Remarks by Secretary Carter at a troop event, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Hi, everybody –how are you doing?.

(APPLAUSE)

Thanks very much.  Please sit down.  Sit down.  Thank you.  Thanks.

General Savre, thank you so much for this and every thing else you've done.  I got off the plane, I said I -- by now, I've been doing this long enough I recognize most of the senior leaders in the Army.  And we did something together.  I was thinking it was Hurricane Sandy, but we weren't quite sure.  But it's good to see you and thanks for this today.

Congresswoman Hartzler, thank you.  Thank you.  You honor us with your presence.  I'm grateful.  Thanks for the support you give to this and other installations in your district, in your state.  We don't take it for granted.  We really much appreciate it.  

And I -- I know that -- Senator McCaskill I think is -- is one her way.  Senator Blunt was gonna be here and I'm not sure when he’s going to be able to, but everybody who's part of the congressional delegation here, we can't do it without you and we're -- we're grateful.

But for -- for you all, I'm so glad to be here at Fort Leonard Wood.  I want to tell you why we picked this particular time to come, because it's strategically important at this moment in time.  But I -- this is an absolutely fantastic place that's central to our Army, one of its great centers of excellence.  There's no other place like it not only in our Army, but in our armed forces and also in our world because you do a lot of training for non-U.S. militaries as well.  That's -- that's the strategic point I want to get to in a moment.

I don't know why they call it Fort Lost in the Woods.  I didn't have any problem finding it.  It's a fantastic day.  I was out there, and it was great and very much enjoyed blowing some things up.  These are --

(Laughter.)

I -- something I might be able to use in Washington -- (inaudible).

(Laughter.)

If I had the same thoughts on occasion, it would be nice to take back some of these techniques.  But what amazing professionalism and skill.  Right from the top of the -- these instructors, spectacularly skilled and experienced instructors, right down to these brand new recruits who are just beginning and getting in and hoping they'll get through with our extremely rigorous schools.

The -- you do a number of things here – CBRNE, MPs, engineers, as well as all the basic training here.  Right now as we stand here today, evening is coming in Iraq and forces that your -- the units trained here have trained are now deployed and are enabling the Iraqi security forces and others to destroy ISIL, which we will surely do.

We're going to destroy ISIL in Iraq, destroy ISIL in Syria and destroy ISIL everywhere else that cancer metastasizes so that everybody knows that the – both the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based upon that ideology is not happening.  And I'm confident we'll do that.  But our way of doing that is to, because we want our victory to be lasting, to stick, we want to make sure that local forces are the ones who can sustain the victory after the victory.  

And so we take them -- and they don't have what you are and what you have, the tremendously specialized capabilities.  So what we do is bring down like a tornado the huge, massive, awesome American military power to bear on their behalf.  And it includes air power, it includes intelligence, it includes command and control, but very importantly, it includes engineering.  And some of you may know, this is important and this was just a few weeks ago and it's been part of our plan since last year.  

When we -- when we developed the military campaign plan for the defeat of ISIL, we always knew the time would come, and it came a few months ago, for helping the Iraqi security forces to bridge the Tigris River so that they could reestablish, as they were marshalling the units that are now assaulting Mosul the Iraqi army brigades from the south, the Peshmerga brigades from the north, all trained, all equipped, all enabled by us.  

And one of the ways that we're enabled is with combat engineering, and they got that from the advisory units, who got it from you.  So you ought to be very proud right now about that particular specialty.  And I know not all of you are in that specialty, but that happened to be -- I was out on some of those ranges today.  And if you want to go home and tell your family about the strategic relevance of the skill set you have, all you need to do is turn on the TV tonight.  

And I can tell a similar story about CBRNE.  I can tell a similar story about military police.  In fact, I will. CBRNE, you know, it's a nasty world out there.  We have in addition to ISIL, we keep our eyes on Iranians and North Koreans and Russians and Chinese.  All different kind of circumstances, but we need to be and are-- Senator how are you?

Q:  I'm great.

SEC. CARTER:  Nice to see you.

Q:  It's very nice to see you.

SEC. CARTER:  We have to be and we are capable of defending our people against every one of them.  And we do that by being able to dominate them in any situation of conflict that they might provoke with us.  In all those cases, the capabilities of the CBRNE part of the operation here at Fort Leonard Wood is relevant.  And I'll say something about the military police part too.  

