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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
April 09, 2015

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: Thank you. Thank you. Awesome. What a place. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Please sit down. I mean, I'm the one who should be applauding because the reason I wanted to come here was to applaud you and to thank you. More about that in a moment. Let me thank General Angelella here for everything he does and has done for quite a while here for our great alliance with Japan and our presence in this, which is the most important part of the world.

I have been now -- I'm kind of brand-new. I've been Secretary of Defense for about six weeks or so. And I'm so proud because I get to be the Secretary of Defense for the finest fighting force the world has ever known. And that's not bragging, that's just telling the way it is.

And you know, we have lots of things. We have the best technology in the world. We have all the friends and allies, most other countries don't. And you by doing what you're doing here in Japan, you reinforce that. But that's not the secret. The secret, the reason we're the best fighting force the world has ever known is because of the people whom we have. That's the reason. That's the secret.

Nobody else can compare, in terms of who are the people who make up their military. We can ask you to do the most complex tasks, the most delicate things, the things that require the most smarts and savvy and strength and you do it. And behind everyone of our servicemembers is their family. And even as we can't do anything without your dad or your mom, they can't do anything without you. And so, to the kids who are here, I want to say to you, thank you for sticking with your folks, as they serve our country. In that way, you're serving our country too. And I really appreciate it. I think we ought to give a round of applause the military kids that are here.

(Applause.)

And this is -- I should say something a little bit about what it means for our country to be in Japan and in this part of the world. And if you think about it, when you open up the newspaper, right, and you open up the newspaper, what you see is the mess in the Middle East.

And why is it that this part of the world is generally so peaceful and therefore so prosperous? And the people who live here get to raise their children in peace. They get to dream their dreams. And why is that? It's because they've had year after year after year of peace and stability. That's what has allowed Japan to develop, Korea, where I'll be going next, Southeast Asia, and today China and India. They've done that because of the peace that the United States, more than any other single factor has created in this part of the world for decades and decades now.

And in a nutshell, when we talk about -- we have a way too complicated word, called rebalance, which really means focusing on this part of the world -- we're doing that because half of humanity lives here, half of the wealth of the world lives here, upon which we depend as Americans also.

And it wouldn't be this way, if it weren't for us. We're the linchpin. We're the thing that keeps the lid on out here and we've done it decade after decade after decade. So there's nothing more important. And I only say that because you can get fooled by looking at the newspaper. And the newspaper doesn't report things that are going well, right? Nobody wants to buy a newspaper saying how things are going well.

And so -- but this is a part of the world that is going well. And the reason it's going well is because of the longstanding presence of the U.S. military here in Japan and elsewhere. And of course, the Japanese are our closest, longest, and staunchest allies. And so, you are part of a winning formula out here. And it wouldn't be this way without you. And never, ever lose sight of that. It's so important.

This is also the month of the military child. So let me say something like that. And some of you are too old to consider yourselves children. But what they really mean by that is just that you have a mom or a dad who's serving our country -- and by the way, I feel the same way about any of you whose parents are civilians who work for the Department of Defense, too. We can't do everything without all of -- anything without all of our people and that's the uniform people and the civilian people as well.

For you kids, I know there are times when it's not easy because you move around a lot, much more than most American kids, because your folks have to move. And so you got to get used to a new school, new friends and so forth. And that can be difficult and I appreciate that. It also, by the way, I think, makes you have more experience as a young American because you've had the opportunity to be here and understand a different culture and make friends and -- from another part of the world or another part of the United States.

So I think in the end, you end up stronger people for having done it. But I know it can be hard to change schools and so forth. I know that your parents can be deployed and then they're away from home for a long time and that's tough. So we know that people sacrifice in order to be in the military and we know that they're not the only ones who sacrificed, that their children sacrifice, as well.

So to you kids in the audience, thank you for sticking up for your parents. And because by doing that, you're sticking up for the whole country. And we understand that. We don't lose sight of that. We really, really appreciate it. It's a very brave and very important thing that you're doing. So thank you.

