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

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
July 23, 2015

            STAFF:  It's my honor to introduce the 25th Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.  This is Secretary Carter's first visit to Iraq as the SECDEF, and the second time this month he's visited with 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers.  It's quite an honor for our division, and we hope he's a long time friend of the All-Americans.

 

            Although the secretary obviously chose a career of distinguished civil service, I have it on good account that he secretly wishes he'd started out as a paratrooper.

 

            But it's not just the All-Americans here.  Just like when we're home at Fort Bragg, we are part of a team.

 

            Mr. Secretary, we have seated before you a selection of the finest soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from a variety of different special operations and conventional forces who are working together and with our coalition partners to achieve this difficult mission.  They are training our Iraqi partners, advising and assisting various Iraqi commands and units and providing force protection and other critical mission support activities.

 

            Collectively, these service members are making outstanding contributions each and every day.

 

            Sir, I won't take any more of your time, and I want to thank you for stopping here to talk with us.

 

            Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Carter.  (Applause.)

 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thanks.

 

            Thanks Curtis.

 

            Can you guys hear me?

 

            It turns out I know Curtis.  I -- he and I go back a ways.  And moreover, and this is the real point here, by the way, it's hotter than hell in here.  Do you guys mind if I take this -- take this off?  Appreciate it.

 

            Thank you very much.

 

            It's really hotter than real hell outside.  Actually they were going to do this -- I think we were going to do it in a hangar.  Aren't you all glad to be in here?  I sure am.

 

            Listen, so I've been in the region here for whatever, three, four days now.  And I've seen a lot of important people in a lot of capitals.  Like, you're the most important people to me, and I just want you to know that.

 

            You guys -- you are what matters to me.  You are why I wake up every morning.  You're what I'm thinking about every day.  It's you.  You, your families. 

 

            My wife and I got a chance to be with some of your very own family members down at Bragg, whatever, last week or so.  And she had an opportunity to talk to them.  Well, I watched some of your fantastic colleagues jump out of an airplane, which I do want to do.  Maybe look, put it this way, I want to have done, but I'm not sure I want to do, maybe I'm getting to the point where I shouldn't be trying to do that, but I did get to watch.

 

            But Stephanie met with some of your families and talked to them.  Obviously, they miss you, but they're incredibly proud of you.  And they were glad to hear how proud we are of you.

 

            I'll be real brief here, because it is warm.  And I would give you all a chance to ask questions of me or make comments or whatever you want to do, and then I want to get a chance to look everybody in the eye, shake their hands, and thank you personally for what you do.

 

            So, and that's the first thing I want to say is thank you.  I don't take it for granted that you're here.  I don't take it for granted that your families are back there.  I don't take it for granted that it's uncomfortable here that you put yourself in harm's way and that you're doing that for your fellow citizens of the United States.

 

            Because our first job is to protect our people and our country, but also because of who we are, we contribute to the security of the wider world.  And it is a big world out there.  And we have responsibilities all over it. 

 

            And that gets me to the second part, which is why what you're doing here is so important.  Let me put it in a little context.  You -- I'm going to take this out here, if I can.  As I said, you know, we have responsibilities all around the -- the world, as the most powerful and influential power in the world, and of course the one that everybody wants to work with, because they like us, because they like who we are and what we stand for and the way we conduct ourselves.

 

            So that's -- that's a compliment, but it's also a big burden.  The Middle East is an important place in the world.  It's not the only important place in the world, but it's a very important one to our country and to world security, and Iraq is an important part of the Middle East.

 

            The -- the campaign against DAESH, I -- first of all, the first thing I'd tell you is I don't have any doubt that we'll win, because civilization always wins over barbarism.  The many always win over the few.  So we're going to defeat DAESH.  I don't have any doubt about it. 

 

            And if all there was to it was to beat them once, you could do it.  And -- and but that's not, of course, the issue.  The defeat we need to give to DAESH is a lasting defeat, a defeat that sticks.  And that can only be done if we're supporting the people who live here.

 

            We can beat DAESH because we're the most powerful force in the world.  But we -- to -- to keep them beaten requires the capable, motivated forces here in Iraq, and that requires the support of the Iraqi people.

 

            And so we can help them.  We can enable them.  We can train them.  We can equip them.  We can support them.  But we can't substitute for them.  Because we don't live here and we can't keep them, DAESH beat, DAESH, I've been calling it all day, because I know these people ISIL.  We can't keep them beaten.  Only the people who live here can keep them beaten.