That's another important part of operations -- our counter-ISIL operations because everywhere we go, in order to have victory stick, we will have victory, the hard part is making it stick because we don't run these places, we don't govern these place, we don't live in these places.  So we've got to find people who live there who can make victory stick.  

Importantly, that means local police.  And as you probably know, we do a lot of training of local police.  And people that you've trained in that skill are now training those forces and will continue to do that both in Iraq and in Syria.  So right now, as we speak this very hour, seven, eight time zones away, what you do is being put to work to defeat our enemies, protect our country and make a better world for our children.  So you ought to feel very good about what you do.

Everybody I saw today was incredibly impressive.  As always, absolutely fantastic.  And some of the new kids -- and I don't think we have any of them in here, do we?  We don't have any of the -- okay.  So I saw some of these 13-week kids, a lot less mature and experienced and skilled than you all, but you know them because you train them and it's so heartening to see these young Americans and I'm so proud of them, as I'm proud of you.

It gives me tremendous pride to go around this country and to go around this world knowing the respect, the awe at your skills, that the entire country, our entire population, our world experiences when they are connected to the U.S. military.  But it's not just that, it's also how you conduct yourselves and the values that you stand for.  And that's the reason why we have all the friends in the world.  Most of our enemies have no friends, some of you've noticed that.  But it's not accidental that America has the friends and allies, because we stand for the things that other people want also.  They want a better future for their children, they want the security that allows them to live their lives and do the things that make life meaningful.  You make that possible.  

Security is like oxygen.  If you have it, you don't pay any attention to it.  And sometimes, it's frustrating for all of us who do this because when we do our job well, sometimes you feel the country is taking you for granted.  But on the other hand, if you don't have oxygen, it's all you think about.  And our job is to give them that oxygen and that security that lets them get up in the morning and hug their kids and go to work and live their lives and dream their dreams, and that's what it's all about.  

And that's why I -- what you do with your lives and what you're doing with your lives right here is the noblest thing a person can do with their life.  So I'm very proud of how you do it and I saw the tremendous skill today on display but it's what you do and why you do it that matters as well.  So keep it up, know that you're what I wake up to every morning, you're what I think about every evening before I go to bed and I'm so incredibly proud of you.  

And now, I think I'm gonna get a chance to hear from you.  So you can ask me questions, you can tell me something you think I ought to know that you think maybe I don't know or whatever.  We'll do that for a little while and then I wanted to look everybody in the eye and shake your hand and give you a coin and thank you personally. 

Okay.  Now, I don't know what they -- where do we have mics?  So there's some folks roaming with mics and just indicate -- any subject.  Anything is fair game.

Q:  Staff -- (inaudible) -- sir, military instructor.  Recent support -- (inaudible).

Secondly, of your Force of the Future initiative -- (inaudible) -- of the officer corps and DoD civilians-- (inaudible) -- increasing flexibility to maintain our military edge.  NCOs have been commonly referred to as the backbone of the armed forces and one of the primary most visible leaders responsible for actually executing the missions.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, you're absolutely right.  That link was aimed at retention, but including NCOs.  I don't know if it was somehow -- it seemed to be excluded, not at all.  And let me tell you why it's so important and most of you probably know this, but our -- there were a couple aspects of that; families and also education in mid-career.  I'll say something about each of them.

This applies to folks of all ranks.  I extended our maternity and paternity leave durations.  That's extremely important.  The reason for that is that our force is a married force, much more than the rest of our society by the way, statistically.  Our force is a married force.  And that means that around that sort of 10-year point where a lot of our most accomplished people are coming to make a decision about whether to stay with us or not -- and we've put 10 years into them, they've succeeded for 10 years.

That's a big investment, I don't want to lose it.  I want to keep our people.  That's also around the time many of them are thinking of having a family.  And they're trying to match those two, service and family, two very important things to them.  And you know, I can't change what the profession of arms is about.  I need you to do what we need you to do when we tell you to do it and there's -- I don't have a lot of flexibility and I'm not going to promise you anything in that regard.

