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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event in Grafenwoehr, Germany

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
June 26, 2015

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thank you.

Thank you, Bill. And thank you all. I don't know where Rob is -- there he is. Thanks, Chris -- Chris over there, too. Thank you.

And each and every one of you, including those guys in the front that we just had lunch with. Really appreciate it. I had a great time -- opportunity to chat with them.

To our Romanian and German colleagues, also thank you. And thank you for the partnership.

I've got just two things I want to say, and then I want to hear from you. If you've got questions, you've got something you think I ought to know, we'll do that for a while. And then I want to have a chance to look each and every one of you in the eye and shake your hand and thank you personally for what you do.

Let me start with the importance of what you're doing over here. I've had a real opportunity to get a taste of that over this week I've been in Europe. And just to remind you how we got to where we are, you know, a year ago, the NATO alliance was wondering what it was going to do after Afghanistan. And in the intervening year, we've discovered not only one thing to do, but two things to do, namely Putin's Russia, to put it bluntly, and ISIS, and what ISIS means for the southern flank and southeastern flank of NATO and for the nations that live there.

And that has reminded this continent of the need to -- for us to work hard to protect our own people. It's not a birthright that you get to live life the way people here in Germany do, the way people do in the United States. We need what we have, which is the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

We need that. That's you. And that is -- that underscores the importance of what you're doing here. You are deterring aggression. You're preparing to respond to crises. You're preparing to deal with terrorism. And this is necessary in order for civilized society to exist. And we do it with our colleagues here in Europe because by and large they see things the way we do. They share a lot of the same values that we have. And not -- a lot of the rest of the world doesn't.

So they are natural allies both because of their -- not just because of their strength and our history and all that. It goes back a long time. But because we stand for many of the same things. And that's the best kind of allies you can possibly have.

So, in case you were in any doubt, and I'm sure you're not, but about the importance of what you're doing here, I wanted to say that we, and certainly your leadership, very much values what you're doing here. I think speaking for all of our fellow citizens in the United States, deeply grateful to you, proud of you, admiring of you and what you do.

And that brings me to the second thing I want to say to you, which is that you are to me what I wake up for every morning. It's the people in our military that makes us great. We have great equipment. We have great training and training ranges. And, you know, all that's true, but at the end of the day what makes us the best is you.

And I don't take that for granted, that you have choices in life. You don't have to be doing this. It's not like when I was coming up. You didn't get a choice. You have a choice today. You can go out and do something else. In fact, I was talking to some folks earlier having lunch with, and basically asking them what does it take to get you to stay.

I mean, because getting good people to come and good people to stay is my most important responsibility, because we have to make the force of the future from the people who are going to be our future. And that's you.

And so I just want you to know you're the center of my thinking and my heart is with you every single day. And I'll do everything I possibly can to make us an institution that attracts the very best and keeps the very best, because that's the only way to keep us safe.

So, if you have an opportunity to talk to anybody in your family, I know being away from home is, for those of you who are away from home, is tough. But next time you're talking to a spouse or kids or parents or whatever it is, I'd appreciate it if you would just pass it on from me and through me our entire people how much we value what we do. We don't -- what you do. We don't take it for granted. We're very grateful. We're extremely proud of you.

Let me now ask anybody who's got something to say or has any questions. Of course, I might not know the answer, but if you've got just something you want me to know, you think I ought to know so that I do my job better to help you do your job better, that's fine, too.

I think there's some mics around.

SEC. CARTER: Hold on one second. I can hear you, but I doubt everybody else can.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Lieutenant (inaudible), 15th Engineering Battalion, from (inaudible), Georgia.

Sir, given the current geopolitical climate in Europe and our ongoing NATO operations, do you foresee an increase in American forces stationed in Europe despite the drawdowns that we've been seeing?

SEC. CARTER: I see -- I foresee an increase in OPTEMPO here. I foresee an increase in training tempo and an increase in rotational presence. I think your question is really about permanent stationing. And I do not foresee that. There are basically two reasons for that -- one good and principled, the other one not really.

