MODERATOR: Good morning, and aloha. To the PACOM ohana, it's my pleasure to introduce the 24th secretary of defense. Now, for all of you out there, he's actually been one of you, a sergeant in Vietnam, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, more importantly than that, two Purple Hearts and a Combat Infantry Badge. So he knows what he's talking about when he talks about his vision for this -- the Department of Defense.
So without further ado, Secretary Hagel. (Applause.)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Just another morning in Hawaii, isn't it? Terrible weather you're having. I'm sorry about that, that you've got such a difficult spot.
First, thank you for allowing me to greet you this morning and allowing me to acknowledge the work you do. And thank you, on behalf of our president and our country, who all recognizes that work and the importance of your efforts.
I know sometimes you feel stuck out here in the Pacific, that maybe no one knows who you are or what you're doing, but let me assure you: We do. And we're grateful. And you play a very important role not only in our national security, but the region's. And you're really a central part of the larger plan.
So please, also, thank your families. I think that families are often just taken for granted, and it's probably as difficult -- maybe more difficult for them than it is for you, and you all know that, and you know how difficult it is. But I want you to be sure and tell your families that I ask about them and that I wanted to extend my thanks and best wishes.
I know this is a pretty unique operation here when you've got a blend of your National Guard here, with active and with civilians. And we've now outfitted this squadron with, I think, the complete set of the F-22s. That's a big deal, as you all recognize. And we're very proud of that, and I know how proud you are to be the first squadron to have that situation. And I know how proud you are to have that integrated dynamic of the National Guard and active and civilians all working together.
That's as much value added as I think we can get in our system. And that -- that's as it should be. It is value added. And I think at a time when we are having to prioritize our resources, whether you catalogue that by referencing sequestration, the fact is, we are going to be doing with less. That's not unusual, as we unwind from a second war, and we reset, and we redeploy assets. That specifically is within the framework of the rebalancing that President Obama directed a couple of years ago. That was a correct decision for the reasons you all understand.
I'm on my way to Singapore after I leave here, and I will speak there. General Locklear -- or Admiral Locklear -- is there now, I think, unless he stopped off for breakfast somewhere before he got there. And we'll have a number of our leadership from the Pacific and Asia there.
But one of the points I'll make in my comments to our Asian partners and allies is that, with this rebalance, which is the right thing to do for them, too, by the way, not just for us, but for the rest of the world, that doesn't mean that we are abandoning our resources anywhere else or we're retreating from any other part of the world. We're not. Our interests are global.
But as you rebalance the challenges and opportunities -- and sometimes we forget there are opportunities -- and I think the opportunities that abound today in the world probably centered as much in the Asia Pacific as any one area -- are as unique with as much potential as maybe ever in the history of man. And I really believe that.
It's going to really depend on how wisely we govern, how wisely we respond to each other, how wisely we can form coalitions of common interests. We all have common interests. Our governments are different. Our histories are different. Our cultures are different. Some of us look different. Our languages are different. But still, the basic common interests of the human being don't change.
And I've been all over the world, like you have, been to a lot of countries in the world. I've never found a country yet or religion or a culture or a tribe that doesn't have the same feelings about their families. They love their families. You love your family. You start there. We all need the basics in life to survive. You start there.
So if that is the given -- and it is -- then why can't we get along? Well, I know that's pretty simple. I get that. But I like to ask simple questions, because we tend to kind of glide over simple things, and we tend to more than occasionally make things more complicated than they need to be.
This is a defining time in the world. This is a defining time right now. This region of the world is going to have an awful lot to say about how this next world order is built out. And we've not seen a time like this in the world since really right after World War II, that 10-year period after World War II, when, in fact, the world was built out.
The difference is, the United States held most of the cards after World War II. We don't hold all the cards this time. And, by the way, that's good. It allows other countries to share responsibilities. It allows other countries to prosper. And only then do we -- when we accept that premise -- and we all accept that -- will the world prosper. And I think we're right on the edge of that. So your role in this is pretty important.
So with that, again, I wanted to thank you for what you're doing. That's the main message I wanted to give to you this morning. And I'd be very happy -- if the general lets me -- if it's okay, I'll be glad to respond to a question, advice, suggestions, tell me to go home, whatever.
