Remarks by Secretary Hagel to Soldiers & Civilians at Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, N.C.

Press Conference

By:  Charles Hagel
Date: July 15, 2013
Location: Fayetteville, NC

GENERAL DANIEL B. ALLYN: All right, everybody, please take your seats. It's an incredible honor for us to have today with us the 24th Secretary of Defense for the United States of America, and it's particularly fitting that he would present a Purple Heart to Specialist [Trevor G.] Hoover here today, as he earned two Purple Hearts and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry as a squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division, where he also earned his combat infantryman's badge.

So very, very appropriate that he would be coming here to Fort Bragg to -- to talk to the soldiers and families about service to our nation. As he returned home after the Vietnam War, he earned his college degree via the G.I. Bill, and he continued to be a servant leader in industry, in our Congress for 12 years, and now as the 24th secretary of defense. So let's give a Department of Defense Fort Bragg welcome to the 24th Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Chuck Hagel. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. General Allen, thank you very much. I want to also thank General [Charles] Cleveland and [Joseph] Votel for your time this afternoon and all the work that you do to represent all of you and thank all of you for what you do for our country every day, what you have done, what you will continue to do.

Sergeant Major, thank you for your time and for your leadership, as well. And to Specialist Hoover, it's sometimes conflicting to say congratulations, but as a friend of mine and friend of all our forces across the world, John McCain once kidded about a Purple Heart. Well, it's nothing particularly special, McCain said, he was actually directing at me, you just got in the way. (Laughter.)

That's not exactly the way I'd define a Purple Heart, but he said that with much affection. And if he was here today, he would give you a big hug, Specialist. So we're very proud of you and very proud of your work, as we are proud of everybody here and the families who are here today.

I also want to acknowledge a very, very good friend and leader for our armed forces and their families, over many years, your congressman here, Congressman Price is here today. Congressman, thank you. (Applause.)

And I know we have representatives from other offices here, as well, and please thank your representatives and senators for the work that they do.

Speaking of families, we have the family of the year with us today, the Lewandowskis. And I know they have been acknowledged, but I want to acknowledge the Lewandowski family, the family of First Sergeant Evan and Melissa Lewandowski for what you represent to our armed forces and to our families and to our countries. You represent the best.

And these three guys right here, now which one is Joshua? Hi, Joshua. You've never looked better. You look terrific. Now, that must be Samantha. Hi, Samantha. I like your outfit. Do you have any trouble with your brothers? You do? (Laughter.)

I know Wyatt doesn't give you any trouble. Hello, Wyatt. Hello. (Laughter.)

He's speaking to the speakers. (Laughter.)

It's good to see you all. Thank you very, very much for what you do and what you continue to do. We're proud of you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Wyatt's ready to leave. He's had -- he's had his moment.

Let me take a minute or two to address some big issues that we're all dealing with in our country and in the world and in your profession, and then we'll open it up and talk about whatever you want to talk about. I'd be glad to entertain questions, whatever's on your mind.

First, I spent an hour with some of your leaders here. And we talked about the kind of world that we're living in today, the uncertainty of that world, the danger of this world, the combustibility of this world. We're living at a -- I believe a time where we are truly defining a future for our country and helping others define their futures around the world.

What you do every day is far more than just put a uniform on and for our civilians here who work just as hard, contribute just as much, as they come to work all over the world. It is something bigger than certainly ourselves, actually bigger than our institution. It is helping build a better world for all mankind.

And I start there, because I think occasionally we all can drift a bit and define ourselves, define our work, and define our missions in -- in a more narrow channel. But we are helping build a new world, a better world, a fairer world, a freer world. We can't do it alone. It's difficult. It's one day at a time. But if you build a platform right, and if you connect with people, if you enable people, you work with people, you mentor people, it's not unlike raising children, it's not unlike education, it's not unlike relationships. It's day-to-day.

And I say that because it's important for you to know that we know it, the president of the United States knows it. As your secretary of defense, and I'm very proud to be part of your team, I know it. I understand it. Your leaders understand it. Those that you lead, because everyone in this room is a leader, everyone here has influence, everyone here touches other people's lives, this is something so much bigger than anyone of us, even bigger than our country.

