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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Town Hall Meeting with Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colorado

Location: Fort Carson, CO

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, it's my honor to introduce the secretary of defense of the United States of America. Sir?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: General, thank you. And good morning.

First, I will not keep you out here long. I know we all from Washington have a tendency to go on and on. We won't do that. But I do, first of all, want to thank you, and I want to thank the general and the leadership of the 4th Infantry Division, a division I have been well aware of since my days in Vietnam, in 1968. I was with the 9th Infantry Division but worked on many operations with the -- the 4th ID battalions. And I am aware of the reputation that is richly deserved, earned by the men and women who've led this division over so many years.

So, thank you. Thanks for what you're doing now. Thanks to your families. Families are key to anything. But you all know better than anyone, families are the anchor, and they sustain us, they inspire us, and they often don't get the credit and the recognition they deserve. So, please, let your families know how much we appreciate their efforts and their work.

I also want to acknowledge the work of so many of you who have been involved -- and all of you in some way -- fighting these fires out here. Your work has been spectacular, and it has gained recognition and thanks from every corner. And I know the people of Colorado are grateful, the people of our country are grateful, and we're very proud in the Department of Defense for what you've done, what you continue to do.

That isn't exactly, I know, in your job description, but it is really who you are and who we are as Americans and I think who we are as part of the security team that defends this country in every way. And your recognition is much deserved and appreciated.

Let me also address a couple of other issues while I'm here, as I have been here for two days in this community. My wife, Lilibet, has been with me, and she's had an opportunity, as she often does, as she goes around the country with me, to meet our men and women who serve, to see the programs that you are working on here and leading with, focus on the well-being, the well-being of our families, the well-being of our troops, the well-being of our veterans. And there's no higher priority for me as secretary of defense than those programs.

And we'll continue to keep those programs, strengthen those programs, and fund those programs. But they couldn't be effective, wouldn't be effective without the local leadership and the communities involved. And I want to acknowledge this community in particular, Colorado Springs, for what this community has done for so many years in embracing you, your families, and working with us on these big issues, because we couldn't do it without them, and you know that.

Now, let me turn to a couple of the more specific issues that are related to your jobs, your careers, your future, Fort Carson, the Army, where we're going. Last week, decisions were made by the chief of staff of the Army. Those announcements were made this week to start addressing, by law, the consolidation of brigade command teams, how we're going to do that to comply with the law that is in place to bring down force structure numbers over the next few years.

This affects, this decision, this base. And in the long run, as we work our way through 2017, actually, this base's manpower will increase, as the adjustments are made to maneuver battalions and how we consolidate brigade combat teams.

I also want to address the issue of furloughs and some of the tough choices and decisions that are being made -- have to be made -- based on budget issues. They are difficult. They're difficult for all of us. And I want to be honest about it, and I think always the essence of leadership is to be direct and clear with the people on your team. And as I go around the country and meet with all of you, which I'm privileged to do, I try to hit these issues straight up. And then we're going to take your questions here in a minute.

Furlough is a tough thing, furloughing anybody for any reason. And I want you to know that this is an area that I gave as much attention to as any one thing, as to how do we minimize the downside and the impact of our people?

I think you know that your commanders, the chiefs of all the services, combatant commanders, our senior enlisted leaders have been involved in this process, trying to figure out ways that we can comply with the law and the realities of the budget that we're living with without hurting our force structure, without hurting our people, without hurting our readiness, and protecting our combat power, because it is -- it is the essence of what we have is that combat power. But that relies on our people and all of the other components of -- of our operation.

And in the end, I had really no choice but to make some tough decisions on furloughing, because I could not cut any more into -- into readiness. And we've already cut into readiness. You know that we are standing down 16 Air Force squadrons. We're not sailing a lot of ships. No new training in the Army, and there are other consequences.