But the good one is that in some ways, and actually I was talking to some of the folks at lunch today about this, and that, you know, rotational presence has its good side and its bad side. You know, the good side of it is that more of our force will get to know this environment as a consequence of it, that –if only the piece -- the part that is stationed here. That's the good part. The bad part is that people have to be away from home.

It is true, I believe, my understanding is, that the units that come here are -- there's really a boost in readiness. So if we do have a crisis, the folks who are here coming through or the folks who have been through are going to be the point of the spear for us in terms of defending. So that's the good side.

The bad side, to be very blunt about it, is that we spend in the defense budget the taxpayers' money, the American taxpayers' money, and they on the whole, they understand the strategic need to be overseas, but it's always a struggle for me to persuade people, because they, to be quite blunt about it, they want you spending your money at home, not in another place.

And it's not only here in Europe, but it's in Asia and everywhere else we have people. And so we have to convince them that we need a mix. We need people at home because they need to be with their families and so forth. But we need our military to be familiar with the rest of the world, because that's where conflicts are. And that's where we're going to become engaged.

And if you've never been here, you're going to have a big learning curve if we ever deploy you here. And that's not going to be either fair to you or effective. So there are kind of two sides to it.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Captain (inaudible), 44th ESB, Granby, Colorado.

Sir, my question is about the troop reductions and whether or not you can confirm that the Army will continue to shrink. And if that is the case, do you have kind of a number on the wall of what that might look like?

SEC. CARTER: I don't have a number on the wall. I think our plans are to have it have some reduction in the size of the Army. And the reasons -- I'll tell you what the reasons are and then I'll tell you some concerns that I have about it.

The reasons for our -- well, first of all, that we are coming out of 13 years of very large, persistent COIN fights. And so we increased our end-strength in order to not wear people out, although we did wear people out, in terms of rotations.

And so –now we’re looking at a force that is –- now it’s time to recapitalize, so we need to do –- we need to spend more on modernization, some of which was deferred over these last fifteen years, and so forth. So there’s a balancing as we come out of COIN and go to full-spectrum, in terms of what we do. So that’s perfectly reasonable, and that gets me to my concern. My concern is that we keep the very best. And the risk in rapid reductions is -- are sometimes that if you don’t do it right, the wrong people leave first, so to speak. And we don’t want that, because the quality represented by the people who are sitting right here is spectacular. You know you're a small slice of our society. You're not a cross-section. You're a very elite slice. And we need it.

So, managing that drawdown as it occurs is the principal thing. In your case, in the Army, Secretary McHugh and General Odierno and I talk about. And we have deliberately done it in the case of the Army and also the Marine Corps, which are also big to -- so that we could do Iraq and Afghanistan.

In both of those ground forces, we have deliberately gone slowly, even in hard budget times, in reductions because we wanted to go carefully and cautiously. So there's a qualitative aspect to it as well as a quantitative aspect.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Staff Sergeant West, Apache 1-2, Tempe, Arizona.

My question is pertaining to recent cyber attacks against our nation, those specifically targeting the armed forces. I'm just curious what measures are being taken to safeguard our security clearances.

SEC. CARTER: Very good question. And this is a new domain of -- and you're using the right word -- "warfare." And we've actually been talking a lot. I was up in Estonia where NATO's Center of Excellence for Cyber is. And you may wonder: Why the hell is that? And it turns out they're very good at it. They've long been -- they were an early adopter when the Soviet Union collapsed, of modern I.T. So they're a very I.T.-savvy place, even though small.

So they -- they took this on. And as a recognition as we adapt NATO -- you know, the NATO of old was for defense of Germany against the Warsaw -- (inaudible) -- Western Europe against the Warsaw Pact. It was a very different era in warfare.