 

            And so that's why your mission is to help the Iraqis along with all the other countries that are part of the coalition to win back their sovereignty and their peace in their own territory.  We're headed in the right direction.  As I said, if it were only up to us, it would be more straightforward, but it's not.  We have -- we need to work with, by, and through them.  And that's what we're doing.  And that takes some time, and it takes some effort, but that's what it takes to make victories stick when we have victory.

 

            And you are -- that's your mission here.  I don't have any doubt that we'll succeed in that mission, but it's going to take some time.  We're headed in the right direction.  We're making some progress.  We need to make more.  We're trying to work harder, trying to get them to do more.  We're willing to do more when and if they develop capable and motivated forces of their own that can take territory and hold territory, helped by you, but again, not replaced by you or substituted by you.  We know from experience that doesn't work.  It doesn't stick.

 

            The -- I had a chance to talk to the leaders of the country today, and they, to a person, I spoke to understand that.  And they at least are committed to that.  So we hope that they can deliver that.  And if they do, we will support them, and we'll go, I guess as you guys would say, all the way.  And so I don't have any doubt that we'll go all the way.  Well, so all the way, so does that not ring any bell with anybody if I say all the way?  What kind of -- you know, 82nd Airborne Fleet people are you?

 

            So anyway, that's -- that's the second thing I wanted to say to you.  So the first thing is thanks.  And the second thing is why in my own words, we appreciate what you're doing here and what your mission is.

 

            With that, let me turn things over to you.  I'll ask you all to -- there's some mics around, and you can ask me questions or you can just tell me something that's on your mind or on your family's mind, and I'll do my best to -- to answer you, and then I look forward to look at everybody in the eye and shaking their hand.

 

            Q:  Hey, I'm Captain (Inaudible).  I work with brigade headquarters of 382.  And as you said, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of things going on in a lot of regions of the world.  A lot of important places.  You know, this obviously is one that's very important, especially if we've been called here to help the citizens and to have that -- that victory that lasts like you spoke of.

 

            But can you tell us sir, what is it that keeps you up at night?  Like what is that one thing that just has you tossing and turning for a man that's seen so much and done so much?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Well, a lot of people ask me that question.  And I'll tell you a couple of things.  First -- first of all, it's not just -- it's not one thing, because of who we are.  It's a big complicated world out there, and we're looked to for lots of things.

 

            And the second thing is, you know, I sleep pretty well because I'm very confident in our country.  And I -- I am an optimist about the future.  We're tremendously powerful.  As I said, we're tremendously well-liked.

 

            So I -- and of course we -- there are things that -- and every day there's something and every day you and your colleagues are combating a threat somewhere around the world.  I also, though, as I -- as I work on and -- and your -- your commanders and everybody back in Washington work on today's problems, I try to do something else, which is I also say to myself, what is going to keep up the guy who comes after me, or after me, after me, after me, sometime in the future?  What's going to keep that man or woman up?

 

            And what do I owe them?  What do I owe to the future?  What do I people in your generation, your children?  What do we owe them?  So it's not -- it -- it's not just what keeps me up at night.  Part of what keeps me up at night is the duties that make sure that the -- somebody in the future isn't kept up by something far worse. 

 

            And that's why we try to take actions that prevent things from getting out of control, that get worse, from having weapons of mass destruction spread, cyber, and why we keep the finest fighting force the world has ever known in the United States of America now, and in the future, because we owe that to the generations that come after us, so they're not up at night, like too many people right here in this country.  They're up at night.  That's what we owe our people is that they can go to sleep at night knowing that they're safe. 

 

            That's what you do for them.  That's the wonderful thing about being part of this institution.  You get to go to bed every night knowing that you have been part of something bigger than yourself, which is safeguarding your -- your country.  There's nothing nobler than what you all do.  I know it's hard, but there's nothing nobler than what you do.

 

            Q:  Sir, do you think military recruiters should be armed at their offices?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Question was, should military recruiters be armed in their offices.

 

            And you know, obviously, our hearts go out to the families, the five folks that were -- that we lost in Chattanooga.  And that saddens me.  It also kind of angers me, because I -- it -- we -- I guess I have to be careful.  We don't know exactly what happened here and what this guy did, and who this guy was, and so there are a lot of people with strange motivations out there possibly inspired, but I don't know.