So this was given a tremendous amount of attention. I hope we can do better than the 11 days. We started out with the possibility of having to go to 22 days of furloughing. I made the decision after weeks and weeks and weeks of looking at the budget, the numbers of the comptroller, and all the leaders I've mentioned here a minute ago, that we could get this done with 11 days of furloughs, maybe better, but you need to be told as directly, clearly and honestly as you can what -- what the facts are. And those -- those are the facts.

Now, before I go to your questions, let me add just one other thing. I know your 4th ID headquarters is -- is moving to Afghanistan. I think, general, you're leaving tomorrow or tonight, soon. I want to just briefly address that, because as the general and the headquarters team move, and Afghanistan is not new to any of you, that doesn't mean that there's a disconnect here.

The people here, the base here, the support here, everything that's going on here to support the 4th ID's activities, Afghanistan, Kuwait, will remain, just as important as it -- as those activities have ever remained. The general can't do it without all of you and without your support. I know I don't need to remind you of that, but I -- but I wanted you to know that I know it. And we support that.

Last point I would make is to acknowledge the casualties that you have recently taken. You have my prayers and sympathy, everyone's. This is a tough time, when you lose anyone. But when you lose your own people, it is particularly difficult. And I want you to know our prayers are with you, and we -- we are aware of it, we acknowledge it, and I'm sorry about it. And I know you are.

But just like who we are, we're going to continue. That's what all we are about and who have gone before would expect. That's what they did. And that's what we're going to do.

So thank you for your service. We admire you greatly. I'm proud to be on your team. So with that, I'd be glad to respond, general, to any questions.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My question is, what do you believe is the main contribution to sexual harassment?

SEC. HAGEL: The main contribution? I'm sorry. Finish that?

Q: The main contribution to sexual harassment, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. HAGEL: The sexual harassment issue, which I think you've all heard, if not directly from me, certainly indirectly, as I've said -- and I said it at West Point when I gave the commencement speech -- it's something that I feel, you feel, your leaders feel is a scourge on this great institution. We're going to stop it. We're going to fix it.

And I noted that Lilibet has been out here yesterday and today, visiting some of the efforts that are being made at the local level by our leaders, to deal with it. She told me last night, this morning how impressed she was -- she was at STRATCOM in Omaha.

This is the way it gets fixed. It has to get fixed here. It has to get fixed in our institution. We're better than that. We don't break the law, but we certainly don't assault our own people. There's no excuse for this. Our standards are higher than that.

But when we start with the fact that it -- you break the law, when you assault someone, that's breaking the law. But we're an institution that has higher expectations for ourselves and standards, and certainly the country does, and the country should expect that.

And we're just not going to let that happen anymore. This is going to stop. It can't stop without all of you, and what you're doing is really important. And I understand that.

And it's prioritization. It's accountability. It's all of this. Every one of you -- me, top, bottom, bottom-up -- has the responsibility here. It isn't going to get fixed just by directive or a training session or a new law being passed. It gets fixed within the fabric of the institution, and you're the fabric. And I know you feel the same way. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I'm from a cav unit , and we have a lot of new equipment, very sophisticated. And I have a question about our troopers' education, because our troopers are not educated or trained at the same level as were our equipment up to today. And on the flipside, we have a lot of out-of-date equipment, and what are we going to do with those? Because as I suggested, it's new equipment. If you train a soldier for two weeks, when you operate on old equipment, you may train a soldier for two years to operate it proficiently. So what's the balance between these training and the new equipment since the budget's been cut?

SEC. HAGEL: Specialist, I'm not sure of your question. I didn't get it exactly. What was the question?

Q: The question is the balance of education of our troopers/training and versus the new equipment we're having.

SEC. HAGEL: Okay, I got it. Thank you. It's a very good question. Well, first, I don't think it's a choice. I don't think you can choose between education and training versus modernization of equipment. You have to have them both, but you've got to start -- as I said, you all know -- with people.

And if you don't have quality people who are trained, who are educated, who are motivated, who are well-wed, it won't make any difference what kind of equipment you give them. You all know that.

