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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Talk Aboard the USS San Antonio

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
June 23, 2015

STAFF: I should make some -- I'll tell you, it's my -- it's my esteemed pleasure to introduce our honored guest to you this evening. Dr. Ash Carter, our 25th secretary of defense, spent over 30 years in both government and private sector doing initiatives to enforce our global security and prosperity globally.

He has been educated at Yale, Oxford, MIT, and if you read his biography, you'll see he served in a wide range of partnerships, fellowships and faculty positions. He's with us here now as part of a five-day visit to visit his counterparts in NATO countries and participating countries in the region, as well as visit units such as ours here, operating U.S. units, as well as some exercises. He's also participating in the -- in the NATO ministerial in Brussels, Belgium.

I've completed my check-in with him, so it's my pleasure now to present the newest San Antonio member with his -- with the SECDEF ball cap, so now, he's formally a member of the USS San Antonio. So without any further ado, it's my esteemed pleasure to introduce our newest shipmate, Secretary Ash Carter. Mr. Secretary?

(APPLAUSE)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thank you all. Listen, I really came here to applaud for you. First of all, welcome to Estonia. I saw you pull in this afternoon; just happened to be at building, looked out the window. You looked -- what a magnificent vessel.

And I want to say two things to you. First, all I've been hearing is -- the whole week I've been here is about you and what you're doing and about BALTOPS. So if you don't fully appreciate how important what you've been doing here is, you should -- your ears must have burning when these people were talking. And the reason for that is that you stand in a long line of Americans who have stood behind Europe and freedom in Europe. And BALTOPS is about our NATO alliance, it's about the -- our commitment with NATO to the defense of all of NATO's territory. It is, quite honestly, today about the effort or tendency by Russia to try to turn back the clock and go backwards in history rather than go forward in history. We're not going there with them, and that's true of everybody in NATO as well.

I just came from the president here of Estonia. We went out on his balcony, there you were. They're incredibly proud of you, as all Americans are, but what I'm telling you is go around Europe and you are what they're proud to be associated with, because they know that Americans keep their word and they know, very importantly, that you are part of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. And that's the American armed forces. And to be part of that, to feel the strength of that, to feel the commitment of that -- and not just its raw power but what we stand for and what you stand for, which is what they want to stand up for, themselves, and stand up to.

You know, we didn't want to have this new challenge because we've been busy for the last decade-and-a-half. We've had Iraq, we had Afghanistan. We've got plenty going on in the world, but then all of a sudden, here you have behavior by Russia which, as I said, is an effort to take the world backward in time. And we can't allow that to happen, and that's part of your mission and part of the meeting of BALTOPS. So that's the first thing I wanted to say to you is be sure when your families or anybody are asking you what is this BALTOPS thing, what is it all about, what's the significance of it, it is highly, highly visible here in Europe.

It's reassuring to them to see you because of what you are and what you stand for. It's a very big deal here. So thank you on behalf of not only your own country, but all of these countries here in Europe for what you've been doing here.

Second thing I want to say is thank you for serving in general and to tell you that the reason we're the greatest fighting force the world has ever known isn't just because we've got magnificent ships like the San Antonio, it's not because we have great weapons and that kind of thing -- because we have that too. It's because of the people we have, it's because of you. You're what makes America's fighting force the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

I wake up to that and for that every morning as your secretary of Defense. You are my commitment. You're what it's all about. I know that, and your readiness, your welfare, your equipment, your deployments, they are what I give my utmost care to. So my heart is so with you guys all day every day, and I wanted you to know that. We're not only very proud of what you're doing for the world, but we're proud ourselves to be associated with you.

Because the people are what matters most to me and is my highest priority as secretary of Defense, I wanted to meet with you tonight. You're probably a little eager to get in downtown Tallinn, which, by the way, is lovely, and so I won't detain you for long. But I did want to make myself available to you if you have questions or a comment or anything. But anything you want to ask me at all, I'm all ears for you guys and interested in your perspectives, interested in getting feedback from your experience in our armed forces. What can we do better for you? How can we help you do better at what you're doing or your families or whatever.

So the floor is open. Anybody -- I guess you just step up to the mike here and whatever's on your mind. Try to -- I'll try to answer your question, or I'll get you back with an answer later.

Q: Welcome aboard sir. (Inaudible) -- from air department. A few months ago, we had an unmanned arresting on Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier. I was wondering if you thought that was a success, and if so, would we see any of them, you know, in the near future deploying with a carrier strike group.

SEC. CARTER: Yeah. I don't know if everybody can hear that. It was about unmanned vehicles, air vehicles, on carriers --

Q: Right.

SEC. CARTER: -- amphibs in principle, or the big deck. And the answer is absolutely yes. They're part of our future. They won't replace manned aircraft anytime soon, simply because we've got some pretty good manned aircraft coming along designed for both the Navy and the Marine Corps, namely the F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter.

But for ISR and some other kind of strike missions very important, we have, as you know, rotary wing but fixed wing as well. Definitely part of the future. Definitely what we're working on, one of the things we're working on and need to work on.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Thanks. Great question.

Q: Good evening, sir. I'm Chief Brown. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia right now. Started my Navy adventure 17 years ago.

SEC. CARTER: Great.

Q: My first deployment in 1999, the ships that I was with carried out airstrikes on Kosovo, Serbia. In the last couple of years, we've seen Russia support, somewhat sympathetically, with Syria, and our Navy ships have been there in the eastern Med. Currently, we have ships on deployment in the Black Sea, once again, surrounding the Crimean Peninsula. And here we are today and here you are today.

