Remarks by Secretary Carter in a Media Availability at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Hi, gang.  And accordingly, I'll be brief, because I already -- I just spoke to the audience here about the significance of this location for the department and the nation's security as a whole, the central importance of people.

One of the reasons I've been traveling this week, recruiting, in-processing, basic training as we have here, and then we saw what it's all about at the 18th Airborne Corps yesterday, folks that are deploying to fight the fight and defeat ISIL.

So, you saw it all the way from recruits to mission in the course of this week.  And that's the reason for my visit here.

The other thing I'll say is that this is connected with my -- what I call the Force of the Future, which is a continuing effort with many dimensions to ensure that the folks that are in our armed services in generations to come are as fine as the ones today.

And that means continuing to look around and see how we can adjust the way we manage our talent in the military and attract and retain talent to retain -- remain the very best, because that is the principal reason why we're the best fighting force in the world.

So, with that, let me take your questions.  And Peter, I'll put myself in your hands.

STAFF:  Jack -- Jack.

Q:  Sir, you talked, during your speech earlier, about some of the demographic under-representation that's occurring in the military.  You mentioned the northeast.

I'm wondering if you can talk about other areas where you find demographic under-representation, and what do you think it is that's keeping the military from recruiting as many people from those groups -- the northeast, for instance -- to fill ranks?

SEC. CARTER:  Some -- some of it is geographic.  Some of it is in continuing to have good access -- I'll give you another example -- to first-generation Americans.

To -- another is two parts of our country and parts of our population where there may not be military bases, and where, therefore, the familiarity of -- with the -- of the community as a whole with military life is not automatic, as it probably is in the communities surrounding this great installation, where people get a sense, they -- they run into people in uniform in the course of their daily life.

And they come -- and so, a kid has some sense that the military is out there as a potential future.  So, those are three examples that are not geographic of ways in which I think we need to stretch ourselves to make sure that people have no parents or grandparents who are in the military, who have no uncles or aunts who are in the military, and who don't live near a military base, nevertheless, we're on their radar screen.

So, there are lots of things like that.

STAFF:  Sidney? Wait for the mic, and try not to give feedback.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Sidney from Breaking Defense.  Let me ask, you know, you have a very big, ambitious, and in many ways, there are long-term culture change you're trying to institute with Force of the Future.

You've also go a very long-term offset strategy that's possibly decades.  You've got better buying power, which has also to do with a lot of institutional inertia.

And you have six months and 20 days-ish before there's a new administration.  How do you, in the time you have left -- assuming you're –not asked to stay on, in which case, it's easier -- how do you, in the time this administration has left, set things up for success, so that maybe President Clinton or President Trump --

SEC. CARTER:  Good question.

Q:  -- hard to say that -- can take these and run with them?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I mean, first of all, I'm going to do everything I can in the time I'm here to set the direction, so that the successive leadership of the department and the country has things in the best order and headed in the best direction possible.

And I'm committed to doing that, and I'll work right up until the last day I'm secretary of defense to do that.

But the second thing is that these things that we're doing -- we, the leadership collectively discuss them, invent them.  And so, everybody understands why we're doing these things, that they have a sense and a logic to them.  And our leadership understands that our people are what make our force great.  They understand that that's not a birth right; they understand that we need to keep thinking how to keep that edge.

And so, they will -- and the logic of these changes will ensure that they're carried out in the future.  The key is to get them started now, and to get a lot of -- to get everybody understanding why they're important.

I'm also counting upon the innovative spirit represented by, for example, the Defense Innovation Board, but many other people in the department -- our career military, who are extremely innovative and increasingly looking around for innovative ideas.

That impulse, that spirit is here to stay, because it makes sense.  And I have confidence that this wonderful institution has always changed in ways that were necessary to keep it the best, while keeping the best of what is 241 years of wonderful military traditions.

So, I have complete confidence in both the people and the logic that will be part of DOD's future.

STAFF:  If we can keep it quick, have time for one more.  We'll go local.

Q:  I'm Russell Lissau with the Daily Herald here in Chicago.  I wanted to ask another big picture question.

We've seen in one generation the U.S. military go from a ban on gays and lesbians in the military to don't ask, don't tell, to, as somebody asked earlier, policies for transgender military troops.  Beyond the policy, I was hoping you could, kind of, talk about the history of that and what that means to you to be, kind of, overseeing this massive historical change.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I like to think that things that make sense would've made sense to anybody in my position.  And I think they would have.

This is something that increasingly institutions in our society are recognizing that women are a not-fully-tapped resource in our society.  And they want to benefit from that because they want to compete.  And we're a competitive institution too. We compete with our enemies and we compete with society for talent.

And so we need to be competitive.

So whether it's that, whether it's LG -- the LGBT community, these are talented Americans.  If they can serve and contribute to our mission, and -- and an individual is better qualified to serve our country than someone else, then I want to select them because of their qualifications.  Not for some reason that doesn't have anything to do with their qualifications.

So it's essential to be the best in the world.  As I said before, having the best people in the world, and that means drawing from the whole population.

Remember, we get to pick, which is a good thing.  We are an all-volunteer force and we get to -- people have to select themselves, that's important, but then we get to pick.  So we want to pick people that are best qualified to do what our country needs, to defend our country.

That's the key qualification.

STAFF:  Sir, I'm getting the hook from General -- (inaudible).

SEC. CARTER:  Okay.

STAFF:  Sorry.

SEC. CARTER:  Thanks, all.  Appreciate it.