But you also -- we, the United States -- need to sustain, assure that we stay on the cutting edge of modernization of all our weapons. Whether it's nuclear posture or what you guys do on the ground, that has been a huge advantage, probably as much an advantage with the quality of our people that -- that we've ever had, especially since World War II.

So you've got to have both. But education and training are key, because it (inaudible) for no other reason than when you all joined up, and why you stay in, yes, you're motivated because you believe in something. That's principally why you're here to start with. Then, you ask yourselves a question. How do I improve my own personal life? How do I improve my professional life? That question is answered through education, training, opportunities for advancement. And if those are not there, the rest won't matter, but you still need the equipment, and we're going to do both. We're not going to choose one over the other. We'll do both. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, secretary.

Q: Afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My question is, what is going to happen with the troopers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team once 3rd Brigade goes inactive? Are they going to be dispersed among the division?

SEC. HAGEL: Your question's a relevant one based on -- especially referenced to General Odierno's announcement today. What General Odierno decided to do -- and this was in consultation with our leaders of all of our divisions -- as well as leadership across the board, as secretary of the Army -- and I concurred -- that he would essentially deactivate 12 brigade combat teams, which -- one of those is here.

He would take the maneuverable battalions, and he would move an additional battalion into the remaining brigades. Now, this is going to be sequenced over a period of time, which I think within the framework of, first, prioritizing what our needs are based on what our mission is, based on what the threats are, I think it's a smart thing to do.

Agility, flexibility -- I mean, I mentioned earlier today special operations. If you look at what's happened in our force structure within the special operations community and how they have been integrated in at different times, different ways, and how we have brought that operation into almost a new sphere -- this didn't exist 10 years ago -- this is the time to do that. This is the time to be creative. This is the time to use this opportunity to make those choices.

So I think Army leadership is right on this. And I think it isn't just a matter of being forced by constraints, law, budgets, but it's the smart thing to do, as we have unwound from one very long war -- third-longest war we've ever been in -- and we're unwinding from the longest war we've ever been in, that's going to require adjustments and changes.

Threats are going to be there, absolutely. New threats, absolutely. And we have to prepare the institution. The next set of PFCs behind you, you need to help prepare them so they inherit a structure, a system that is going to give them the ability to deal with those new threats that none of us can figure out today. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

MODERATOR: Last question, ladies and gentlemen.

SEC. HAGEL: Specialist?

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My question is, right now I understand that we need to downsize the -- or size our military troops by a substantial amount, but why not, to make that faster, we allow certain troops that make -- certain troopers that make that criteria -- make a special criteria allowed to do a voluntary separation to help train troops that need to be trained now?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it's a good question. You know, as I noted before, by law, we will -- we will bring down our force structure from the current 570,000 to 490,000. How we do that -- and that's part of your comment/question -- voluntary separation, so on and so on, all that is factored in to how we're going to do that (inaudible) also factored into that are the commitments that this country has made to the people who served and their families, retirement benefits and all that go with that.

So this is not an uncomplicated, easy process, but your point is -- is exactly right, and it is part of the unwinding and the unfolding of bringing that force structure down. Do it smartly. Do it wisely. Do it in ways that make sense. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the soldiers, family members, civilians, and the local community, thank you for your time today. But more importantly, thank you for your leadership and commitment to excellence.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, general, I'm proud to be here. I'm privileged to be here. And just for those of you who wouldn't necessarily know about this, the general and I first met in January of 2001 when I was on the first congressional delegation to go into Afghanistan, and he was a young lieutenant colonel at the time, and greeted, I think, about seven of us, seven senators. It was all a blackout. We got there, I think, midnight, 1 o'clock in the morning, and all under a tent, all fumbling around, trying to figure out where we were, and that's a trip I told the general that I will never forget.

How do you forget things like that? Spent, I think, four or five hours there with our troops and getting briefed. But I think it was an indelible experience for the seven senators. I was kidding -- I was kidding him coming over here that I have occasionally referred to that trip of those seven senators the presidential candidate trip, because of those seven senators, four of them ran for president. So see what you started?

General, thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

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