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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Troop Event in Baghdad, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
December 09, 2014

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I -- I've always kidded about I have very high regard for generals, and admirals, and listen to them all the time, but sergeants majors scare the hell out of me. And I would say sergeant majors are probably as important as each of us, you, are in your roles. A sergeant major's roles is as much as the corps as I think of a -- of a military unit as any -- any part of a corps. And, so, for their leadership and what they teach us all and how they do their jobs, and how we emulate them in every way, I thank the sergeant major and all of his colleagues. And, I thank you.

And that's why I wanted to stop this morning. We just arrived this morning from Kuwait. We've been in Afghanistan a couple of days, Kuwait a day, spend the day here. But, we just touched down here, and the first thing I wanted to do is to come by and say hello and to thank you. And to acknowledge the work you're doing. It's important work. It's defining work. It's critically important.

Also, to recognize your families and thank your families, especially as we go into a holiday season. I know that's tough for you and your families to be away from each other. It's another part of the sacrifice that you make. I know that it isn't the first time for most of you that this has happened. I know the record of this unit, and certainly this very proud division. And I know you're experienced, and you're prepared, but nonetheless it's difficult to be away from your family, especially during the holidays, so please thank your families and thank them for their service as well.

As I noted, I'm going to be here today, and we've got meetings all day today with the prime minister and the president. We'll have opportunities to spend some time with Ambassador Jones. Who’s here. And also, General Bednarek and General Funk. I met with General Terry yesterday. Spent the day with him to get a sense of how you're doing, what you need, where you go from here and give you the kind of support that you need, that you'll get. And just to get a sense of what you all think, and how things are going.

As I said, I was in Afghanistan a couple of days prior to this, and Kuwait yesterday. There, too, what is happening in Afghanistan, that transition is a defining time for that country and for all of the investment in blood and treasure that we've put in Afghanistan. And I think that country has some real opportunities as it transitions into its next phase for its future. We have a role to play, just as we have a role to play here. But, always, our role has to be a support role, as it here with our coalition partners.

And I understand there's some Australians here. Are the Australians here? Thank you for all that our coalition partners do. Where are the Aussies? Back here? Or where? There they are. Thank you, guys, very, very much. I was just in Australia about four months ago, and I've been there many times. One of my favorite countries. So, thank you for what you do. But, thanks to all of our coalition partners and how we're coming together to support what the Iraqis are trying to do.

But, just as in Afghanistan, it is their country. They have to lead. They are the ones that are going to have to be responsible for end results. We can help, we can train, we can assist, we can advise, and we're doing that, and we'll support them. But, the inclusiveness of a government that all their people can join and be part of, and have confidence in and trust in is going to be essential to their future and you know that. So, thank you again for what you're doing and your role in this.

I think when you look out over the long sweep of history, and certainly we've had an interesting last 13 years in the world, it's always determined by not just the day to day developments or battles, but it's always determined by the will and the commitment of the people. And we, being United States and our coalition partners including Australia, are countries that have played important roles in history to help other countries, and help other people. And it's always defined by the end game, the end game being is that country and can that country be free to defend itself, to support itself, and make their own decisions and give their people opportunities in life? For better -- a better life, a better world, peace, prosperity, opportunity. So, in the end that's where this all goes, and that's why we support people who are willing to make the kind of sacrifices that they have to make in order to build that kind of nation for themselves, and their future.

I'm going to get into some questions here in a minute, so we'll take whatever you want to talk about. And then we'll get some pictures. But I also want to just make one more point about service. The world is going through this incredible time of redefinition and world orders change. We all know that. But, service, sacrifice, leadership, commitment -- that never changes. And it is the -- it is the one constant that doesn't change, that always determines outcomes of everything. And, so, your commitment, and your service, and your sacrifice to what you believe is something that should be recognized, acknowledged and I think everyone in the United States does recognize that, acknowledge that, respect that.

I know you believe you're just doing your jobs, and you are, but also you're doing something very, very special that very few people in life ever can do, will do that will make such a difference to the future. So, again, I remind you of that. Not that you need to be reminded, but as secretary of defense and somebody's who has been around a little bit, who's also had the privilege of serving in uniform and in a war, I know what you deal with, and I know what your families deal with. And, again, thank you. Happy holidays. And I’d be glad to take a question or two before we take some pictures. And, what? The mikes are right -- right here, so, whatever you want to talk about.

Q: Yes, sir. I'm Captain Mark (inaudible).


Q: Question for you is as we're transitioning out of Afghanistan, it seems that we're going to have the rotations (inaudible) here to Iraq. Now, there's a lot of stuff that's happened in the world in the last year. Aggression with Russia, a lot of things have changed, and the presence of ISIS and instability in the Middle East is very real. With all of those things that -- that have really come to the table in the last year, we still have the plan to downgrade or have less soldiers in the military. How do we anticipate being able to put up a fight on multiple fronts to be able to provide the force that we need stability in the world when we don't have those full powered changes.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, thank you, captain, for what you -- what you do, where are you from?

