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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Town Hall with Recruit Training Command School Student Instructors at Naval Station Great Lakes, North Chicago, Illinois

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Location: Chicago, IL

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: You can laugh. That's what I was -- I was a sergeant, so I don't give many commands. But, first, thank you. I very much appreciate an opportunity to say hello and spend some time out here.

The few hours I've been here to -- it's given me a good understanding of the importance beyond what I'd already appreciated, the importance of this facility and what you do and what you mean to our Navy and what you mean to our defense enterprise and our country.

I want to also thank you personally for what you do. I know this is your job. I know this is something that you're very good at, and you like to do it, and you've had other jobs. But I know it's not easy. I know it's tough on families. It's a big sacrifice to do this. And I appreciate that. The president appreciates it. I know our country appreciates it. Tell your families thank you and tell your families hello.

I'm going to ask to get your thoughts here in a minute on whatever you want to talk to me about, questions, whatever you've got on your mind. But let me just make one observation. I was in Chicago this morning, where I spoke to the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs and did a couple of programs there with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

And one of the points that I made in the comments that I made at the council and in response to some questions was the transformational age in which we live. This is a time of great global transformation. We are seeing essentially a new world order evolving and being built. I don't think we've seen such a time since right after World War II. And, again, the United States is an essential architect of this -- of this process.

This is a process, this is a time where our country must use wisely all of its resources and all of its dimensions and instruments of influence and power. These big issues and challenges that face the world, most are not going to be solved, can't be solved militarily. But without a strong military, without a cutting-edge military with the best people, the best-led, best-trained, best-educated, most motivated military we've ever had, then the world becomes more dangerous. And our options become fewer and fewer in helping build a better world for the first part of the 21st century.

I mentioned that because I know in your day-to-day jobs, like in my day-to-day job, any of us, we are focused on that job and the immediacy of that job and the responsibilities of that job. But occasionally it's important to step back and take a little broader view and inventory of why we do this and what's the point, what's the point of a great military.

Great militaries are always integral to the influence and defending our values and our principles and our interests around the world. So I note that, because it's an area that I spoke about this morning in my speech to the council and in answer to some questions I got from our students there from the University of Chicago.

You're living in an historic time. You're making history. You are doing something that few generations ever have the opportunity to do, and that is to truly transform things for a purpose, and that purpose is continue to build a better world. So I wanted to acknowledge that, acknowledge you for your role in that, and tell you how much we appreciate it. Keep doing what you're doing. We're very proud, very proud of all of you.

All right. What do you want to talk about? Questions. Anything on your minds. Yes.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My name is (inaudible) King. My question for you today is, due to the quality of the local school systems here in Great Lakes, a lot of active-duty service members are choosing to stay further out in town to provide a better education for their school-aged children. Is there a possibility for an increase in Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for those out-of-pocket expenses to be covered?

SEC. HAGEL: For education?

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I don't know the specifics of your situation here, but I will find out about it. But let me address the broader question on BAH expenses and education reimbursement and part of the benefits that are included in your package.
We are going through a review of all those now in our budget. And we have to, not just because we are transitioning out of the second war that we've been in, the last 13 years, and let's not forget -- I know you don't, because you've been part of it -- but we've been at war for 13 years. Never in the history of this country have we ever had to do that, consistent war. Never in the history of this country have we fought those wars with an all-volunteer force, a professional force like we have here the last 13 years that you have done.

Now, there will be shifts and changes as a result, which is historically the fact, of coming out of those wars and transitioning our forces to prepare us for future challenges and threats. Central to all that is taking care of our people, our pay, compensation, retirement, benefits, which you have just noted one particular area. We're looking at that and reviewing all that now. Education is and must continue to be as high a priority for our people as any one thing.

You're here partly, and you stay here partly -- yes, because of the purpose that you think is noble, which it is, to serve -- but also because of the training and the skill sets and the education for your families. And we take -- we take care of you.

We want to make sure that we can continue to sustain those benefits, whether it's pay, compensation, retirement, whatever it is. So it is time for a review and a hard look at everything we're doing, what we're not doing, what we can do better, what we can do more of, things that we're going to have to adjust.

