be deterred is that they know the awesome capability that will surely defeat them, and that very much would involve the Marine Corps.  Again, I say God forbid simply because that’s a very big war and they -- so it’s not something that you wish to occur but we have to take everything seriously.

 

                And then I wish I could tell you everywhere in the world we will be.  We almost never get that right and that’s why our strategy has to be broad.  We have to be ready for lots of things.  And that’s why full-spectrum readiness and the well-rounded capabilities of the Marine Corps are so important, because I can’t give you a fully accurate answer to that.  And you’re an intelligence specialist so you know that even with all the information you know, we can’t give a full answer to that.  So we’ve got to be ready for lots of stuff.

 

                Q:  (OFF-MIC)

 

                SEC. CARTER:  OK, so the question was about Russia and rotational deployments to Europe, why, how big a threat is Russia?  By the way, I’m from Philadelphia. 

 

                Well, it is a concern that not only we have but that is shared by all our NATO allies and much of Europe.  I’m sorry to say that because for 25 years we didn’t have to regard -- since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we didn’t have to think that conflict, aggression in Europe was something that we had to worry about every day.  Now, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I’m sorry to say, we do.  And that’s going to be true as far into the future as I can see here.  I certainly hope not, but I can’t bet on that.  Therefore, it is important that we fortify the defense of our NATO allies in Europe, not just against sort of traditional types of potential aggression of the types we saw in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but the little green men phenomenon, so what is called hybrid warfare.  So there’s a place where we now, as of the last year and a half or so, have come fully to realize that we need to stand vigilant as well.

 

                So it gets back to the previous question.  I mean, there’s no shortage of things that we have to do.  That’s why we have to worry about the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow and we have to worry about such a wide spectrum of threat.  That’s why we need the tremendous variety of stuff that’s out here.  And I’d like to tell you it was going to get simpler, but I can’t. 

 

                Q:  (OFF-MIC)

 

                SEC. CARTER:  So the question was females in the Selective Service.  And as you know, we have made some decisions about opening up all MOSs, including in the Marine Corps, to females.  And I should tell you the basic reason for that.  The basic reason for that is simple and it goes back to the need to think generations ahead and to recognize that we are an all-volunteer force, including an all-volunteer Marine Corps.  Therefore, for us to have the best in the future, the best like you are, we need to be able to reach into the largest pool of people we can.  And women make up half of our country.  Now -- so they have to be qualified and they have to meet standards, but I want to be able to reach into all parts of our population. 

 

                By the way, that’s true geographically.  It’s true -- there are other populations in our country that I don’t think we reach into well enough and I want that because I want everybody to be part of my pool.  I’m not going to pick everybody, but that’s the great thing about all-volunteer force, right?  We get to pick.  But I need people to step forward and say can I qualify.  And half of our population’s female; makes sense.  So that’s what we’re up to.

 

                Now then your question is, well, what about the draft?  What does that mean to the draft?  Well, to me, it stands to -- that’s in the law, so that’s not something we decide.  That’s something Congress would have to decide.  It stands to reason that Congress is going to have to think this through and would have to change the law accordingly.  I expect them to take this up.  My guess is that they’ll want to have, as is understandable and reasonable for Congress, they’re going to want to, you know, discuss it with their own constituents and so forth and sort of think about it.  But to me, it stands to reason that it’ll be taken up by the Congress, this law, because of the decisions that we’ve made here in the department, which I’m sure are right.

 

                And as you probably know, and I’ll just say one more thing, now we’re working on implementation.  So -- and there are all sorts of things to work through.  I’m confident we’ll do that.  We’ll do it like we do everything else; very deliberately, very sensibly.  I’ll be working with General Neller and General -- Joe Dunford, by the way, is the chairman now, General Dunford – and all of our folks on how to do that.  But I’m pretty confident that’ll go well.  Take some time and that’ll come to me and in the course of -- but it’s very much the right thing to do for force effectiveness.  And again, it has that consequence that I think Congress will want to take up the issue of draft.  OK? 

 

                Q:  (OFF-MIC)

 

                SEC. CARTER:  Well, I -- let me tell you, the thing that fuels me and makes me -- drives me forward every day, quite honestly, is you, is you guys.  You’re the most meaningful thing to me. 

 

                But in terms of advice to you, I think -- I -- to my way of thinking, we’re in the same boat.  We should feel good about what we do, because as I said, you should, each of you, feel very good about the mission that you have.  What could be greater than the mission to which you’re dedicating yourselves to right now? 

 

                But there’s another side to that, which is they’re counting on us out there.  People are getting up every morning, they’re taking their kids to school, they’re dropping them off, they’re going to work, they’re living their lives, they’re dreaming their dreams and they’re not always thinking am I safe doing this.  Am I OK?  Is all this going to stay around me?  We’re the ones, you are the ones that make that possible.  That’s an enormous responsibility. 

 

                So your capability, your combat capability, your skill, your ethos, the way that you, when you’re deployed overseas, people love to work with Americans.  They think you’re wonderful because they think the way you -- the things you stand for and the way you conduct yourself is very attractive to them.  That makes me proud but, to me, that’s a big duty for you all as well. 

 

                It’s a big weight this department has on its shoulder.  We’re the ones.  We have to protect our people, protect much of the rest of the world, friends and allies, and make a better world for our children.  That’s a heavy responsibility.  It’s a great feeling to get up and say that’s what I’m part of.  But then a few minutes later, you say, wow, I better work hard because that’s serious.  That’s not like other jobs.  It comes with a lot of responsibility.  So you’ve got to -- we demand a lot from you; I understand that.  But that’s reasonable because you’re doing something so important.  Hope that helps.  It’s what I tell myself anyway.

 

                OK.  Don’t clap for me; I clap for you.  And I’m going to do even better than that, I hope, which is look you each in the eye and say thank you and we’ll get a picture, I’ll give you a coin.  But you guys are spectacular, very, very proud of you.  Come on up. 

 

 

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