I've got a reporter, the Washington -- the Washington bureau chief for the Omaha World Herald who's with me. That's my home state newspaper of Nebraska. And I just noticed he's in a big red N cap. You can't miss him. And so if -- in particular, if you've got any advice for Joe Morton on Nebraska football this year, he will get it right to Coach Pelini and the people who are in charge. And especially if you've got a trick play, let him know.
So anything you want to talk about, I'll take a couple minutes. Yes?
Q: Good morning sir. Petty Officer First Class Alvin Balthasar. I work for the commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. In the military, we're dealing with a lot of financial cutbacks, and I was wondering if military retirement and other benefits are going to be affected, as well, sir, in the near future?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think everyone heard that question. It's a very important question, because as I noted, we are going to be seeing budgets that are less and less. And we're living with that now. So we are reviewing every component of our budget. And we have to look at personnel costs, because they represent the biggest part.
Now, that always has to be subject to this reality and to this priority: You take care of your people. It doesn't make any difference how sophisticated your equipment or anything else. If you don't have good people, and if you can't keep good people, and you can't continue to educate them and train them and develop them, it won't make any difference how good your planes are or anything else. So that's a high priority, as high as any priority. Obviously, that has to connect to national security. That's our job. That's my main job as the secretary of defense, the security of this country, like it's your jobs, but you do it with people.
So everything that we're looking at -- and we are looking at everything across the board, entitlement programs and every way -- the Congress and the president are having to do the same thing with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. And so we are looking at it.
To your more immediate question, is that going to affect your retirements and benefits? We suggested in our budget presentations to Congress this year that we ask the Congress to consider things like adjusting prescription co-pays, to increase those co-pays, not -- not very much, by the way, also, TRICARE fees. Not very much. TRICARE and all the -- all the benefits that come with the commitments we make to you are still the best benefits that I'm aware of anywhere in the world. And -- and that's okay. That's as it should be, because you give up an awful lot for a career in the military. So that was the whole balance.
But we've got to do things like that or we won't be able to sustain the programs. And we can do it. We can do it smartly. We can do it wisely without hurting anybody, and that's the way we'll come at it and that's the way we'll do it.
Oh, thank you.
Somebody else? Yes.
Q: Morning, sir. Petty Officer Third-Class Michael Byrd, and I'm from commander, Naval Region Hawaii out of Pearl Harbor. My question is, how does our government plan to increase cyber security in a world where the threat of global terrorism threats through cyber warfare is growing by the day, sir?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, you just defined the issue, the challenge. One of the very few items that the president proposed in his budget that I presented to the Congress this year to be increased was our cyber warfare capabilities. We are increasing that part of the budget significantly for the reasons you mentioned.
And we are -- we're doing more than just increasing the budget. That means more people, more sophisticated approaches, and more interconnects within our inter-government agencies, obviously, the NSA, Cyber Command, Homeland Security, working with our law enforcement.
And then another very important component to this is our allies and our partners, because we live in a world -- and you all know this -- where one country's just not big enough, strong enough, good enough, wealthy enough to handle it all. We can't do it, especially cyber. And cyber is one of those quiet, deadly, insidious unknowns you can't see, it's in the ether. It's not one big navy sailing into a port or one big army crossing a border or squadrons of fighter planes crossing a border. This is a very difficult, but real and dangerous threat. And there's no higher priority for our country than -- than this issue.
I had the privilege of co-chairing President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board for four years before I was asked to do this job. And that -- that issue took more of our time than -- than any one issue. I served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for eight years. And even 10 years ago, on that committee, we were focusing on this.
But to just give you one sense of the framing out on this and perspective, very few people 10 years ago -- very few people eight years ago, six years ago would have rated cyber challenges, dangers as maybe the biggest threat to all of us. I mean, it happens that fast. And you know all the reasons. You know, these attacks can paralyze an electric grid, a banking system, knock out computers on ships or weapons systems, and you never fire a shot. And it's hard to detect exactly where it comes from, so you've got that added problem, you respond, if you respond, where do you respond, how do you respond, are you sure you're responding to the right person, the right country, the right entity in that country? Tough issue. But we're working on it. And we're working very hard on it.
Are you -- are you in that business?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, you're young, smart, good-looking, and you got a great future. You're a Nebraskan. No, that's a joke. I thought it was -- young, good-looking, smart, you had to be.
Who else wants -- yes?