But the world looks to us not because we're smarter or better or richer or prosperous, but they look to us for what we represent. And that's difficult, because that's a heavy burden to carry. We can't carry it alone. We've learned difficult lessons over many, many years, that it takes partnerships, it takes relationships, because these problems are so big. And I think all we need to do is -- is isolate on some of the more dangerous parts of the world today, whether it's the Middle East or North Africa, and we start to have some sense of how complicated the world is, how many different interests there are out there.

And so tolerance and respect and dignity still anchor the human condition and are fundamental, and that's what we try to address every day and what we try to protect every day, and hopefully give people opportunities to live that kind of life.

Now, let me take that part of your jobs and now more specifically define some of our challenges within this institution, within the military, within each branch of service. I will begin with the reality of we have unwound from one long war. We are unwinding from the longest war we've ever been in. And we still have responsibilities and alliances and commitments and relationships around the world, and we will have for some time.

So how do we balance all of this? How do we prioritize all of this at the same time as some of those more direct responsibilities, as we unwind from two wars, mean a reduction in our budget, a reduction in our resources? Not the first time this has happened in the country, but this time is probably more dramatic for some of the reasons I've already mentioned, but also if these dramatic reductions continue on the course they're on, through the current budget cap sequestration, this is forcing us to take deeper, steeper, and more abrupt reductions than we've ever had to do.

I, as the secretary of defense, like each of you who has a responsibility for the men and women that you lead, have to do all I can to prepare this institution for what may come. I could not stand back as secretary of defense and try to lead this institution based on -- well, I hope we'll get a change, well, I think maybe something will change.

You don't lead, you -- you can't lead based on hope and thinking and maybes. You have a responsibility of leading just as each of you do with the reality of what's in front of you, and you do the best you can to prepare your institution. In the end, that's the definition of each of our lives.

What you leave behind is more important than you. How have you done your job? How have you touched people? How have you shaped the future, the next generation? How have you prepared the next generation?

So we're going through a very difficult time. I've had to make some difficult choices based on priorities. I want to address a couple of those here for a moment, because I think it's important that you hear these things directly from the secretary of defense. I know our leaders are preparing our force structure, and you read things, and you read directives and memos, and that's OK. That's a vehicle.

But there's nothing like hearing it directly. And so I'm trying to do as much of this outreach as I can within the limits of my schedule. I'll be on the road three days this week, visiting a number of bases, to have these conversations, to allow you to talk to me, question me, and hear it from me as to what I'm doing and -- and why, with, by the way, the coordination and the involvement and the partnership of all of our senior military leaders, which I very much appreciate, the chiefs, General [Martin] Dempsey, Admiral [Sandy] Winnefeld, all of your commanders, all over the world, as well as the civilian leadership in the Pentagon. This is beyond me. This is an entire leadership group working together to try to find answers to prepare our institution for the future, as well.

I have as a responsibility, as each of us do, the readiness of this force structure to preserve combat power and to assure one thing: to assure the president of the United States, the Congress, the people of America that we are prepared and will defend this country. That is the only responsibility we have, the defense of this nation.

If that is the priority, then everything else has to fit within that framework. How do we do that? And that's not always an easy assemblage of pieces to have to come together to assure that one responsibility, especially during a time of reduction, significant reductions in our budget.

So readiness, capability, capacity, combat power, assuring especially our warfighters, those who are in harm's way, those who are overseas that they will be protected, families. Families are the core. Families are the anchor. Families are the engines. They're the inspiration. We must protect our people in every way we can, those families. That was a commitment that our country made to men and women who not only joined our armed forces in uniform, but our civilians. And in every way I can protect that baseline part of our institution, I will.

So as we've gone through the process of the last few months, with the budget numbers we have as reality, I had to preserve readiness, and you all know that we have planes not flying, ships not sailing, soldiers not training. We are doing damage to our readiness -- future readiness. We're doing damage to our readiness now. But I have to preserve as much as I can preserve with the resources I have, along with the leadership, the management, and the wise counsel of our leaders.