The truth is that military kids are some of our most successful citizens. So if you look at award-winning actors, authors, athletes, you can just go on and on and on and on. Many, many, many of our highest-performing, most glamorous, most successful citizens actually started out as military kids.

And I don't think that's an accident. I think that's because of the character and the quality and the teamwork and the wonderful opportunity being in a place like this where you have interesting things to do and other kids who are smart and going places too and wonderful parents who are part of our military. So you're going to go great places in the future.

And so, if that is some way that you -- we pay you back for what you've given us, that you have a leg up in life and are going to be able to be more successful. And of course, the most important thing is happier and have your own family in the future. I hope that that has something to do with the fact that you've military kids and that that'll make up for all the sacrifice and all the trouble that also goes with being military kids.

So to the servicemembers, thank you, but I say that all the time to you -- to the kids that I get to see a lot less often. Thank you. On behalf of everybody in the United States, we don't take it for granted. We really appreciate what you're doing out here. Thank you. And I want to get a chance now to have each and everyone of you come up and -- so I can kind of look you in the eye and thank you personally. And I've got a coin. You all know about challenge coins, right? OK, so I'm brand-new Secretary of Defense, right, so I have brand-new coins. So they haven't been, you know, they're not on eBay yet.

(Laughter.)

You can probably make about -- and so in a few minutes, I'm going to want to do that. But first, I want to give you all the opportunity, and especially the kids, to ask me anything that's on your mind or to say anything that you think I ought to know. Just raise your hand. And by the way, it can be parents, too. If any of the folks now that we're here -- anybody in the audience at all, a question or something you think I ought to know.

Yeah? Should I hand this -- here. Here, here. Go ahead. Okay.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- Secretary, this is Captain Ernie (inaudible) at the 374th Operations Group. There's a lot of pressure to overhaul many of our military compensation programs from everything to -- from retirement pay to the commissaries and TRICARE. What kinds of changes, if any, do you think that we might see to our DOD [Department of Defense] school system?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I -- let me start with the big picture of -- you're saying about -- this is about how you all get paid and how your folks get paid and housing and lots of other things. And because you're the most important thing to our military, that is the most important part of our budget.

And even when the budget's under pressure, we aren't going to make any changes like this and we aren't going to make any changes that we are going to surprise you or that are not done as carefully and thought through as carefully as possible. So you've heard about changes in the retirement system. You heard about changes in pay and so forth. We're not at the edge of making it. We're still thinking them through, thinking about them carefully.

The most important thing to me is to honor our servicemembers. We have -- and as we do that, we honor our current servicemembers. We also have to honor our past servicemembers. So we're paying TRICARE and other expenses for them, so I need to do that, too.

And then I need to make sure that we honor our future servicemembers also. And what does that mean? That means making sure that we have enough of you so that when we send a servicemember into battle there are people to their left and people to their right. And so, we don't want to have to shrink either, so we have to balance how many people we're going to be able to have in the future.

And of course, we want you well equipped, we want you well trained. They have all these parts of our budget, all of them focused on making -- our military as successful as possible, but the key, much more important than the technology and everything else, is people.

Now you asked specifically about the schools, which is an important part of our -- of our -- how we take care of our people and how we make it possible for you to have your kids here. The -- in the United States, there is -- there are more opportunities than there are out here to have military kids go to school off post -- (inaudible). I think those opportunities are fewer here.

So, we're very mindful of that and we know that you want your kids going to school in a environment that you know is safe, that you know is high-quality, and with other kids that they'll, you know, keep those life long friends and so forth. So, I -- I think our overseas schools are working very well for us, and I don't see us making changes in our -- our overseas schools.

Q: Sir -- (inaudible) -- from (inaudible). One of the biggest reasons that I have is -- is wearing this uniform, and what helps me is coming home and knowing that my family is -- is happy and they're well taken care of. And that comes down to medical facilities, school, these youth programs. We do understand that the youth programs, no matter how much money you throw at them, is going to be driven by the quality and the level of volunteerism that you get.