But within that constraint, I -- we can do things that make it not -- make it easier for our young military families at that point in their lives to not have to make a choice between military life and family life.  And extending maternity and paternity leave is one way of doing that.  All kinds of other things we do.  Changing things that may seem small to you, but if you have kids, you know it isn't small.  

Childcare hours and so forth, these things are essential, and the purpose is to help our good people stay.  And that's -- absolutely NCO's the backbone of the force.  

Another part of that is giving people opportunities to improve themselves and continue to educate themselves.  So, to go out for a while, take another course, pick up another skill set, broaden themselves, that's really important and it's becoming more and more important in today's world because the days when we all go to school when we're kids and then stop learning, those days are over.  We are now expected to learn and grow and develop as adults.  And we need people who are like that in our armed forces, so we want to encourage that.  

So, those are just two of the things that were part of that part of Force of the Future and the aim was exactly retention of our good people.

Q:  Sir -- (inaudible) MP Corps instructor, Basic Officer Leader Course.

Sir, with the recent -- the recent Defense Innovation Board recommendations, can you -- (inaudible) -- to a quick turnaround in fielding and modernization of our equipment or is it going to take a little bit of time to make that happen, sir?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, we don't have a lot of time and the Defense Innovation Board is one place I look to for ideas.  And its chairman, actually, joined me on this trip.  And I'll say something about innovation -- the Innovation Board in general.

But you're talking about rapid equipping, and this is something I feel really passionately about.  And it comes in two forms, both of which we're -- we need to constantly attack and I'm still not satisfied with where we are.  The first one and the one that really gets you the most is -- sort of in your stomach is when we're -- our forces are engaged and they have a new problem set, how responsive is our acquisition?

So now, I was under secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and I was -- and it was the height of the war in Afghanistan and we were doing a big push there, building lots of new FOBs and COPs and encountering lots of things that were different.  For example, terrain was different, which meant that the MRAPs that we used in good old flat Iraq weren't suited for bumpy Afghanistan.  

And there's a tendency in the bureaucracy when you say, you know, "the troops need a solution now."  And they say "well, we're working on a program, and you know, it'll deliver in 2025 exactly what you want."  And you go come on.  Think about what you're saying.  And most people when they're -- when you say -- you ask them that, they jump out of their bureaucratic foxhole and realize that this is no kidding and this is serious.  

But we had to do a lot of that jostling.  Much too much.  The system was used to things that took 10 years and that was a good Cold War march because the Soviet Union was kind of slow, lumbering, inexorable.  You had to look ahead because they never kind of went away until they finally, finally, finally did but it was decades and decades.  So, we've got to be more agile in that regard.  

The other reason to be agile, and this is where the innovation board comes in, is the world out there is agile.  We don't invent everything any more.  We're still a pretty big dog in the innovative world, but there's lots of commercial innovation, there's innovation around the world.  And so I am very intent on getting the best ideas from outside that apply inside and absorbing them fast.

So -- because we've got to be ahead of everybody.  Our enemies are competitive.  They may be evil, but they're competitive.  They work hard and we've got to stay one step ahead of them.  And one of the ways you do that is make sure that we're getting the best ideas from outside.  So what I've asked Eric Schmidt and the Defense Innovation Board is I said "Tell me what's going on out there," so we can pull our head up out of our, you know, Defense Department foxhole, wonderful as it as is, and look around and see.

Now, not everything we can use.  Some of these things aren't going to be applicable to us because we're special in many ways.  The profession of arms, it's not a company.  But that doesn't mean there aren't things; in how they manage people, in how they develop technology and how they apply technology.  

I'll give you an example.  You know, the bug bounty that we did.  Bug bounties are common out in the world, but nobody in the federal government had ever done a bug bounty before we did.  A bug bounty, by the way, is where you ask -- you say, "Okay, white hat hackers, here's our website," say, "Try to attack it and if you find a vulnerability, send it in and we'll give prizes."

And so, you get a free security -- almost free security audit by the good people and that's a lot better way of finding out what your vulnerabilities are than by having the bad guys go after it.  And they get a big thrill out of it, particularly if it's a Pentagon website, you know, I hacked a -- in fact, I had a high school kid.  One of the guys who won our first bug bounty was about 18, Peter?  I don't know where Peter is.  Great kid who -- who did it in high school.