Second, personnel, people. When the Defense Department started reviewing what's ahead in the way of reductions in our budget, a $37 billion reduction this year, [fiscal year] 2013, if those budget caps, sequestration continue into fiscal year 2014, beginning October 1st, January 1st, and we start to take an additional $52 billion cut in our budget, this is on top of the 10 years commitment that we started two years ago of $487 billion reduction in 10 years, so it's a tough deal.

So three months ago, as we explored everything, furloughs was the last thing I wanted to do for obvious reasons. Our probability then was 22 days furlough for fiscal year 2013 for most of our senior civilian employees. We had exemptions.

I announced a couple of months ago that I now believed that we were in a position where I had no choice but to execute a furlough program, moving it from the possibility if it was 22 days to 11 days. That's what we are doing now. The furloughs started last week. That's for FY 2013.

I said at the time when I went out and made the announcement at a town hall meeting outside the Pentagon and took questions from everybody that if we can find ways through a reprogramming, the Congress needs to authorize that, other ways to put us in a better position maybe by the end of this fiscal year. Maybe we can do better than 11 days, but I made -- made no promises, because the first responsibility we all have in this room is to be honest and be direct and not mislead. And I'll never do that. I'll never do that.

So I announced furloughs a couple of months ago. I know it's painful. It's the last thing we wanted to do, last thing I wanted to do. But I could not take down that readiness line any further than -- than where we were. We've essentially cut, frozen everything we can in order to maintain those numbers.

We'll get through this. This is difficult. In all of your careers in this room, I suspect this is the most difficult time of your service. I know that. I accept that. I understand that. Your leaders understand that. But we have no choice but to get through it, and we will get through it. This institution and its people, the people are the fabric of any institution, are just too good, and our commitment is too strong. It will be difficult. We've got difficult days ahead.

But as I said to the chiefs the first morning I met with them on this, we're all going in together, we're coming out together. And one of the things that I give tremendous credit to our chiefs and all of our service leaders is that our service leaders of each individual service have not allowed this problem to break out into tribal warfare, the Army against the Marines, the Navy against the Air Force. That's not happened. And it's not gonna happen.

Every service is a little different. Each mission is a little different. But we need each other. We can't have the institution we have without each other. Every institution, every individual, civilians, play an incredibly important role in who we are and what we're doing and what our mission is.

So I wanted to just generally address this. I don't know what the Congress is going to do with the president here in the next few months, if there can be a new budget agreement reached. I don't know. I was asked at a hearing a couple of months ago on the budget about this, and I said to the congressman who asked me the question the political side of the House, the policy side of the House, I left that world four years ago. I served with great privilege in the United States Senate for 12 years. That was my job. That's not my job now. I don't make fiscal policy, don't have anything to do with that.

I have a clear responsibility, which I've already articulated. I will give my opinion. I will tell our constituents and the country what I think. I give my opinion to the president of the United States, who's commander-in-chief of our services, work closely with the Congress. We need to work closely with the Congress. The Congress has to be -- is -- not just constitutionally, but a partner. The Congress has as much responsibility for our national security as -- as the president does. That's the way our Constitution is built, and we work best when we're working together.

So that element of the uncertainty that's out there, I will leave that to our policymakers. But this uncertainty is -- is cast -- casting a very dark cloud over our institution. And I understand that. You understand that. But I want you to know, I'm committed to working with you. We will get through it. Whatever comes, we will find the answers and the options to get through this.

So thank you for giving me some time. I know it's not a particularly happy message to give, but I do want to leave with one thing. As I said, I'll always be honest with you. I'll always listen to you. And we're going to work through this. And in the end, we are defining a new force structure, a new institution, not unlike after Vietnam, not unlike after every conflict, not unlike every sequence of the historic cycle of world affairs. We are redefining that now. That's why your roles are so absolutely important. And the redefinition of all this is -- is essentially going to build the baseline for our future.

General, thank you. And to everyone in this room, thank you, and to your families in particular for what you do for our country. Be glad to respond to questions, anything anybody wants to talk about.