The fact is, if sequestration continues to play out -- it is the law of the land -- the Department of Defense will be taking about a trillion dollar cut in our budget over a 10-year period. We've already started that. Last -- this year, next year, we're going to take an additional $75 billion cut that's on top of the $490 billion 10-year reduction. So we're going to have to do some things different.

But we're examining everything, but priority, the people. Also, the readiness, the capability that you need to do your jobs, so I will look at -- I will specifically look at your question about this area on schools.

Q: Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Petty Officer Wynn. I recently read an article in which you were quoted as saying the United States needed to make an important decision based on the situation in Russia and that we would be judged by future generations based on that decision. How -- how will that decision affect the Navy's operations in the 7th Fleet?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, the 7th Fleet, let me hold the 7th Fleet for a moment. But let me get to the bigger question and my point.

What I was referring to, in answer to that question, was this is a -- as I have just noted in a broader sense -- a defining time. Nations of the world can no longer act with the dangerous irresponsible behavior that we saw the first part of the 20th century and we saw before that, when aggressive action, brutal force was the determinant on where a nation's boundaries would be. That is -- that is a world that we left behind.

Now, how do we deal with all of this? We deal with all of this in a smart way, wise way. That's why we have built alliances. That's why we have built the capabilities of those alliances, like NATO and our European alliances.

I said in my opening comments that not every challenge and problem has a military solution. We have to be wise in how we are doing this. I think the approach that President Obama is taking is the right course of action, with our allies, with our NATO partners. As you know, we've continued to increase our assets in our NATO partner countries in Eastern Europe, three countries in Baltic, 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with air assets, refueling assets in Poland, as well.

This is the way to deal with these -- these big challenges of our time, through alliances, through economic, diplomatic options, strong military force, capable, agile, ready, that is prepared to respond in the event that we would need to respond. So it's a wise, steady use of all those relationships, partnerships, and those assets.
We, of course, count on all of our fleets, whether it's the 7th Fleet or 5th Fleet, whichever fleet, or air wing, or Army division, or Marine amphibious unit. It all fits into the larger framework of our commander-in-chief's ability to respond and make decisions about the whole, not just one -- one area.

We recognize, too, that the world is full of challenges, North Korea, what's going on in Syria and the Middle East. These are all realities that we are dealing with at the same time.

No nation, regardless of how strong it is -- we are the strongest nation on Earth, applying any measurement or metric to that -- but no nation is strong enough to deal with everything alone. That's why we need the capability of our allies. That's why we have built alliances since World War II and continue to build those alliances.
I was a few weeks ago in Hawaii, where I hosted the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Conference, 10 ASEAN nations
represented, all ASEAN nations represented by the defense ministers for a three-day conference, never happened before, never been in the United States. I'll be going to the Middle East here very shortly to do the same thing with our Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners, the six GCC defense ministers. It's through this collective security alliance building that we build capacities to deal with these issues.

We also have to always remember, it isn't just the short term we need to respond to. It is the short term, but also the long term. How do you want this to end? We have to be careful as we think through, well, how does it end? We want it to end on our terms in our way. Sometimes you don't have that -- that option. But we should try that option first before we try other options.

So, thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Captain, admiral, captains, all our leadership here at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I want to acknowledge you and tell you how much we appreciate your leadership and what you do, as well as this magnificent group of men and women here that you lead. I just, again, want to re-emphasize how proud we are. What I saw here today is so impressive as to how you really are creating these young sailors with purpose and discipline and focus, and, again, not in an easy time. And I know in particular for your own families, there's uncertainty.

But this country's going to stay committed to you. This country will be committed to your future. And we're not going to pull the rug out from anybody. You are our main priority, our first priority. Then comes everything else. But we do have to have the complete piece.

I can't -- I can't order you, send you -- the president orders you, I would send you -- into any kind of a situation if I didn't feel or the president felt you were ready, you had the edge, you were capable, just like we have always done.

As General Dempsey said at one of our hearings earlier this year, budget hearing, I never want to send our men and women into any situation where it's a fair fight. We don't want fair fights. We don't have to have fair fights. So we look at the entire scope of our budget, our priorities, what's most important, but, first, the people. So thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)


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