So you hinted at this a little bit, but how would you describe right now the relationship between the United States and Russia militarily and politically?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I mean, obviously, it's a mixed picture, right? We are standing strong against aggressive tendencies, provocations, things like the annexation of Crimea, which are completely a flagrant violation of international law and, by the way, agreements that Russia signed with the United States in the very 1990s. And at the same time, we try to work with them where we can, where they continue to understand -- and there are some areas, unfortunately, not enough, where they do understand that their interests in the long run, the interests of the Russian people, lie in a different path than the one Vladimir Putin is taking them in.

But we have to remain strong while we still kind of hold the door open to when you have thought about this a little bit, maybe you'll return to the path that we actually thought Russia was on in the 1990s.

You talked about the Balkans, I actually negotiated with Russia in the 1990s the agreement that brought them into the -- remember, they were part of a NATO Kosovo force, and that was a big thing for them to accept, that they were going to be part of a NATO thing, the former enemy now. But they did, and the people who were leading Russia then were far-sighted in that regard and were trying to go forward and not backward in time. Unfortunately, that's not where we are.

So we have to remain strong. We have to remain ready. We have to show resolve. We have to show unity in Europe and unity in NATO.

And I'll say one other thing. Another way that this is not good for the Russian people in the long run is, I mean, they really are getting hit by the sanctions. Now, it doesn't seem to have changed the Kremlin's mind, but it's definitely having an effect on the economy. I mean, all the economists can see that. So, you know, you'd like to see them take a different path, but they may not. And so we need to be there to hold the line and hold firm.

Q: Good evening, sir. I'm (inaudible). I'm part of the operations department. My question is building off of Chief Brown's question.

With the recent activities in Ukraine and in Crimea province, are we going to possibly station a permanent ARG in Europe for quick reaction or new embassy ops or anything?

SEC. CARTER: It's not part of our plans now, and I'll tell you why. By the way, the question was station an ARG permanently here.

Our thinking about presence here, and by the way, also in the Asia-Pacific, is that rotational presence is more advantageous, and there are a number of reasons for that. But one is readiness. The forces -- and this is true of the amphibious forces but it's very, very clearly true of the Army, say -- is much better for the Army to rotationally deploy to Estonia and fall in on equipment that we pre-positioned there, which is something I announced earlier today we're going to start to do -- and train here with their full equipment set than it is for them to train at home station, which is okay, but it's not the -- as real as being here.

And, you know, also they actually want to live back home, although many Americans have lived in Europe for decades very happily. I'm not saying that wouldn't be the case. But mostly, they want to live back home, but they want -- they want to be part of the action. They want to be highly ready, they want to have strong training tempo so that their skill is at the highest level and they want to be part of something real. So they want to come over here.

So that is, I think, for that -- at least those forces -- the better way to maintain highly ready and capable forces here is through a rotational presence rather -- we're not closed-minded about all kinds of models, but that seems like the most sensible model for us now here.

Q: Good evening, Mr. Secretary. Lance Corporal Johnson. With regards to the Marine Corps' mission and deployments overseas, what is the main objective going to be for the Marine Corps when they are deployed overseas, Mr. Secretary?

SEC. CARTER: Well -- the question is what is going to be the main mission of the Marine Corps when they're deployed overseas. And I -- I'm sorry I can't give you a single answer to that, but that's actually one of the virtues of being the Marine Corps, is there isn't a single answer. We ask you to do a lot.

So in the case of the kind of operations that you were exercising -- the kind of capabilities you were exercising in BALTOPS, they're very relevant to a major conflict here or anywhere around the world. And remember, you guys -- you're on a ship, right? So you could end up anywhere in the world. And that's why I can't give you a single geographic answer to that.

I can't give you a single functional answer either, because you guys do a lot of stuff. You do humanitarian stuff, you do rescues, you do counter-piracy, you do counterterrorism, you do embassy protection. I was just visiting in -- I was in Berlin yesterday and your -- the compliment of embassy folks, also are Marine Corps. I know that you're -- that -- aware of the special MAGTFs now in the Mediterranean which have a number of missions also, but one of them is to -- very rapid reaction in case Americans are in danger anywhere in that arc of -- running from the Middle East to North Africa.

So, I mean, the answer to your question is it's complicated because there's a lot that we're counting on the Marines to do. The good part about that answer is there's a lot for the Marines to do in the future; pretty bright future.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Q: Good evening, Mr. Secretary. Ensign -- (inaudible) -- San Antonio Deck Department. With increasing tensions between Russia and the West, do you foresee Navy investment in warfighting shifting from its present littoral focus back to its traditional blue-water roots?

SEC. CARTER: I -- it's going to be, there again, a mix. Now the actual -- even though there are some other countries that boast of blue-water navies, the reality is only the United States really still has a blue-water Navy. Others aspire to that, have little pieces of that, but nothing like the dominance that we have.

I think we'll keep that dominance, and at the same time, operate as we do in other ways in coastal waters and so forth as the Navy does as well. And that gets back to the previous question about the Marines. The Navy, like the Marines, is, fortunately for us, a very flexible force. You can move anywhere around the world, you can do lots of things, you carry along your own real estate, your own sovereignty with you around the world. So it's an incredibly valuable force element, which is why you guys are here, why you signify so, so much to people here in Europe, but above all, to your countrymen.

Once again, thank you all. Have a great time if you're going to go out into town. You'll love this town. It's pretty -- you know, it's not going to get dark until midnight and then the sun will wake up at two, or will get up at two o'clock in the morning. So it's going to be a very nice, long evening, and I wish you well. And again, just from all of us, you are the center of what we think about, and we're so proud of you and so grateful for you.

I -- do I get a chance to coin these guys? That's what I'd really like to do. So let me say what I just said, but to each one of you by looking you in the eye and giving you a coin.
 

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