Q: Morning, sir. I'm Corporal Harris with Headquarters Battalion on Marine Corps Base Hawaii. I'm actually about to get out of the military in a couple weeks here, and I've been noticing on the news a lot of stories about how backlogged the V.A. is. I was wondering what was being done to help streamline the system and when we could expect to see changes.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, unfortunately, that is the case. The Department of Defense obviously has a responsibility and a role in all of this, to help the VA. We've been working very closely with the VA on this over the years. We're not near where we need to be, where we should be, and where we will be.
When I came into this job about three months ago, I started looking at everything, and that was one of the first things that I looked at. I had been the deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration under President Reagan for the first year-and-a-half he was in office. And I played a role in helping get the VA on a then-computerized system. We had never, ever had anything like that.
So it doesn't mean I know a lot. I don't. But I know probably more than most people do about this, because I had responsibility of helping put it together at the VA. So I know how difficult this job is.
The first 10 days I was in this job, I went over to see General Shinseki, who's an old friend, who, as you know, is secretary of veterans affairs. We sat down for two hours, just the two of us, and said, all right, take me through it, Ric. What are we doing right? Where are failing? What are the problems?
I went back and got involved in it at DOD. I put a hold on everything going forward on RFPs, everything, until I could get a better understanding of what we were doing. We have now completely restructured it. We've taken it out of where it was, put new leadership in charge, new acquisitions people in charge, continuing to work obviously where we can, and we have made progress, by the way, in helping the VA, but a lot more.
Second, when you look at that backlog problem, over 800,000 cases, most of that is a result of claims that have come in from members who were in the military who served before Iraq and Afghanistan. Even some go back to World War II. Now, to retrieve those records, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and going back that far, is where part of the big problem is. And our role, our piece of that backlog is very small, in the backlog issue itself. And I think, unfortunately, the issue gets confused, because there are a lot of pieces to the DOD-VA partnership in how we exchange and how we have mutual roadmaps and how we are able to move things electronically back and forth.
And, by the way, there's a lot of good news on that. We've made good -- a lot of good progress. The backlog is a problem. It's a big problem. But that is separate from a lot of other things, and people get confused and don't understand that.
So bottom line is, we're doing everything we can, we'll continue to do. We're recommitted to do that. I just sent Secretary Shinseki a letter before I left a couple days ago, two-page letter, from him -- from me to him, laying out all the new initiatives that I propose we, DOD, do for VA Our chiefs of staff have talked. Our top people have talked. I have laid all these new assets out and said, do you want them? Do you need them?
People -- now, we have a lot of people at the VA now. I mean, we have had -- we have DOD people over there, and we have DOD people at VA regional centers, processing centers, especially up in Seattle, Washington. So we're doing an awful lot now. It needs to get fixed. We'll do more. And you have my word for that. Thank you.
All right. One more question, and then I'll let you guys go back to work. Yes?
Q: Yes, sir. Good morning, sir.
SEC. HAGEL: Morning.
Q: Petty Officer Littlebiggs, representative Pacific Command, J4. Yes, sir, my question this morning is that, with the activity that we're seeing here in the Pacific and in Asia, do you suspect in the near future or intermediate future that we're going to start ramping up forces as they did at CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command], sir, during that program?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, we actually are increasing our assets and -- and deployment of assets here. If you look at our naval assets, those are increasing. I think the F-22 squadron here is another indication. We're doing far more bilateral exercises out here than we ever have. We're continuing to stay on track and actually enhance and increase some of the trilateral, some of the ASEAN activities. We're doing far more than we've ever done, and -- and that comports with the overall rebalancing, which includes moving more assets into the area.
Marines, you know, we're -- we're having some exchanges and we are making some -- have made some decisions to put Marines in Darwin, Australia, and we'll increase those numbers as we go forward, as we're redeploying Marines off of Okinawa -- excuse me -- onto Guam. So redeployment, more -- some of our best assets, certainly naval forward presence, but air and naval presence, you'll see more and more of that kind of -- and as you are right now -- of that kind of increase.
Well, again, thank you very, very much. Enjoy your time here. And who is here not from -- originally from Hawaii? I know we've got National Guard here and civilians. Raise your hands, those who've -- who are not from Hawaii. Oh, you got -- probably the majority are not from Hawaii. And it's just too bad you've been assigned here, but I know you'll struggle through it with all your commitment to our country.
Well, good luck to you. Much success to you. And thank you for what you're doing. Thank you. (Applause.)