 

            But the question was, should people in recruiting offices be armed or not?  And I'll tell you, I don't know the answer to that yet, because I'm waiting to hear back from the services about that.  We have taken some steps to increase force protection, which is the most important thing we do is protect one another for me to keep you safe.

 

            And so we took immediately after Chattanooga some steps to increase force protection, and then I've asked the services to take a look, because one  -- one question is whether we arm people, but there are other things that we need to consider, do another, and give me their recommendations about the whole portfolio of things, including this question that we should do to make sure that our -- our people are kept safe at recruiting stations.

 

            We need to recruit, but we can't put people at unnecessary risk as well.  So I want to -- I want to give them a chance to think about if the commanders and so forth hear back from them, and then I'll make decisions sometime in the next few days.

 

            Q:  Staff Sergeant Bertram, Bravo Company 1-P.

 

            Real quick sir, with the nuke deal in Iran, how do you see that affecting us going forward in Iraq, especially when it relates to the Shia militias?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  So the question was, what about the nuclear deal in Iran?  Does it affect things here?  And I've been traveling around the region, and a bigger version of that question has been asked almost everywhere I -- I stopped.  And -- and you know, basically the Iran nuclear deal, which is a good deal, in the sense that it -- it will stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  It's about Iranian nuclear weapons.  It's not about everything else Iran does.

 

            And so, I continue to be concerned about Iranian malign activity in the region to include here, and the possibility of Iranian aggression and the possibility that Iran will not obey the agreement, which we'll find out, because we've -- it's got to be inspections and verified and so forth, which is why we will keep the military option, which was the alternative to a -- a deal.  We will keep that, and continue to improve that.

 

            So we're going to keep doing what we do, whether there's a deal or whether there's not a deal here and everywhere else around the region.  And that's the basic answer to the question.  It solves one very important problem if it is approved and then if it is implemented, which as I said, we'll note, because we inspect it, but it doesn't solve all problems over in this part of the world, and it doesn't solve all problems emanating from -- from Iran.

 

            So, we still have our job to do.  One of the things we're saying is, it's an agreement that places important limitations upon Iran, places no limits on us, and it doesn't place any limits on anything we do with anybody in this region.

 

            So, we're going to keep on keeping on with everything we're doing here to protect ourselves, protect ourselves against terrorists, and protect our friends and interests here, and none of that will change.

 

            Q:  Sir, Captain Matt (Inaudible), Third Brigade and Second. 

 

            Sir, how do you see the operational tempo changing here?  As -- as you say, we're moving in the right direction, but we're looking at a 10 to 20 year campaign, and we look at an additional 40,000 cuts to the Army and to brigade combat teams.

 

            What sort of changes do you see, sir?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Well here, I would say that the -- whether and when we do more here is going to depend upon what the Iraqis are able to do in terms of fielding capable and motivated forces.  Because everything we do, and the other rest of the coalition will do will be in support of that.

 

            And so it's possible that we'll need to do more and have an -- have the opportunity in the sense to do more when they get more proficient, and obviously we're hoping that they do.  More motivated, more proficient, more able to carry on the fight themselves.   Then we and the rest of the coalition can help them more.

 

            But it's just important always to keep, you know, in the back of our minds, we can't substitute for capable and motivated Iraqi Security Forces.

 

            We can help them, but we can't substitute for them.

 

            And -- and you -- you also asked about resources in general.  I guess worth addressing that as well.  Resources for defense in general, was that the -- Well, obviously we don't have as much money as we would like, and we have more budget turbulence than is really responsible for any country to have.  This has been going on now for several years.  And it's wasteful and it's dangerous.  It's embarrassing.  All this business about sequester and so forth.

 

            So I don't have anything good about that to say.  It's no good for us, and we shouldn't be doing this as a country.  And I have to live with it.  I understand that.  But I don't like it.  And there's no reason why we should like it.  We're going to -- we are doing our best within it, and by doing our best, I mean, just to boil it down to how each of you experienced this, we have so much money in the budget, and so then we have to say to ourselves how do we use what we have?

 

            So I could for example pay you more, which you deserve.  Because you -- in a certain way, we can't pay you people enough for what you do. 

 

            Or -- but I can't do that and have enough of you at the same time.  So I can take away the person to your left and the person to your right and pay you more.

 

            And then I have to think about how do I get money to equip you, right?  Because you want the best and newest equipment as well.  Well, so I've got to think about how to balance that in there as well.  And then I never want you to go anywhere do anything without being trained for that mission.  So I want to make sure I have money for training, too.

