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Remarks by Secretary Hagel and Gen. Jacoby at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado

Press Conference

Location: Unknown

MODERATOR: Okay, we good on the sound? Want to test -- all right. I'd like to introduce General Chuck Jacoby, the commander of the United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.

GENERAL CHARLES JACOBY: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for being here, and welcome to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Cheyenne Mountain really remains a critical component in U.S. and Canadian efforts to defend North America against all threats. It's relevant today, and it's always adapting to future challenges.

It's a pleasure for me today at this strategic location to welcome my boss, the secretary of defense, the Honorable Chuck Hagel. During his two-day visit, we've briefed him on critical NORAD-NORTHCOM missions of homeland defense, defense support to civil authorities, and security cooperation with our trusted partners in North America.

Now, Secretary Hagel has also had the opportunity to feel the warmth, experience the warmth and support of the community of Colorado Springs, a great community that stands tall in face of adversity and provides strong, continuous support for the men and women of the Department of Defense that every day perform vital missions of homeland defense for our country and for Canada.

The secretary has had a lifetime of service to this nation, both as a combat vet in Vietnam and across every facet of national leadership. It is, indeed, an honor for me to introduce to you the 24th secretary of defense, the Honorable Chuck Hagel.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. General Jacoby, thank you. And to all of you, thanks for coming out this morning.

I want to begin with an acknowledgement of and thanks for our men and women who serve this country, represented in a variety of ways and facilities here in this community, and to thank this community in Colorado Springs for many, many years of hosting America's guardians of our security. The warmth and the welcoming sense that our men and women and their families continue to receive here is important. So to the community, thank you. And again, to the men and women and their families who serve this country who are located in these facilities and this area, I thank you, as well. And I bring greetings from President Obama, as well.

Being a neighbor -- and I know you send all your wind east to Nebraska -- but we still come over to Colorado often. So I have been no stranger to this state over many, many years. I've had the opportunity to visit Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD and Fort Carson, other facilities here, when I was in the Senate a number of times.

I'm out here today, was here yesterday, as General Jacoby noted, to really get an updated assessment of where we are in our defense capabilities with the new threats and challenges that face our country. These facilities here, this facility behind me, and the entire complex of NORAD and NORTHCOM, represent really the nerve center of defense for North America.

I want to also recognize our Canadian partners in this effort who have been with us for many, many years, and their participation and leadership is particularly important. And I have very much appreciated what I was able to see yesterday and the briefings and the updates, the opportunity to ask a lot of questions, to get better informed, and I look forward to today, because what this facility represents is critical. And then after we're finished here, we'll go on to Fort Carson and then finish the day up and go back to Washington.

My wife, Lilibet, is with me here on this trip, as she was last week at STRATCOM, and she has been visiting a lot of the facilities that we have for the welfare of our families and our troops, our sexual assault prevention offices, but all of our offices that really focus on our -- our men and women and their families and their well-being, which is essential to a strong force, because it is the people that are the core of any institution. And it really matters little how much money you have in a budget or how much technology you have. If you don't have the right people, you don't have much.

And the quality of our people, the character of our people has always been central to the defense and security of this country. And I'm very proud of these men and women and what they're doing. And so my wife, Lilibet, has very much appreciated the opportunity she's had to see firsthand the kind of good work that goes on in these communities, and especially this one.

And as I prepare to take any questions that you might have, I would end by recognizing the firefighters in this area and who have given so much -- continue to contribute. This has been a tough last few months for this area, and I'm well aware of that, been a tough time for many states in our country, dealing with natural disasters, but these forest fires have been really debilitating.

But I'm very proud of the kind of contributions and service that our service-people have made to this community and helped others. That's who we are. And that is part of our mission in the Defense Department.

So to all of them and to their families, thank you. And thanks for coming. Questions? Yes.

Q: (off mic) don't have the right people -- (inaudible) -- well, you're going to have -- (inaudible) -- at what point do we begin seriously impacting readiness (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it's a tough question, because, first, it's a real question, and it's something that I'm dealing with and all of our leaders are dealing with. The Army announcements a couple of days ago regarding the deactivization of 12 of our brigade combat teams -- two in Europe, 10 in the United States -- is a result of implementing the Budget Control Act of 2011. And that directed bringing our Army force structure down from 570,000 to 490,000 members. So -- so that has been ongoing. And that's not new.

Sequestration, the uncertainty of sequestration is impacting, will continue to impact our people, our budgets, our planning, our purpose, and in -- it will, as you suggest, affect readiness. And what we have to protect are the president's options, to protect this country in all contingencies.

So we're working hard on this. We're dealing with the realities that we have. But it is serious. And I spoke to about 300 of our servicemen and women late yesterday afternoon at the completion of my tour through NORTHCOM and spoke directly about the furloughs and about the uncertainty.

Last thing I wanted to do -- and we tried to protect that as long as we could -- we've done much better than what we originally thought we might have to do. Originally, we thought we might have to furlough for 22 days. I announced about a month-and-a-half ago 11 furlough days. Maybe we can do better.

But I can't take it any closer to the readiness line. And we're going to protect the interests of this country. We're going to secure this country. America needs to be assured of that. And we'll continue to do that. It's difficult, and I recognize that, and I know it's difficult for the people who serve in our -- in our armed forces.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it's an area that I have had some experience in for many years. I was President Reagan's first deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration back in 1981 and '82. And we were just at the front end of dealing with -- first of all, diagnosing PTSD and recognizing it for what ultimately it was diagnosed to be. And so it doesn't mean that I have all the answers. I don't.

It is a problem. We are dealing with it. We have offices set up. It's a focus that I continue to put on our objectives. When I became secretary of defense about four months ago, I listed our veterans, their benefits, recognizing their sacrifices, everything that this country committed to them -- and their families -- that we'll fulfill.

And there is no higher priority for me in this institution than making certain that that happens. And we'll continue to work at it and work very closely with the V.A. Secretary Shinseki and I are meeting again on Tuesday and our senior staff are. These are regular meetings. We're very closely linked. We need to be.

We -- we produce the veterans that we hand off to the Veterans Administration, so we have some responsibilities here. We recognize that. But we're very closely linked to the Veterans Administration. We have a lot of our active-duty people who actually work inside the V.A. that I've assigned over there. I have offered their services to help Secretary Shinseki. That's not new. We're doing more of it. And it all focuses on exactly your question and beyond, and there are other issues, as well.

One more question? Okay.

Q: (off mic) suicides -- (inaudible) -- question is -- (inaudible) -- military -- (inaudible) -- what can be done on your level -- (inaudible) -- reduce the number of suicides?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, it's a big problem, huge problem, 350 suicides last year. And we recognize that. We have set up suicide prevention offices. We've set up hotlines. We've got offices, systems, treatments, therapy, mentoring programs across the board. We'll continue to do more.

One of the areas where we did not cut the budget, where we actually increased or stayed the same in our budget request for 2014, was in all of these programs. Almost everything else took reductions and took cuts. These programs did not.

And we need to do more. We are doing more. And when you start looking at the demographics as to the cause, what -- what we're finding -- and you all probably know this -- that a majority of the suicides were not combat-related, as far as experience.

Now, you -- you can get too technical with this stuff, too. The fact is, a human being took their own life. That's all you need to know. So something's wrong. And we're continuing to do everything we can to assist in every way we can to stop that, to prevent that, to find out what's happening out there. And we will. Thank you.

MODERATOR: You can stay here and film them as they drive in.

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