We understand that you're always going to have highs and lows, however there is an increasing gap at the high school level when it comes down to education, and most notably athletics, that's going on right now in Japan.

So, in our time here, the kids are getting frustrated with the amount of games, the amount of classes that they can get, or the -- the different level of classes. Those concerns are being brought up continuously and we feel that they're being -- they're falling on deaf ears.

So, what avenue, or what other avenue, do we have as parents, you know, especially for our high school students to go, because I say this, you know, with -- from the bottom of my heart. If I had to stay here any longer, or if I had to do it over again, I would reconsider the assignment, and if I do take the assignment, I would leave my family at home in the states because I feel that they do have more opportunities in the states and would -- where we're concerned is bridging that gap.

We recognize that it's not going to be equal, but the gap isn't getting closer, the gap is getting wider.

SEC. CARTER: Uh-huh. Well -- I'm -- I'm going to tune into that. I was -- I'm not aware of that, I -- so, I promise you I will talk to Gen. Angelella and others here about exactly that. And just so that it's clear, so I understand what the issue is, it's the availability of athletic programs, I guess you're talking particularly in high school? Variety of -- of -- of athletic programs.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. CARTER: Yeah.

Q: The amount of variety -- the amount of games, the staff, the transportation issue, and more so the willingness from adults to come up with better solutions than it's not going to work, we're going to cancel.

SEC. CARTER: Okay.

Q: There -- there's always -- there's a bunch of -- and we feel that there's not enough transparency that allows the parents and the kids full -- the full information to totally understand what's going on. And then -- and -- finally, the openness to listen to our concerns without come -- coming in and just shutting down the meeting.

SEC. CARTER: Okay, well, thank -- thanks. I'm glad you raised it, I'm glad you raised it with me. I'll look into it, I promise you. I appreciate the fact that you're as candid as you -- you are.

 Q: Sir, Lt. Col. Chuck Palmer from the USFJ [U.S. Forces Japan] staff. Just a question, sir, going back looking at lessons that we learned after World War II, what can you and your new predecessor -- excuse me, your new counterpart over at the Department of Veterans Affairs learn from just the massive outflow of -- of resources and -- and time that the government spent on the returning World War II veterans?

 Obviously this is a different scale of what we're facing now withdrawing from -- Iraq and Afghanistan, down sizing the military to a certain extent. What lessons can we learn from that massive effort in an era of austerity and budgets?

 SEC. CARTER: Really good question. The -- one thing that the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us that I think they understood nearly as well back in those days, and that -- makes a new challenge for us and V.A. [Veterans Affairs] that we need to pay attention to is that we have a much better understanding of medical issues arising from combat experience and from protracted deployments and so forth than they did in World War II.

 And so, the needs -- it may be that the needs of people then were similar to the needs of people today, but we know more about how to take care of those needs. So, in our book, the medical knowledge and treatments that we need to make available to separating service members now in the wounded warrior area are much more substantial than they were after World War II.

 Second thing is that I think we have -- we're trying to improve relative to them how we help separating service members with their follow on employment, and that's important. It's -- it was particularly important when the economy was not doing well, which it wasn't from 2008 for another five, six years or something. The economy's doing a little better now, and that's good for our people who are leaving because jobs are more available.

 But I think we also now know, and I don't think they really knew as well after World War II, how to explain what it is about having been in the military that makes you such a good employee. A lot of employers now understand that, you see them talking about it, and that's why a lot of companies are coming to us and say, how -- how can we employ veterans?

 Why do they say that? They say it because military people are by and large overwhelming more disciplined, more skilled, more insightful about complicated tasks because they've been given really complicated tasks. So, it's a really good bet to hire a veteran.