Q: Hello. My name's Claire Riggle. I work at Womack Army Medical Center. I'm also married to a soldier who works at Womack. Working at Womack, I have been hit by the furloughs, and they're inconvenient and difficult, but what bothers me more is the effect it has on our children. And beginning in August, the schools will be having furloughs, so within the first month of school, the children will have missed a whole week of school, so I'm just wondering what's going to be done about the education requirements, the standard of education. What's going to be done for our children?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. I addressed the annual meeting of our military schools and leaders two weeks ago in Washington, and we talked about your question and other questions in great detail. Let me answer your questions.

As I noted -- and you all know -- the current policy is 11 days of furloughs for most all of our civilian employees. We have exempted about 150,000 safety -- different categories of exemptions. For our teachers, we exempted them up to five days. So our teachers are furloughed five days, but we coordinated those five days in every way we could, giving the principals and the leaders of each school district and school the flexibility of working that into the summertime and when -- when school is not on.

So we thought through this very carefully. And your issue about standards, about accreditation, those are areas that are exempt from any cuts. The AP preparations classes, all those are exempt. Most of the family programs are exempt. So that was an area that we looked at first, for the very reasons that you mentioned.

And we've given the flexibility for each of the leaders at their base level, civilian levels, and the school levels, principals' levels to work out how they want to define that. So we've tried to think through this as to, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, prioritizing the real important things that we thought that we just couldn't give up, and certainly education for our children falls -- falls in that area.

Thank you for what you're doing. I know this is difficult. And I know it's -- it is difficult for children, but thank you.

Q: Sir...

SEC. HAGEL: Yes?

Q: The furloughs (inaudible) $1.8 billion (inaudible) and my understanding is that a number of services did have options that would allow them to (inaudible) fiscal year without having a furlough. What would you need to hear from your advisers that would convince you that something less than 11 days would be satisfactory for the remainder of the fiscal year and for us to finish successfully? Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: You're right. Some of the services were in a better fiscal condition than others. And if you took each of the service bands and their budgets, then some in those services may not have had to be furloughed. But -- but let me go back to the beginning.

I represent essentially 3 million people, not including families. That's active-duty. That's civilian employees. And that's National Guard and Reserves. That's 3 million people, plus their families.

And so as I said here a few minutes ago, I said to our chiefs and the secretaries when we started this, I want us to come at this -- in my opinion, we have to -- not as different services or different commands or different bases, that somehow each service command, base is -- is uniquely different when it comes to numbers, recognizing, which I said upfront to every service secretary and chief, I respect and I recognize each of your responsibilities to each of your own services. I understand that. You have an obligation, a high responsibility, but you have a higher responsibility to the department as a whole, and certainly to this country.

It's the whole point of the joint command, Goldwater-Nichols of 1986. We're in this together. Give you an example, the Army. Army has it -- the most difficult budget. Well, it's obvious why the Army has the most difficult budget. The Army has been carrying most of the budget load, manpower load in these two wars that we've been in.

Now, that is not to diminish what the Marines have done, Navy, Air Force, civilians. That isn't the issue. But you look at where those budgets are drawn down, it's been the Army's budget that's taken the biggest hit. And so I couldn't as secretary of defense get into a situation where I was going to allow each service to make their own decisions on this and then I didn't think be fair to other situations. I thought that everybody had to come into this together and go out together.

If no other reason I did that, because I just think it's the fair way to do it, as fair as you can be in this -- in this business -- but there's another reason I did it this way. At the end, yes, there will be winners and losers, but the damage that that does to an institution, to the people, if people are treated unfairly, you all know this. This is bigger than the Defense Department. It's people.

And we as individuals, as human beings each want to be treated fairly, with some dignity and some respect. And if you think you're not treated fairly, there will be a residue of a problem there. And I thought it would be a mistake for me to make a decision, allow each of the services to figure out, well, I've got more money in my budget, and maybe he squandered his budget, and so therefore I should be in a higher position because of my budget.