He was patriotic and he wanted to help but he also wanted to win and get the prize.  So, there's -- it's an idea and we just hadn't done it but everybody else was doing it out there in the world and it was a great idea.  And I saw well, we could apply it inside.  So that's the kind of thing I want from the Innovation Board.

Q:  (inaudible).

In the fight on ISIL and the potential fight against other entities, do you see the troop sizes -- the services going back up at all in the near future?

SEC. CARTER:  I don't -- at the moment in the Army, that's not our priority.  Our priority is really readiness in the Army, mine and the Army leadership’s.  So, we're going to probably stabilize end strength.  

Remember, we had built extra end strength over the last 15 years because we had these large COIN conflicts going in Iraq and Afghanistan and we -- and they lasted a long time, which means you had to rotate forces.  So you had to have a large force structure in order to rotate through those.  We don't have those large COIN fights now, so there isn't the same requirement.  So if you've got a certain amount of money, you want to put it elsewhere.  

And that's the -- that's the decision that I and the Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, and our Chief Mark Milley, both great leaders, by the way -- that's the choice we've made.  That's the choice we've put before the Congress, of course, who finally makes these decisions.  But I think the logic is -- is -- is persuasive that readiness, training, return to full spectrum combat training, and modernization are two things that we didn't do over the last 15 years.  And we've got to make a little bit of a shift now, and that's what we're doing.

Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  I'm Staff Sergeant -- (inaudible) -- Marine Corps Detachment -- (inaudible).

I have a question in reference to what’s going on in the Pacific.  Before coming here, I was stationed out there.  I had an opportunity to train with the Philippines in the Philippines.  And given the fact that there is unrest in the Philippines and the Philippines president talking about breaking ties with the U.S. and aligning himself with Russia and China, what type of effect is that can have on us as far as our imprint in the Pacific theater?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, the Philippines is a longstanding ally of the United States.  We continue to regard them as an ally.  Obviously, we're having conversations with the government of the Philippines about the future of that.  That has been good for the Philippines.  It's good for the United States. 

Our -- our strategy, however, is strong and isn't dependent upon any single one of our friends or allies out there.  And we have many.  And there's a huge demand for us to do more.  And the reason for that, quite honestly, just to be direct about it, is that many of them have concerns about Chinese behavior.  

Or also concerns about one another that go way back in history.  And it has been the case for both of those concerns for decades that the American military presence has been the flywheel in that part of the world.  We have -- in a region that has no NATO, no formal structure for security, where the wounds of the past have not healed in the way you see at least in Western Europe, the American military presence has had a stabilizing effect.

Most countries in the region realize that and they want us to continue to do that.  And we intend to continue to do that.  We intend to do that -- to continue to do that because it's very much in the United States's interest to do that.  This is a part of the world that's going to half the economy of the world, half the world's population.  It's the single part of the world with the greatest consequence to America's future.

So it's important that we have a strong position there and that it be peaceful.  

And one of the ways we do that is by having the awesome power of our military there.  But the other way is by having friends and allies there.  We have lots of them.  I remind you of our other formal allies there -- Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Australia.  Plus we have lots of partners that we work with, and they're asking us to do more -- India, Vietnam, Singapore -- longstanding friend. 

And so there is a tremendous appetite for American presence and American persistence there.  And we're going to meet that appetite because it's not just good for the countries out there and good for the region, but it's good for us and good for the United States.  

And it's just another example of how, I mean, everywhere you look in the world, it's still the case that American power and interests are incredibly broad.  And we meet that, in many ways.  But one of the ways we meet it is by having the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

We have that.  We're going to keep that.  That's what we aim to do in all of our investments.  And I don't just mean in equipment.  I mean in people like you.  It always comes back to you.  You're what make us great.  You are what make us the finest fighting -- we have other good things.  We have good technology and so forth.  But it's our people -- our people are unrivaled.  That's you.  

So that's a good note to end on.  

Thanks, all of you, for what you do.  We're grateful for it.  I'm so proud of you every single day.  To be your secretary of defense makes me extremely proud.  Every other leader I know in Washington and around the country feels the same way.  You are supported.

And I say that to you because I've lived in times when it has not been as clear.  And I'm so grateful to be secretary of defense now, when our country truly appreciates what service is about and how much they owe you.

So thanks.  

(APPLAUSE)