Q: I'm from Kansas City, Missouri, an intelligence officer (inaudible).

SEC. HAGEL: OK. Thank you. Well, it's an important question. And it's the one -- it's the question that we are working through and dealing with every day, and you've framed it up pretty well. Even though we are now coming out, as you noted, in Afghanistan of 13 years of the United States leading combat operations. Thirteen years of two long ground wars: Iraq, Afghanistan. Always there's going to be a shift in force posture, force structure, in platform's focus. That's historical, that's cyclical. We've done that after every war that we have fought. So, that is not new.

But what is really critically important is what you just said. With the threats around the world, as they are, and all we need to do is review the last eight months as to what's happened in the world, first in the Middle East, ISIL, what you all are dealing with. Second, what you mentioned the new, very dangerous, irresponsible aggressiveness of Russia, and what they're doing, invasion Crimea, incursion into Ukraine. Ebola, West Africa, smaller threats around the world, put constant pressure on us, on you.

At the same time, our budget has been decreasing in a very dangerous, abrupt way that has hurt our readiness, and obviously jeopardize our ability to continue to think through longer term, especially investment in platforms that have to be invested in now, to keep the technological edge that we have had since World War II, in the sophistication and the technology, and the capability of all of our weapons. So, how do you balance that? And, again, it's something that we are dealing with every day. We also are much aware, as you are, that readiness is -- is much a -- a central and defining dynamic of effective combat power, and ability to respond and respond effectively, as anyone thinks. If you're not ready, you're not ready. You have to have all other components, but readiness means training, it means skill sets, it means all the things that go into training.

So, we have been okay so far, but if we don't get this steep, abrupt budget reduction changed -- which I have talked about, all of our leaders have talked about the last two years, specifically sequestration -- if that doesn't -- if that doesn't get changed, then we are going to be faced with some very, very difficult issues here in the next few years. Right now, we're holding on. But, like any institution and this being national security which is -- is the most important responsibility a leader has, the President of the United States has is the security of the country, you can't short circuit, or you can't short change your security budgets and your national defense budgets because a country will pay a price, and it's that serious. We're not at that point yet. But unless we have some changes we will be.

So, if that gives you kind of general framework of -- of your -- of your question and answer back, but it is something that we're concerned about, we have been concerned about. We talked to Congress about it. And I think that we've got some opportunities the next year to get that turned around. Thank you.

Q: Sir, I would (inaudible). At this time as you're secretary of defense, what will be your greatest challenges? Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thanks, captain, for what you do? Where are you from?

Q: (inaudible), sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think anybody who has any responsibility in any job, and you all have big responsibilities, there's no job that's unimportant, especially in the military because if one of you are not doing your job, you jeopardize everybody else. You know how that works. And it is always the weak link that we're most concerned about. And if you don't have any weak links things work. If you've got one weak link, it doesn't work. I say that in answer your question because each of us has certain responsibilities.

The secretary of defense has responsibilities, as all of our people in this enterprise -- enterprise do. You know going in, as each of you do going in, as you assume your roles and assignments that you're going to have challenges. Those challenges sometimes they float and drift, sometimes they peak, sometimes they are status quo for some period of time, but never without challenges. It's always how we respond to those challenges. And, as secretary of defense, I have a tremendous privilege of being part of everything you do, and listening to all of you and your leaders, and then my ultimate responsibility is making some decisions after I listen carefully to what you think, and what our objectives are to first question over here matching resources with missions.

So, I think there's not one challenge that I would give you as an example of what has been most overriding in my almost two years of secretary of defense to except this. And I said this before that a secretary of defense has to measure everything. You have to measure all the different components of the challenges, and, in the end, you have to make decisions based upon what you think is best for the institution, the enterprise and the future of our enterprise, as well as the security of the country. Secretary of defense has only one job and that's the security of the United States of America. So, that always is the overriding factor in any challenge that comes up.

But, at the same time, you have to keep it framed up where you're thinking about future. How do you continue to prepare your enterprise for what's coming around the corner? Like I noted, eight months ago, a year ago, there aren't many of us who would have predicted a year ago where we are today in some of these areas of the world. Ten years ago, there weren't many people talking about the threat of cyber. You know, cyber was out there. We knew different dynamics of it. But cyber now is a very insidious, deadly, deadly weapon that can be used against us. And it isn't just a military issue, it's an economic issue. The destruction, very quietly, very immediately, of an entire power grid, or banking system, or stopping a society completely. Knocking out satellites, which paralyze our ability to respond, the Defense Department. Ten years ago there wasn't a lot of thinking about that.

So, your question about challenges and so on, you think about all those things as you make decisions. Sure, you make the decisions based on what you have right there, at that time, for that immediate challenge, but you always try to stay out ahead as much as you can. Thank you.

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