SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Good morning and you can smile and you can relax.
First, thank you for giving me an opportunity to say hello and giving me an opportunity to thank you for what you're doing. We are grateful, we appreciate it. We know what you're doing. We also know how important your work is and I know you do as well.
But I know occasionally you're stuck in remote places and you wonder if anybody even knows where you are or who you are or what you're doing. And let me assure you, we do.
This -- this facility is one of the most impressive facilities we have. And it is led by and manned and womaned by some of our most impressive people. You don't -- you don't get this job by being average. And I appreciate all of your own personal efforts to -- to do your work here, because this is -- this is really exceptional service and it takes exceptional skills.
I also bring you greetings from President Obama, who as you know is in South Africa for the Mandela funeral. He wanted me to express his appreciation and also his best wishes for the holidays.
These are difficult times, I -- I know when you're away from families, some of you have your families here, I know. But I suspect most of you are without your families.
So, thank you, thank your families, wish them happy holidays as -- as well.
This is the end of my trip in this region. I've been out here, I -- I think, five or six days. I asked General Abrams, when we were driving in here, what day it was. But I do know what country I'm in. And -- so, I -- I'm still okay.
But, I've been in five countries and the first priority and the real reason I was out here and spent time was to thank our troops, and to thank our men and women who do so much for all of us.
I had good meetings in the five countries. I was in, if any of you have been following any of this, was in Bahrain for the Manama Dialogue. To start with, I had a number of bilateral meetings with ministers of defense from the Gulf area and other -- other countries.
And then spent a couple of days in Afghanistan, visiting our troops there and talking to our commanders and Afghan leaders.
Then yesterday was a fast day. We started in Kabul and went to Pakistan, then to Saudi Arabia.
Saw in Pakistan, the -- the prime minister and minister of defense. And then over to Saudi Arabia where I saw the crown prince or minister of defense, and then here.
I had a good group of meetings last night. This morning met with the emir and defense minister and some of our troops.
But this is appropriate in this five or six days with all of you. I wanted to see this facility and get a first hand sense of what you're doing out here. I -- I think what is -- is particularly impressive, in addition to what you do, is the coalition part of this.
There -- there is no facility like this truly in the world with the technology, the expertise, the leadership, all integrated into almost 30 nations' capacities.
That -- that's a huge -- huge accomplishment. But I think it's even something beyond that. It's -- it's where -- where the world is going. It is about partner sharing, it is about capacity building with our partners. Partners are gonna be as important and probably more so, than they've ever been, for our own national security, for their national security.
The more we can understand each other, work with each other, the better the world is going to be.
And I -- I'm particularly impressed with that which you are doing here and I know you -- you all very much know that, that many times it gets overlooked by your mission here, which -- which is, in itself, impressive.
But -- but I wanted to emphasize the coalition part of this because that is a huge part of what you're doing and what we'll continue to do in our strategies and our future for our country and -- and for our allies and partners.
I'll take a question or two, if you have anything that you want to talk about, anything I can do for you. I know you have no complaints, I know General Hesterman and all of his people have got it all just the way you like it.
But if you have a complaint, I'll take it up with somebody that's important. How's that?
I want to recognize General Austin as well who, as you know is our Central [Command] commander. We are very proud of what -- what General Austin has been doing, in his leadership and his people and I know you are. You've got a real easy region, he's got a very easy, uncomplicated command.
So, I know he doesn't do much. But he's a -- it's his pleasing personality that we really are all attracted to.
But General Austin, thank you. And to General Hesterman and all your team for what you do.
Okay, questions. Anything. Anything you want to talk about. Yes?
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, -- (inaudible) -- Whittaker. And the question I have for you today is, besides the budget constraints, what you believe is the biggest challenge facing the Department of Defense?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, the budget constraints are a part of it. But I think -- which connects into the budget constraints -- is the uncertainty. The uncertainty that we are living with your commanders, your chiefs, your senior civilian leaders on how to plan, what will the resources be? Will they be available?
We are restructuring our forces. We are coming out of the second long war that this country has been in in the last 12 years. In fact, it's the longest war this country has ever been in.
So we do need to realign and we do need to consolidate and restructure. And that to -- to a certain extent would happen, whether there were sequestration or not. But all these dynamics and forces and uncertainties in the world, at a time the world really counts on us -- our partners count on us, it makes it more difficult for our commanders. And it makes it more difficult for you.
And I -- I know, uncertainty is the worst thing that you can have hanging over you because on a personal level, you have questions about your own futures --