SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: General, thank you. General, thank you, and, first, I am grateful to all of you and to your leaders for what you do. And I'm grateful that you would give me some time today. I've spent the day here. And across the border where I grew up, I grew up in little towns not far from here in western Nebraska.
So it was -- it was kind of fun to come back and see some of the areas that I am very familiar with that actually had a lot to do with shaping me, and then I did have the privilege of serving Nebraska in the United States Senate for 12 years. So during that time, I became particularly familiar with what you all do and some of the -- your facilities across the border. So, thank you.
What the 20th Air Force represents, and particularly the 90th Missile Wing, is not only impressive, but important. And it continues to be important to our country, to our future, to our security. And one of the reasons I wanted to come out here and spend a couple of days here -- and I was in Texas at Sandia [National Laboratories] and New Mexico yesterday -- was to, first, see for myself what you're doing, also be able to personally thank you for what you're doing, let you know that sometimes I suspect you feel maybe that no one cares or no one's paying attention to you, but we are, and also to re-emphasize how important your mission is, how important your work is, how we depend on your professionalism and how you do your work.
You know, we can have all the great technology in the world, and we have better technology than anyone. And we are the strongest country on Earth. We want to continue to be the strongest country on Earth. But it takes people. It takes leadership. It takes commitment. And that's something that just doesn't happen. And what I saw out here today and what I've seen the last 48 hours in places I've been, it just reconfirms -- and I will tell the president this, as I give him my report on this trip, about that commitment and I'll tell the Congress and I'll tell the people of this country about your commitment.
The president of the United States asked me to extend his best wishes for a happy new year and also to thank you for what you do. I was with him on Tuesday and told him about my trip out here, and he wanted me to be sure and convey his thanks and appreciation and best wishes.
I want to make a couple of comments that, in particular, I think are important for you to know and for you to hear, but I think all of our people in our services, but all the American people, and that is that the United States is going to remain committed, strongly committed to maintaining a capable and effective, safe, secure nuclear deterrent. We're going to do that. We're going to continue to do that.
We're going to invest in the modernization that we need to invest in to keep that deterrent stronger than it's ever been. And you have my commitment to that. You deserve to know that.
As you all know, under START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] II, which I think is the appropriate focus, on reducing our nuclear weapons, we'll continue to follow that -- that focus and that approach and work through the agreement in that New START treaty. It's clearly in our national security interests, and we will continue to be part of that effort, not just the leadership, but the day-to-day operations, as we modernize our system and our infrastructure.
As a matter of fact, which you probably are aware, we are nearing the completion of a new study to determine the follow-on ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missiles] to the current Minuteman III. So we are continuing to invest our focus and our time and our effort in this -- in this nuclear deterrent strategy.
I want to talk, also, about continuing to hone our skills, our personal skills, our institutional skills on focusing on our professionalism and how we -- we handle our day-to-day responsibilities. I know, the president knows, the American people know that we may not go to war every day, but we also have to always remember that every day we help prevent war. That's what we are about. And we do that better than anyone else, and we will continue to do that.
As I noted, I've had a long interest in what you're doing over the years, the -- not just with my new job as secretary of defense, but when I was in the United States Senate for 12 years, I took a particular interest in what you're doing and your mission and the importance of that mission, because obviously STRATCOM [U.S. Strategic Command] is located at the other end of Nebraska, which I spent a lot of time at and focus. And so I wanted to also let you know that when I've been at STRATCOM the last two times, since I've been secretary of defense, I've had an opportunity to meet with some of our young leaders.
When I was there in November, we spent a day at STRATCOM. General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and I were there for the change of command ceremonies at STRATCOM. And one of the most interesting meetings I had was lunch with a dozen junior officers who are involved every day in the business of missile work, nuclear deterrence, pilots, missileleers, people who have day-to-day responsibility, big responsibility for keeping our missiles as strong and capable and reliable and our stockpiles, our nuclear stockpiles, safe and secure, effective and reliable.
