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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at U.S. Strategic Command Troop Event, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska

Press Conference

Location: Offut, NE

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. General Kehler, thank you. And Mrs. Kehler, thank you.

I am, first, honored to be here today as your secretary of defense. I also appreciate an opportunity to renew my association with this institution. When I was United States senator serving the state of Nebraska for 12 years, I was often on these grounds, and I would use this occasion first to thank you, to thank you for what you have done, what you are doing, what you will continue to do for our country.

These are defining times. These are difficult times. But these are times that allow us tremendous opportunity to help shape a new world order with our allies, with our friends, with our partners, as we build new, early 21st century relationships and partnerships around the world.

This institution is -- is an essential core part of that effort. As you all know, President Obama made a speech yesterday in Berlin and talked about our nuclear posture. This institution is -- is at the center of that responsibility. Nuclear deterrence has kept world peace since World War II. It's an absolute in America's defense posture.

But we are living in different times, with new threats, and as we scope those threats, as we prepare our country and our next generation for the security and prosperity that we've all known, as a result of those who have gone before us and those who stood where you stand, and stand where I stand, with our current responsibilities, they did not fail our country, as you have not failed our country, and will not.

I note the president's speech on our nuclear posture because it brings home in a very real way your assignment, your responsibilities, all of our responsibilities. STRATCOM will remain a foundational piece of our national security for a long time.

I know these are also difficult days regarding our resources. And I want to personally address that for a moment, first, to tell you that I'm not unaware of some of the hardships that some of you are dealing with in furloughs. I have an appreciation for what this means to your families, and I thank your families for their sacrifices.

We will work our way through this. Our military institutions, our people, our fabric are too good, too strong, and there will be no other outcome, but we're all going in this together and we'll come out together.

But I couldn't be out here without addressing that with you, because I know that furloughs affect -- will continue to affect many people here at STRATCOM. And I want you to know that I'm aware of that. The difficult decisions that have been made will continue to be made, are not made lightly or without every option considered.

But in the end, as you each know because you have each dedicated your lives to the security of this country, we have to do what is most important for our country, and that is defend our country. And none of us will allow that to be jeopardized. So hard choices are being made, and they'll continue to be made. And I thank you for your continued service, especially during these days that are challenging institutionally and around the world.

With that, General Kehler, sergeant major, thank you. I am, again, proud to be on your team. I am proud to be part of you. I am proud to be here today. And I want you to know that you have a secretary of defense that will listen to you, will consider what you think, what you have to say, and always remember that leadership is a team business. None of us do anything alone. I recognize that as much as any other element and responsibility in my position.

It's a team. It's all of us. I can't go beyond my capacity to work with and help build and lead this institutions -- this institution, and it is that fabric, it is that commitment that we all have to help make a better world for our children and for the world. And, again, I thank you for that commitment, and I wish you much success. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Thank you. I'll be glad, General Kehler, to entertain a couple of questions.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Hagel. It's very nice to see you, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: My name is Staff Sergeant Victoria Klause.

And my question for you is, with all the fiscal constraints that are going on within the DOD, and all the resources that are required for each of the individual services, what is your opinion on making one joint, combined military force?

SEC. HAGEL: Good question. I think I would answer it this way. I mean, we do have a joint command structure. We do have a joint force. When you look around this group assembled here today, we have -- as you represent the Air Force -- but we have Army, we have Marines, we have Navy, and we have, in every institution within our military enterprise, it is joint. That has enhanced our capabilities. It has enhanced our defense. And it will continue to do that.

I do think, more specifically to your question, as I noted in my speech at University of Nebraska at Omaha yesterday, we are adapting to a new kind of world. And we're not immune from that. We're adapting and adjusting to a world that is presenting new threats, new challenges.

This institution, Strategic Command, probably has as much responsibility for those changes as far as the threats and the arc of threats -- cyber, weapons of mass destruction, space, all the elements that are literally part of this universe -- will require continued adaptation and changes.

So we are changing. And where that may end up in relationship to your question about one joint force, I don't know. But it is happening. We -- I hope -- are ahead of it. When you look at the military, this institution over the years has been responsible for an astounding amount of societal change. And that's still happening.

And I'm particularly proud of the decision that my predecessor, Secretary Panetta, made about opening up more opportunities for women in combat in those jobs that go with it, which affects promotion and affects every element of hard work, discipline, dedication, another example of adaptations, another example of the things that Americans absolutely demand.