And then -- then we had the Cold War and then we went into Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we're trying to look at the future. And this alliance is trying to look at its future. And agility and the kinds of things that are represented by you and training here is one element of it. But another element of it is cyber.

And just to answer your question specifically, job one is to harden ourselves to attack. And you read in the newspaper stories that neither in government nor in the business sector, and even in our department, are we immune to that.

So, we're better because we've spent more time and more money, basically, trying to protect our networks, but they're not perfect. And you know you can't just worry about outside or in, somebody hacking in. You have to worry about inside out, too, as Edward Snowden proved. So, defending the integrity of these networks is job one.

And, you know, I'm not going to pretend that we're as good as I think we should be in that regard, which is one reason why we're making new investments in cyber. And it's not hugely expensive. It's mainly demanding of people. So getting good people who are good at that particular thing is the -- is the trick. But cyber defense is something we need to invest more in.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Specialist -- (inaudible), 1st brigade (inaudible).

Sir, I'd like to know what is the Defense -- Department of Defense plan of action when it comes to the increasing threat –posed by Al Shabaab and Boko Haram in West Africa?

SEC. CARTER: Yeah. Both Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are serious terrorist organizations. They are -- are -- terrorize not only their own countries, but the continent of Africa. And this is one of these things that if you leave it unchecked, it will go worldwide, including to the United States. So it's a real concern to us.

Some of them, as we see elsewhere around the world, are renaming themselves, taking -- taking the ISIS brand or some of the ISIS playbook and trying to modernize themselves. Because both those groups have been around for a while.

But they're cruel. They’ll stop at nothing. And our -- and we are in the fight against them. Our principal way of doing that is to help others who are either the African nations, which we -- where we try to help train and equip and so forth their militaries better to deal with that. And in some cases, we're helping allies -- the French, for example, on the African continent, to combat these groups.

But you know, make no mistake, they're -- they're as dangerous as terrorists in the Middle East. They just happen to be in Africa, but what they do to people and what they're prepared to do to people, what their aspirations are, are not really very different.

SEC. CARTER: I recognize this guy.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.

With the downsizing of the military, what role do you see armor playing in the near future within the Army, Marine Corps, with the training personnel and funding -- since Fort Knox has closed and the new home of the armor is in Fort Benning along with the infantry?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think armor has an enduring place in the armed forces. The -- with respect to the geography of things, this is another one of the difficult adjustments that we're having to make in not just the Army, but in all the services. Because as you -- it's not just changing size, but as you change shape, you -- you need to move things around, consolidate things in the interest of efficiency.

And so you will see some geographic repositioning of things. And we try to do that to the extent possible with consideration of what it means for families. But there has to be a mechanism, too, where we can reduce the size or number of installations where it's above what we need. Because if you think about it, something that I combat all the time is what usually goes by the expression "tooth to tail." In the military, you are tooth. A building is tail. Right?

And so I want more tooth and, where possible, less tail, though there has to be enough tail to serve the tooth. But in some cases, we are -- we know better, but we're not allowed to -- we're not permitted basically by Congress to consolidate installations. And I -- it frustrates me a lot, and I keep hoping that we will get authority to do so, because it is one of the ways of making us more efficient.

And the less money we spend in other ways, the more of you I can have, the more I can pay you. The newer the equipment I can provide to you, the better I can train you. So these are the tradeoffs that I make every day in terms of the budget.

And obviously, I'd like any of those four things I just named over having an installation that's too big or two installations where I could have one. So that's the logic behind some of the moving around and consolidation. You know, ultimately it's to give us tooth. But we do try to be very respectful of the people involved, to the extent that's possible, given what it is.

Q: I said hooah, sir. Army stands behind you.

(Applause.)

SEC. CARTER: Thank you all. Well, I stand behind you all every day. You stand behind our country and for our European colleagues, you stand behind the common principles that we -- our countries together stand for. So we thank you, as well as me extending my thanks to each and every one of you, the American service members here, and to every member of your family.

Thanks to them for letting us have you.

(Applause.)
 

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