And I listened to what they had to say. I listened to, first, why did they commit themselves to this kind of life, this profession, which I have said very often -- and I've said it long before I was secretary of defense -- there is no more noble profession in the world than your profession, to keep peace in the world. That slogan does matter, "Peace through strength," and you do it very, very well.
But to listen to them, as I listened today when I was across the border, to what motivates all of you, why do you do this? You're all smart, you're committed, you've got other options, but it is a purpose in your lives that partly commit you to do it. You're doing something of great importance for the world. You're doing something important for your families, for your future, for your country, and for our security.
And I also want to say, in regard to that, as I listen to these young officers, as I listen to all of our people all of the time, on this one question, what motivates you, what keeps you -- what keeps you committed to this profession, it is training, it is advancing yourselves professionally, but also personally. And I want to commit to you that I will continue to do everything I can as secretary of defense to ensure you have every opportunity to enhance your own skills, your own professional skills, but your personal dimensions of your life. You know, we each are people first before we're airmen, before we're sailors, before we're infantrymen, before we're anything else. And in the end, that's who we are.
So you -- you start with that. And good people are good people. And then you build out with strong professional techniques, abilities and skills. So I'm committed to that. I'm committed to you.
You've also chosen a profession where there's no room for error. In what you do every day, there is no room for error, none. You know that. The American people expect that. They have great confidence in you. The president expects it, the Congress, I expect it, you expect it of each other. And we have great confidence that that's the way we're going to continue to do our job. We all have a lot of responsibility, and we all must deliver.
I want to also touch on the issue of budget -- budgets and fiscal constraint. You all -- our services, our institution has been through a difficult time the last year. 2013 was a tough year. We closed our government for 16 days. We lived in a world with no budget, with tremendous uncertainty, in a world of sequestration that cut significant amounts from our budget, which forced us to make some -- unfortunately, some abrupt and difficult decisions.
I am -- I am confident that, as we go forward the next two years and we have seen a new budget agreement, that that will help stabilize us in our commitments and our planning, at least for two years, where we have some confidence and we have a budget to start with, we know what that budget will be, we have some consistency and predictability.
We'll continue to work as to what comes after the next two years. But the commitment of resources that are going to be required and continue to be required to maintain the kind of safe and secure, effective, reliable nuclear deterrent will be there. The resources will be there. And we'll assure you of that. We'll assure the American people of that.
I also want to, again, focus for a moment on our gratitude, but specifically on your families, thanking your families for what your families do. You all know far better than I the kind of sacrifice your families make for our country, for your profession, which allows you an opportunity to do what you do that your families support, because they know, yes, it's important to you, but they know it's important to the world, and they know it's important to our country. So give your families our thanks on behalf of the president, secretary of defense, all of us. We recognize those sacrifices, and we appreciate those sacrifices.
When I was across the border in Nebraska a couple of hours ago, I was listening to a lot of the briefings and asking a lot of questions. And just as everything you do here and each of you, it was so impressive to see what's going on with -- with no fanfare, with no TV cameras, with no recognition, but not just the professionalism, but the attitude and the commitment that is pretty rare. You just -- you just don't find that very often anywhere.
And I want to particularly close with that point, because how you do the job really is as important as the job itself, because it sets a standard of expectation for yourselves and for everybody around you. And people pay attention to that. You're all leaders. You're all role models. And that's a heavy burden to carry, I know, but those of you who are parents in the audience know that -- how that works. And it's sometimes hard to live up to the standards that you preach as parents, but you do. You don't have any choice. I can tell who is married and has children by the smiles on your faces. And you know in particular what I'm talking about.
So thank you for everything you've done, what you'll continue to do. It's important. We recognize that. We're grateful. And, again, thank you for your families. And I'd be glad to respond to any questions, anything that you -- you want to talk about on -- on any issue.
Q: Staff Sergeant Laura Paul, 90th Force Support Squadron. Mr. Secretary, based on your experience at F.E. Warren, what is the most significant thing that you'll take away from your visit today?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think a part of that answer resides in what I've already noted, how impressed I am with what I've seen, the professionalism of each of you, of the units, of how you work together as a team. I think that is first that stands out.