And so when you look at all of the shifts and the changes in your question, this institution has been more adaptable and more ahead of societal changes than about any institution in our country. And I'm proud of that, and I know you are. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, good morning. Petty Officer Keal.

How do you feel about the House Armed Services Committee going -- urging the Pentagon to go to one joint combat uniform?

SEC. HAGEL: The fatigues and camouflage? Well, I saw that. I -- I haven't asked any of our chiefs what they think about it. I think it's incumbent upon our uniformed military leaders to render their opinions. And, quite frankly, I'm aware of the bill that passed. They had not discussed it in any detail.

I guess the question should be put to you. What do you think? (Laughter.)

Q: I think each service is unique, just as our uniform is unique, so we should each -- unit cohesion, as part of our uniform and knowing our brothers. Not saying that department of military, Department of Defense is branched off, but we do certainly have different branches.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I would say this. If I'm asked to render an opinion on this, that opinion would be based on -- on what you all think and what you all believe is the right decision. And I'll listen to you. Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My name is Tech Sergeant Melissa Turner.

As a former noncommissioned officer in the Army, who would you say impacted or influenced you the most during that time?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you all know -- and you are still living with this, you live with it all your life -- we are each products of those who shaped us, parents, teachers, mentors, people you work with, people you respect, and I think most of us take a little piece from each of those people.

And we each do have role models, and we do each have particular people that when you start inventorying who shaped you the most, who influenced you the most, for me, certainly my mother. I visited yesterday with my former boss, former Congressman John Wyatt McAllister, who I had the privilege of working with for five years after I graduated from UNO in 1971.

He shaped my attitudes toward public service probably as much as any one person. I worked with him for five years. I saw how to do this job with dignity, with honesty, with real class, with hard work, and not that I was unfamiliar with those virtues, but I watched how he applied it to representative government and his responsibilities.

I had a drill sergeant -- I wrote a book that came out in 2008, and I talk about this drill sergeant in 1967 in Fort Bliss, Texas. His name is Sergeant William Joyce. And I talk about how much he shaped my attitudes about leadership.

Now, I know those of you who've been to basic training probably don't spend a lot of time thinking who's shaping your attitudes toward leadership. Basic training is not a joyous experience for most of us. It certainly was not in 1967.

But even going through that experience, you can't help but learn something, if nothing else you observe and you watch people that you respect and you think have something to say. And he was another one.

But so many people in my life I've been fortunate, and I think, really, the -- the measure of a -- of a good life is -- is to believe in something, apply your God-given talents to that and work hard, put others first, and try to be happy and make a better world, and try to influence others to do the right thing. And I think if you add all that up, at least what I have done in my life, I've tried to go back to people who have shown me that, who have led their lives that way.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Good luck to you.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Petty Officer Allen.

Based on our social background of men being the protectors of women, how do you feel the integration of females into combat positions, essentially special ops, will affect mission success?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you for your service and thanks for the question, because it's a very important central question to the decisions that were made and the implementations of those policies and decisions, which I just received from all the services this week on how they intend to go forward and implement opening up some of these combat roles for women in special forces.

First, I think everyone understands -- and it's the right thing -- we can't lower standards. We have high standards. We should have high standards. Our country has high standards. Our military has always had higher standards. And we need to keep those standards.

And so it's not a matter of lowering standards to assist women to get into combat positions. Women don't want that; you wouldn't want that. And I think to find the right balance of implementation to allow women to move into these new opportunities and new positions, if they want, if they're qualified, if they can do the job, and why shouldn't they have those opportunities? Why shouldn't they have the same opportunities as -- as men do on these?

And so that's essentially my point of view on this. We're working toward that, and I'm proud, again, I say, that this institution is doing that. And, again, I go back to the bigger point of how we integrated our services under Harry Truman. Colin Powell gives some beautiful speeches about -- about that. And you can go all the way through these issues.

One blight -- I've referred to it as a scourge -- that we must fix -- and we will fix -- is sexual assault. That is a very, very dark mark on all the success of this institution. And I say that because I think we have to connect that, also, with the larger dimension of what our challenges are. We will fix it. There's no higher priority I've set as secretary of defense than to make everybody accountable all the time, up and down the line, and it will get fixed. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

GEN Kehler: Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir, for spending time from your very busy schedule to come and visit us. You're certainly no stranger to Strategic Command, and I know that we will see you many more times during your tenure.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a real privilege for us to have the secretary with us today and spend as much time as he's been able to spend with us. And would you please all join me in expressing our appreciation to him for that? (Applause.)

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you.

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