Well, we could probably debate those issues all day long, but I -- but I made the decision for the reasons I made it, and the chiefs accepted that, the leaders accepted it, the secretaries. And the deeper I get into this, the more I believe I made the right decision on it, to treat everybody fairly here.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Senior Master Sergeant Wimmer from Valley City, North Dakota. Just to give you some historical background before I ask my question, I'm one of 23,000 family members -- or I have a daughter that's affected with autism. Is the DoD going to re-look at the even more restrictive policy in regards to coverage on applied behavioral analysis, which is also called ABA, which is to go into effect on the 25th of July, 2013? And are the plans to lift the fiscal cap on the coverage benefits for family members currently enrolled in the autism demonstration act in the ABA pilot program going to be lifted, as well? Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, thank you. And thank you for what you and your family do, the contributions you make. First, I don't know the specifics of your question, so rather than stand up here and try to stutter through it, I'm not going to do that. We will get your name. We've got guys here who are with me and how to reach you. Let me get you a specific answer. I am aware of the autism program. I'm aware that it's important. I'm aware of the cap issue. I'm aware generally of all those things. They came up during the weeks and weeks and weeks of consideration on how we do things, what's fair, what's right, what do we prioritize, what can we afford. So it's not a matter that it wasn't a factor and involved at the highest levels of prioritizing.

So -- but to go beyond that, I don't have a specific answer to your question. We will get one, and we'll get back to you right away on it. Thank you.

Yes?

Q: Good afternoon, sir. My name is Dan Sarsoza. I'm a civilian employee at the G8 18th Airborne Corps. And last Friday, sir, that was our first furlough day. And my question to you is, what is the chance of another year of furlough for the next fiscal year? And what is the plan of the department to avoid next or second- year furlough of the civilian employees?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, your question relates directly to the point I made earlier about uncertainty. I think I described it as the dark cloud that hangs over this institution, that uncertainty.

No one knows what's going to happen in fiscal year 2014. But four months ago, I instructed all of our leaders under the directorship of the deputy secretary of defense, Ash Carter, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, to undertake what I referred to as a Strategic Choice Management Review. And the objective of that review was to look at different scenarios of budget possibilities, in the case of sequestration, a current reality, because sequestration, as I think most of you know, is law right now. It is part of a budget cap agreement, Budget Control Act of 2011.

So it is the law. The budget that I presented on behalf of the president -- as you know, the president of the United States, through his cabinet, presents his budget each fiscal year, the one I presented, along with all our senior leaders at the Pentagon, was the president's budget for 2014.

The sequestration cap represents a reduction of -- of $52 billion below where we are today. So the review that I asked for was to look at different scenarios, not too many to look at, one, what happens? How do we prepare for the reality right now of a $52 billion further reduction in our budget for 2014? We already have the plans for carrying out our 2014 budget that I presented, then looking at another option somewhere in between. What if there's a compromise between the current sequestration and what the president has proposed?

That was to inform the results of that, which came in on time, three -- came in a month ago -- was to inform our thinking as we prepare to get ready to prepare a -- and present a 2015 budget, which we will do, as you know, early next year. Also, look at what may be required for sequestration continuing in that $52 billion cut for next year, and then some option maybe in between.

Now, it was not a review that could never have been -- we didn't have enough time -- that was never intended to be a new budget or some special plan, but it was to give me, as the secretary of defense, and all our leaders some options. What are we going to have to do? What are our priorities? What are our options? What can we do? What shouldn't we do? And to put us at least on some high ground for preparing for what may, in fact, happen.

It was also to inform the reality of 2014, along with the 2015 and the next out budgets, 2015 through 2019, and also, as you -- I think most of you know -- there is -- there is a quadrennial review that will -- will start this summer. It was to help inform that quadrennial review.

So I answered that way, because it cuts right to your question, about next year and furloughs and beyond. First, I don't know. We are preparing for different options, but I think it's fair to say, if we're going to be living with an additional $52 billion cut, there are going to be -- there are going to continue to be bad news with -- with every aspect of -- of our budget.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- Mr. Secretary, we have time for one last question.

SEC. HAGEL: OK.

Q: Good afternoon Mr. Secretary -- is this thing on? Hi. Is it working?

