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Press Briefing at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia

Press Conference

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Location: Kings Bay, GA

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: OK, good afternoon everybody. I'm Admiral John Kirby, I'm the press secretary for Secretary Hagel.

We're going to get started here in just a second. We don't have a whole lot of time. So, the secretary won't have any opening comments. Obviously, this is on the record of course.

We'll just -- we'll just go ahead and start with questions if that's okay with everybody. All right?

And I'll be moderating and picking and calling on folks, and we'll try to get as many as we can, but again, we're a little limited on time. Thanks. All right sir.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thanks, John.

OK.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Lita?

Q: Mr. Secretary, one quick question, then a question on Iraq. The chemical weapons that have been apparently taken control of by the insurgents. What kind of danger do you think that is? What kind of threat do you think that that is?

And just secondly, just your overall assessment at this point of Iraq and the insurgency. You've started to get a lot of those assessments in from your teams on the ground. Can you just tell us what you think their assessments are starting to look like as far as the state of the insurgency and the state of the Iraqi security forces?

SEC. HAGEL: On the issue of chemical weapons in the west. We were aware of that facility. We've known about it for a number of years. And I think the best way to respond to it is -- it is not chemical weapons munitions. They are not weaponized. They're old chemicals from many years ago. So, we know where they are. We've known about them, we're keeping our eye on them, but again, they're not munitions and they're not weaponized.

As to your question regarding assessments. As I have said, General Austin has been sharing some initial assessments based on each 24 hour report he gets with -- he's been sharing them with General Dempsey and me. And they are starting to form and shape a picture of what our guys are picking up. They're not complete. They won't be complete.

And once we get the full context of -- of the different assessments -- because some of the assessments are about the strength of ISIL, the Sunni tribal integration into ISIL, ISIL's integration into Sunni tribal militias, how strong, how deep, how wide that is. What's the strength capacity of Iraqi security forces? Not just around Baghdad, but in other areas. As they have pushed further outside of Baghdad, we get more information.

So, I think at this point, that's -- that's about as far as I want to go until we get more finality and the total context of all the reports that have come in.

Q: I'm sorry, just on the chemical weapons, do you see them at all as any -- as a threat either to Iraqis from the -- because there are some toxins there.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, there are toxins. That's right. But again, they are not munitions. They are not weaponized. And there's no question, if you venture into that -- that area, there is danger. That's right. And there is danger for those who happen to wander in there.

But they are not a threat now in -- in any way as a form of a weapon.

ADM. KIRBY: I'll take a question from a local.

Q: Yes sir. Cliff Davis, I'm with the Florida Times, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. HAGEL: Yes sir.

Q: We just wanted to ask questions about the LCSs, since we have Mayport Naval Station there that's supposed to be the east coast hub of the Littoral Combat Ship. And I know back in February you had, you know, brought down the estimate for the order for -- from 50 something to 32. Is that 32 number still firm, and will bases like Naval Station Mayport who has been promised eight of these, will they still receive the ones that they've been sent?

SEC. HAGEL: The directive that I gave was that we would continue to build out the first 32. So, that takes us quite a ways down into the next few years.

Q: Yes sir.

SEC. HAGEL: To build those out. And that won't change anything here.

Then, the other part of that directive was to have the Navy come back to me with an evaluation of a ship that might have more capacity, that would be better armed, more agile, better prepared to take on more missions. But the 32 that will go forward will continue to stay focused on the missions they have now, that they were built for.

Q: Yes sir.

SEC. HAGEL: And that wouldn't effect anything here.

Q: How is the process for the alternative been going, sir?

SEC. HAGEL: I'll get those -- those ideas and recommendations here, well it's July. We'll start to get into the budget preparation for F.Y. '15 here pretty soon, so we're in '14 now, and -- but it'll be the end of the summer before I would expect to get anything. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked about your nuclear reviews in your comments a little earlier.

I wanted to ask you about which findings have considered the most as those have gone on, when we can expect to see that become public, and what those recommendations could look like and when you'll be able to (inaudible) going forward?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, some of you may know that I met with the two senior retired officers that I asked to lead the external review. I met with them about two weeks ago. Admiral Harvey and General Welch, as you -- I think, know. Welch, spelled a little differently than the current General Welsh, but also, the former chief of staff of the Air Force, Larry Welch. And I spent a couple hours with them going through that review and their general analysis and they left me the numbers, which I have spent some time with on recommendations.

At the same time, about a week before that, I received and had two reviews of the internal nuclear review. What we are doing now is we're taking both and we're assessing both in -- in a composite way to look at recommendations where the recommendations were similar or the same, and different, and then we will take those recommendations, and the deputy secretary of defense is leading that effort, along with our senior military leaders at the Pentagon. They'll come back to me with a set of recommendations as to how we go forward.

I just met with the secretary of the Air Force, Monday, on some of this. She is already, I think, as you know, initiating a number of steps that she took based on some of the review, but -- but in -- in taking charge of this, especially the Air Force piece, she's -- she's already implementing some changes which will be significant, and those will be announced as -- as well.

So, I expect that we'll have something to say about this in the next few weeks.

ADM. KIRBY: OK, we've got time for just one more, ma'am?

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Romney Smith from Action News in Jacksonville. Thanks for being here.

Locally, I wanted to ask you the importance of coming to Kings Bay, and then secondarily, with the USS George H.W. Bush moving to the Persian Gulf, is there any chance that a sub from Kings Bay might also be asked to move to that area?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to comment on where we would move assets and when. So, the way I'd answer your -- your question is our subs -- all of our platforms, whether they're Navy, Air Force, regardless of the service, are always ready and they are agile and flexible, and wherever they're needed, they'll be ready to -- to perform.

But, we don't have any plans that I would be prepared to announce in any way that would affect this facility or the assets here.

Q: And the importance of coming to Kings Bay?

SEC. HAGEL: The importance of coming here, for me, as I noted I think in some of my remarks, one, is to thank the men and women who served in a very important capacity for the defense of this country. As I noted in my comments here, I think sometimes has gotten a little less attention than it should, but actually, that's testament to the job you're doing. That they're doing such a good job, but we rely on them, the American people rely on them to do the job that we expect them to do. And they do it brilliantly.

Second, to really listen. I just -- as I said here earlier, I like to get out, and I like to visit different facilities. It helps educate my -- me, and understand better what our men and women have to deal with in all the services.

I get a lot of good ideas in sitting and talking with them and listening to them. It also familiarizes me with more of the -- of our inventory of important assets. I'm going down to Elgin tonight and spend a little time taking a look at the F-35.

And third, as I emphasized here, it's -- it's just -- let the men and women and their families know that talking about people and the prioritization and the things that we talk about are not just talk, that the secretary of defense will actually come out and spend time and go down in the submarine, go over, wherever we have our platforms, and have lunch with these men and women, sit around and have a cup of coffee for an hour or two: listen to them, spend time with them, let them know what we say is in fact what we mean.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks everybody. That's all the time we have. Appreciate it.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you all very much.


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