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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
November 14, 2014

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good, thanks John. Hi.

Q: Hi, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. HAGEL: Hi.

Q: So, my question for you is Minot Air Force Base, how vital is specifically this base to our nation's nuclear triad?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it has been a foundational piece of our nation's triad, and continues to be.

This is as essential a part of the entire nuclear triad foundation as any one base. As you know, as noted in the triad concept, our land-based missiles are a critical part of that.

So, we appreciate everything that the men and women do here in North Dakota. Also, we very much appreciate the Minot community, the state of North Dakota, for what you do to host this facility, and you have hosted it very well over many, many years. Our people appreciate that hospitality and I noted today your two senators, who are here. It's typical of the kind of support that we have received over the years from your congressional delegation, your governors, all of your leaders.

So, this is an important part of our -- not only our nuclear triad, but our entire defense enterprise.

STAFF: Next question, Dave Alexander

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

We're here at Minot talking about nuclear weapons, and reminded of the fact that there have been a lot of complaints recently, NATO and elsewhere, about the Russians flying increasingly aggressive flight patterns. In fact, there were reports out that they might try to come to the Gulf of Mexico.

I wonder what -- how much of a concern this behavior is, how much of a risk it poses, and what it means for a place like Minot?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, the very aggressive Russian behavior over the last few months is a concern. It's a concern for the United States, for the free world.

This is a different time. This is a time where all powers must be responsible. And behaviors are noted. And responsible behavior is essential for powers. And this talk that has come out of Russia about a more aggressive approach to over-flights, in particular, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, is not helpful. And I would hope the Russian leaders are responsible in their behavior and their actions.

STAFF: Okay. Next question will come from Jim Olsen. Where are you Jim?

Q: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Welcome to (off mic).

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: I wanted to follow up a little bit on what you had said, and I guess it piggybacks on his comments. Recently, we heard that the number of nuclear weapons has pretty much equalized between the U.S. and Russia, with the last START treaty.

SEC. HAGEL: Yes.

Q: How do you feel about nuclear readiness of the U.S. force when we hear that sort of news and we used to have an advantage in those numbers?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, as I said in my remarks here and I know that every leader of the defense enterprise shares this, we have a safe, secure, ready, effective nuclear triad. And that should be made very clear. And that is the reality.

As President Obama has said, I've said, many leaders have said over the years, we should try to reduce the number of warheads in the world. And that's what the treaties were all about. If you recall, President Reagan proposed to Chairman Gorbachev in 1986 to eliminate all nuclear warheads.

But the reality is, and until we get anywhere close to that, a nuclear deterrent, which we have, which is ready, capable, and effective, is going to be required. And we have that capacity and that capability to defend this country.

STAFF: Last question. Andrew.

Q: Mr. Secretary.

You are out here talking to the nuclear force about what is in many ways essentially a morale issue. And I'm -- some of the things that you're talking about really apply to the other parts of the force at large as well.

I mean, a lot of units that are -- that feel like they're still working just as hard, despite the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SEC. HAGEL: Yes.

Q: Some units feel like they're lacking a mission now that those wars are over. There's a lot of concerns about pay cuts to compensation, readiness. To what extent do you have some concerns that the force at large might be facing a little bit of a morale problem?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think, as I noted in my comments here today, that the responsibility of leadership is to pay attention to the health of the force always, every day, every minute: and that includes morale.

This is a tough business. These men and women do tough jobs. They make huge sacrifices. Their families make huge sacrifices. So, the reality is that every day I'm sure is not jolly.

But morale is critically important for any of us, and any institution to do our jobs right. And we watch it. We are concerned all the time about it, but I think overall, and I visit a lot of bases, a lot of facilities.

Many of you here travel with me a lot. I know our secretaries do, our chairman, all of our leaders do. We pay attention. We're out listening all the time. And you have to constantly pay attention to morale. It doesn't just go onto automatic pilot.

It is every factor that we discussed here today, on health care, on some certainty about their future. It's resources. It is their mission. It's readiness, sure.

So, I think overall though, the morale of our men and women in uniform, our civilians, is high. I know there are different dimensions of that, depending on the force.

But let's just step back for a minute. Look at what's happened the last six months in the new demands on the Defense Department.

Very few people six months ago would've thought we would have any demands on a pandemic health issue: Ebola. That's touched every aspect of our military: logistics, transportation, health, training.

What's going on in the Middle East with ISIL. I don't know, a year ago, if there had been many people predicting that, I think with the Russian aggression in Europe that we have seen over the last few months, their invasion of Crimea. What they're doing in Ukraine and other threats. A year ago, that was not the case, but yet we are moving new rotational divisions, commitments, sea, land, and air, into Eastern Europe to help our NATO -- our NATO partners.

So, there's a lot of demand on our forces and our structure. But morale is key, and we will continue to pay attention to it.

But I have every confidence in the morale of this enterprise.

STAFF: Thank you everybody, appreciate it. That's all the time we have.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, guys. 

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