Second, that connects to that -- as I've already noted -- is the commitment that I noted the last two days, in particular this day here, the commitment to your mission and the commitment to this country and -- and how you do it. And I think those are the -- the two most significant takeaways for me.
The third being this: the modernization of our nuclear stockpile is really important. And as I had an opportunity to view some of this today to get down really where the operational dynamics are real, and not just theory or in PowerPoint presentations, but it's clear that we've got -- we've got some work to do on modernization. And that's why all of us in leadership positions must come out and see things at the ground level. We must get our arms around things where we can see it and actually view what's going on.
You can read reports. They're important. But there is nothing like being out in the field with the people, seeing what's going on, and how you do it. So I guess that would be the third takeaway, is -- is the recognition, once again, that we're going to need to continue to invest in modernization of our -- of our nuclear deterrent. And we can do that, and we will do that.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My name is Lt. Clint Holshire from the 90th Medical Support Squadron. Sir, my question is, what do you see as the future of the ICBM force and the nuclear triad?
SEC. HAGEL: The future of the ICBM and triad? Well, first, let's recognize that our nuclear deterrent, and the triad system being the base of that, being a platform for that, has been incredibly important since World War II. There are many things that have kept the world from a World War III, but I do think America's strong nuclear deterrent, second-to-none, has done as much to keep peace in the world since World War II as any one thing. Many things have helped, no question about it, but that has really been a huge, huge part of this.
Now, the world's imperfect. Wars have been throughout the world the last 70 years. But there's not been a World War III, and there's not been a nuclear exchange. And that should not go unrecognized or underappreciated. We've got a lot of problems in the world. The world's complicated, difficult, and we're going to continue to have problems, and we'll deal with them. But the big war we've prevented.
So as we look at the new challenges and threats that face the world today, 10 years ago, not many people would have thought too much about cyber warfare. Cyber was there, but, I mean, how big a threat can it be? Well, it's a huge threat. It's a huge threat. Threats, challenges, change, technology drives that, as other dynamics do.
So we have to constantly be reviewing our system, as well. And that includes all of our systems. We're going to continue to require every element of our nuclear deterrent in the triad. And as I said in my remarks about the New START agreement, reducing those nuclear weapons, I think, is important, and I said before every American president since Richard Nixon has supported that. And I think President Obama deserves great credit for leading on this as he has, as other presidents have throughout our modern history post-World War II.
So we'll continue to review, and we are reviewing. As I said, in particular, the -- we've got a new study that's coming out here that is part of that -- part of that review. It's a follow-on to an ICBM replacement to the Minuteman III, and we'll be looking at all the pieces.
But, unfortunately, the world is very dangerous. It's going to stay dangerous. And we're going to continue to have to count on strong, second-to-none nuclear deterrent.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Airman Ferguson, 90th Maintenance Group. Do you see the budget stabilizing in the future?
SEC. HAGEL: I hope the budget stabilizes in the future. As I said, we have a two-year period of some predictability as a result of the bipartisan budget agreement that was reached right before Christmas by the Congress and the president signed it, which does give us some predictability in stabilization for only two years, though. And right now, the law of the land, after that two-year period, reverts back to the so-called sequestration, which continues to take huge reductions from our defense budget.
That's what we will revert back to unless a new budget agreement is reached before the end of the next two years, so we've got some predictability for the next two years. And we're still budget-wise, numbers-wise taking a significant reduction in -- in what the original budgets were, better than they were, because we get some money back, but still, tens of billions of dollars we didn't get back and won't get back over the next two years.
So we'll keep working it. We'll keep working with the Congress. I know President Obama is focused on this. The Congress is a partner in this. And -- and we'll do everything we can to assure that there is stability for our planning, your planning. We need that.
I mean, when we look at what your business is, just one aspect of it, and that is modernization of our nuclear deterrent, we've got to have some predictability on what we can commit in the way of dollars. And when I was in Nebraska this morning, looking at some of that modernization requirement, it's going to take some longer-term commitments to reach that. But we'll get there. I'm confident of that.
Thank you all, again, for what you're doing, and happy new year. Thank you. (Applause.) Oh, we're going to do coins and photos. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much.