 

            So when you get to compensation, size of the force, equipment for the force, training for the force, those are the pots that the defense budget goes into.  And if we only have so much money, we've got to try to balance across those four pots so that you get the best overall package that you possibly can.  That's what we're struggling to do within this.

 

            Now, that would be hard enough with any amount of money, but it's not only the amount of money, it's the turbulence, it's the upsy-downsy every -- every year, the sort of herky-jerky nature of this thing that's been going on for three or four years.

 

            I think that was what makes it particularly difficult.  And -- and really irresponsible. 

 

            Q:  Good evening, sir. 

 

            How's it going sir?

 

            Staff Sergeant Walker, Bravo Company.

 

            I have a two-part question actually.  With the 40,000 troop withdrawal over the next two years, with the VA system being broken the way it is, have you guys taken accountability, you throw in 40 more thousand, you know, families into a broken system.  You know, as -- you know, as far as -- have you guys given that some thought?

 

            And second part is, with the budget the way it is, let's say before you guys start the withdrawal process, the budget you know, rights itself.  Will that 40,000 still be, you know, cut down?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  I don't know.  There are -- everybody got that, but one is with 40,000 folks, now this is in the Army, with the drawdown, an Army end-strength occurring, the question was have I given any thought to the fate of the people?

 

            Let me -- let me start with that one.  I give it a whole lot of thoughts.  I mean, you know, I don't -- in an ideal world, we'd never have any involuntary or -- or required separations.  I'm trying to deal with the hand we're dealt budgetarily, and also strategically.  Because with -- when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at full tilt, the Army needed to -- to make its investment heavy on people because of the big rotational needs of coming in and out of Afghanistan.  And nobody wanted you guys deployed all the time or even half the time.

 

            And so we needed a big rotation force.

 

            And we're in a different strategic era now.  So the Army leadership has decided, and I think they're absolutely right, that they don't need the large numbers that they needed.  That's a strategic thing.  That's not a budget thing.  But it makes sense.  But it still begs your question which is, what happens to the people who -- who go out?  And I do care about them.  And I think the best thing that is going on, and we can't take all the credit for that in the government, a lot of people in business can take credit for it, and above all it's -- it's a credit to our people, is that many of those folks are doing very well in the economy.  The economy's picking up.

 

            But the main thing -- the main thing is this, employers, and I hear this all the time, think you guys are great employees.  They think you're skilled.  They think you're motivated, they think you're organized.  They think that you have had experience that is beyond your years.  All that's true.  And so our -- I'm out there and I'm out talking all the time about veterans' employment, talking up how good our people are, and so forth.  And you know, I'm old enough to remember when it was different, and people had a different picture of us, and the picture now is very positive and very good.

 

            So that's something bright that is on the side of what is otherwise not something that anybody would welcome, except that the Army has decided, and I think they had very good budget and strategic reasons, that they don't need all the people they needed at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  It's just that simple, and they have to do what is responsible within their budget for the country overall strategically and for the Army overall.

 

            Okay.

 

            Can I do one more?

 

            STAFF:  Yes sir.  (off-mic) (Laughter.)

 

            Q:  Specialist (inaudible), Charlie Company, 1-Panther. 

 

            How do you -- with expanding on the previous two questions, how do you expect us to do more with less, and what does that look like for us for involvement with contractors and whatnot?

 

            SEC. CARTER:  Well, I mean, you can't literally do more -- more with less.  Obviously, we can get more efficient in -- people are always looking for more efficiency in society and the economy and businesses, and so we can get more efficient.

 

            And we can certainly get more efficient in terms of -- of contracting.  But you know, a hard budget situation makes us make hard choices.  And -- and also a changing world makes us make hard choices. 

 

            If we're going to stay the best, which we need to, we need to keep up and keep changing.  So we need to change even if we didn't have this budget situation.  But we have that on top of it.  So we've got to -- we've got to be agile, we've got to be dynamic as an organization, and generally, we are.  There's no more -- no better learning organization, I think, in American society than the U.S. military. We're very good at it.

 

            Okay, with that I'll stop here.  And then let me shake everybody's hand, look you in the eye, and do -- and say once again what I said at the very beginning, which is thanks for what you're doing out here.  It means a great deal to us.  It's historic work.  We're extremely proud of you.

 

            (Applause.)

 

            Also, sorry.  If you didn't get a question and you have a question or a family member has questions, you can get me on Facebook also, and I'll try to respond to that.

 

            What do you think of that?

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