 Last thing is one area where I think we can learn more, and I don't think anybody -- certainly I'm not happy with it, I know the secretary of Veterans Affairs isn't happy with it, is how we hand people off in terms of their records and stuff like that. I mean, that's kind of -- that's something we really got to fix.

 The way I always put it is, there's only one soldier, sailor, or even in Marines, there happen to be cabinet departments, but that's not your problem, it's our problem, Okay? So, you shouldn't have to figure out how to, you know, navigate a bureaucratic maze. So, that's something where I don't think we have our trade craft down.

 But in terms of treating wounded for their lifetime and helping service members transition to post-service life, I -- I think we've -- we're -- we've learned a lot and we're really trying to learn even more and apply that. And in the first case, medical science helps us. And in the second case, we're -- we're just thinking hard about what kind of exposure do you need to a post-service potential employment.

 Do you need further education? Do you -- need some business training because you want to open a small business? I mean, what is it that you want to do? And how can we help service members while they're still in service prepare for their life -- their after, recognizing we can't keep everybody. Of course we want to keep -- I -- I'm always torn because on the one hand I like -- I want people to have opportunities outside the military, on the other hand, I don't want to lose you.

 Yes?

 Q: Secretary Carter, this is Airman (inaudible) of the Logistics Readiness Squadron. Here at Yokota we have the unique opportunity to work hand in hand with the Japanese like our allies, specifically the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force.

 I was wondering, like, what type of joint goals you had for the United States and Japan in the coming years with, like, the rebalancing of the Pacific and, you know, everything that's going on with North Korea and, like the South China Sea? There's a lot of tension.

 I -- I was just wondering if you had any type of joint goals?

 SEC. CARTER: Yeah, it's a really good question, and it's -- it's a really perfect time to be asking that question for two reasons.

 The reason number one is the Japanese, and you probably know this because you live here and you see it, are -- changing the -- their approach to defense and taking a larger role in their defense.

 Remember, our alliance with Japan began after World War II and we had just beaten them, right? And we and the rest of Asia were very suspicious of the Japanese and did not want the Japanese to have a big military, they didn't want them to have a military that did anything outside of Japan because they didn't trust the Japanese.

 Now the years have gone by and I think the Japanese have shown that they can be good citizens in the -- in the region, and they're kind of ready to do more for security in the region. That's what the meaning of -- you've heard this phrase, the guidelines, which is -- our guidelines for how we cooperate with the Japanese, are just about to be revised.

 And the key to that revision is the Japanese doing more in this part of the world, and I think it's time for that. 70 years is a long time since the end of World War II, and it's time that they picked up more of the burden, helped us out, and I think the region's ready for that.

 And that's getting necessary, because even though I said this part of the world is mostly peaceful, it's not entirely peaceful, North Korea, you mentioned, the South China Sea, which is a reference for those who don't follow this to the -- the disputes that go back centuries between different countries, and especially China and other countries, regarding who owns islands out in the South China Sea.

 And you might think to yourself, well, is that, you know, who cares and does anybody really -- but these -- the -- the kind of thing that people end up fighting over, and we don't want that. So, we're trying to use our influence to make that thing -- that situation doesn't get out of control. And in fact, that all the changes that are going on in Asia keep happening, and people get wealthier, and they get, you know, more -- advanced in democracy and so forth, and that all that is able to happen peacefully.

 That's the challenge out here. So, even though it's not, you know, it's not like the Middle East where there seems like there's one thing after another, it's not -- you can't take things for granted out here. The -- the reason we have peace in the Asia Pacific isn't just because it happens to be an inherently peaceful place. It's not. It's because we worked really hard on it, and we need to keep working on it.

 And that's what you guys are all about. And, you know, that's a good note to -- to end on. That, in kind of a nut shell, is why this place is so important and why what you do is so important. It's the most significant region of the world for America's future, and the reason things are going well is because of you.

 And for the kids, one more time, your parents couldn't do it without you. So, thank you also.

 Now I get a change to shake everybody's hand.

 (Applause.)
 

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