SEC. HAGEL: It's working.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I'm Staff Sergeant Travis Owens with the 722nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. Thirteen years ago, whenever I enlisted, all four branches of service used generally the same common equipment for ground combat and for field conditions. We wore the same uniforms, same helmets, same boots, carried the same rifles, et cetera.

And then the war kicked off, the wars. And since then, all four branches of service have unilaterally developed a tremendous amount of equipment and clothing, to the point where now very little of what we use across the four branches of service are common, even if we're conducting the same missions. And in this era of deep cuts that affect all of us, that's a tremendous redundancy.

My question, sir, is, is there any planning or discussion at the Pentagon to force the branches to jointly develop and field some of this common equipment that we have out there to reduce that cost, reduce that redundancy?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. And thank you for your service. Yes, first, we're being forced to. In the review that I just referred to, I said right upfront to our comptroller, to all our evaluators, all the chiefs -- and everybody was involved in this, by the way, this review -- it wasn't some -- I've seen a press story or two about somehow it was in a -- this review was done in a smoke-filled room. Well, that's ridiculous. Everybody was part of the review. I insisted on it. It was. Junior enlisted through sergeants majors of every service, every combatant commander, every leader, every chief, every civilian leader was involved in that review. That's number one.

Number two, I said at the beginning, I want everything looked at. Everything has to be on the table, compensation, benefits, everything. Because there's no way we're going to be able to get the savings that we need, even -- even if sequestration comes down at some point, we're going to have to look at everything. And they did.

What you just said -- the question you asked was a significant part of that. That's exactly right. And we are doing that. And we are looking at it. We are going to be changing how we do business with a lot of things, acquisitions, logistics, across the board. And, again, when you've had essentially, over the last certainly 10 years, but really 11 years, a budget that has been almost unlimited in -- in requests, you're going to have a tremendous build-up of these kinds of things. I'm not going to go back and second-guess what was right, what was wrong, what was done the right way. That's history. I'll let the historians figure that out.

All I know is I've got a responsibility right now, July 2013. And more than that, I've got a responsibility to help prepare this institution and our country for the future. So whatever happened behind me happened behind me. But we're going to look at everything. We are looking at everything. We're going to be forced to change things.

And there will be some significant changes. I think for the better. I think there are some opportunities here. We all know in life -- but I can tell you in my old job I had, 12 years in the Senate -- leaders are always captive to a political environment, to political atmospherics to a certain extent. That means that there are boundaries.

And that isn't all bad. In a democracy, that's as it should be. There is no one in this room -- there is no one in this country, who is unaccountable. Our president's accountable. The Congress is accountable. Everybody's accountable. That's as it should be.

So what I'm saying is that we're each accountable, every program in the Defense Department is accountable to defend not only has it worked, is it a priority, will it be a priority, how do you defend it, how do you fund it, and how is this going to integrate into the kind of force structure and institution we're going to need for a new kind of future?

Ten years ago, how many in this room thought much about cyber? I mean, how many of you in this room five years ago thought that cyber warfare would be as dominant a threat to this country as any one thing? Well, it is. It is. I certainly wasn't wise enough or smart enough. Maybe some of you were. Cyber changes everything. It isn't one Army being sent against another Army. That's why we are shifting what this place does, as much as anything else. This is the heart, this institution right here where we're standing, where you work, that you're a part of, is the centerpiece in -- in responsiveness, in being smart and adaptive and flexible, and that's what's going on. And we have to -- we have to have programs to match that.

And budgets certainly are part of that. I was asked the other day, but -- but, Mr. Secretary, are you letting the budget direct national security strategy? I said, no, but the budget is a pretty important part of national security strategy, because you can have all the strategy you want, but you better be able to assure the president of the United States, commander-in-chief, and the people of this country and your families that, in fact, we can implement that strategy, that, in fact, the president has the options when he calls General Dempsey or me, and we call General Allen, General Cleveland, General Votel, and say, can we do it? Do we have the capacity to do it?

That's the real issue here. So it isn't a matter of strategy and think-tanks and op-eds and so on. On the ground, what you have to do every day, what I have to do every day, we have to be able to do it. And so budgets do matter.

Thank you all very much for what you do. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)