SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Admiral, thank you. And to all of you, thanks for being here and allowing me an opportunity to bring you greetings from President Obama and all of the people of the Department of Defense.
We thank you for what you're doing, what you have been doing here. I know occasionally you might wonder if anybody is paying attention or cares. We are paying attention. We know what you do. We appreciate what you do.
I want you to give your families my thanks and tell your families how much we appreciate their sacrifice. We understand their sacrifices and we don't take those sacrifices for granted. So thank you.
What you're doing here, what you will continue to do here is very important, the security of this country. I just had a few hours on the USS Tennessee, which for an old Army guy being in a submarine was a little unfamiliar, but I got through it. And I'm smarter because of that experience.
But it reminded me, again -- and this is what I try to get out of Washington and visit as many of our bases and talk to as many of our people and actually listen to as many of our people as I can all over the country, all over the world -- it reminded me, again, of the tremendous work that's being done here and the importance of our nuclear deterrent.
I think you all know that I ordered a review -- both internal and external review of the nuclear forces a few months ago. Those internal and external reviews have come back. I've been briefed on the reviews. I'm in the process now working with our leaders to decide which recommendations we're going to go forward with, strengthen the health of the nuclear workforce, strengthen the nuclear enterprise, assure all of you that you're going to have the resources you need to do your job.
I think over the years we've let our focus on the nuclear deterrence aspect of our national security drift a little. That's somewhat understandable when we understand that for 13 years this country has been at war in long, large land mass wars. And because of that, priority has been put on those wars, both in funding, leadership, attention, so we need to get back and pay attention here and prioritize the importance of the nuclear enterprise and what you represent and the importance of what you do every day to deter aggression in the world and to protect our country and to protect our interests around the world. So I wanted you to know that.
I had an opportunity also before I went on the Tennessee today to spend about an hour with about 15 junior female submarine officers. And it was really a tremendous experience for me to listen to these -- these young officers talk about their experience, how proud they are to serve on submarines. The Navy has really broken through on so much of this over the last three, four years, and as you know, we're in the process now of preparing to integrate enlisted females on submarines.
I wanted to listen to the officers as to what they thought about a whole range of things, first, their personal lives. How's this working for them? About half of those officers were married, and I asked specifically how that sacrifice that they were having to make and the time away from their families was -- was adjusting to the larger dimension of their lives.
And I think we all recognize that we each start in a unique position in our lives. There's nobody in this room that's the same. We may have general characteristics that are similar, but everybody in this room is an individual. And I've always believed that I don't care if it's the military or whatever you're doing or whatever profession you're in, that's where you start, and you respect that individual. That individual has to -- has to comply with the qualifications and the criteria of whatever the discipline is that they want to pursue, whether it's a military or some other walk of life or profession.
But you take care of the people, that's the point. You take care of your people first. And it's a priority of mine, it's a priority of the president's -- I think all of our leaders in our -- in our DOD institution, quality people always make a difference. And if you don't have quality people, you won't have the kind of leadership, institutions you require, you won't have the confidence that the men and women who serve this country must have in their leaders. You won't have confidence in each other.
So taking care of your people is a number-one priority. You have to match that with capabilities and capacity. I get that. We are doing everything we can in Washington, in regard especially to the severe budget cuts -- and they are severe -- and they have been abrupt, and they have been deep, and we are making the adjustments we need to make, but we prioritize our people first and our capabilities second.
Third, I want to mention -- it doesn't affect you all as much, but it does -- and that is partnerships. We have put a priority on helping build the capacities of our partners around the world. The problems in the world today, the threats coming at not just us, but organized society in the world are not unique to one country or even one region. They are global threats.
And that's going to require partnerships being stronger than we've seen in the past, not just within alliances like NATO, which is very important, will continue to be important, other alliances that we have and treaty obligations that we have, but partnerships that we have all over the world, helping them so they can help themselves. And that's a priority for -- for us.
It affects us all. Everyone in this institution, this enterprise, whether you're Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, doesn't make any difference. Those partnerships, the strengthening of those partnerships will affect how you do your job and our capacity and our capability to reach beyond just our enterprise and just with the resources we have.
So, again, thank you for what you're doing. And I've got some time that I'd like very much to share with you, and that means I'd really like to hear from you. And I would encourage anything you want to tell me, questions that you've got for me, be as direct as you want to be, but I value this time. I have valued the time with our men and women in uniform, the people who do the jobs, who have the toughest jobs. I value your thoughts and ideas and direct conversation as much as I do value anybody's. So thank you for allowing me to share some time with all of you today.
So, admiral, however way you want to do this, I'd be glad to respond to questions, comments, whatever you all want to talk about.
STAFF: All right. Do we have any questions?
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Seaman Ingraham from Louisville, Kentucky, part of Marine Corps Security Force Battalion. Just had a question to ask you, Mr. Secretary. If you were a young junior sailor in my position, what would be some short-term and long-term goals you would set?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I would answer this way. I wouldn't just confine it to a young sailor; I would confine it to any individual. It's the same advice I would give anybody. And that is, first, follow your interests. Pursue what you think is important to you. Inform yourself, work hard, play it straight. No shortcuts in life. Be true to yourself. And what you guys do every day, and that is always reach for a higher purpose.
There isn't anybody in this room who is doing this, pursuing the profession that you're pursuing -- and you're good at it, you're the best in the world at it -- if you didn't have a higher purpose for what you're doing. That's the security of this country. That's the future of this country. That's your children and their children and leaving the world better than you found it.
And if you can answer all those questions to yourself, then you're always going to be successful, but success is only part of it. You got to be happy, too.
Now, the world is not full of happiness every day, every minute. I get that. I've lived long enough to know a little bit about that. And there isn't anybody here that doesn't know about that. But you got to be true to yourself and you got to be happy with yourself. That means you still -- you still challenge yourself. And always remember you're challenged -- you're challenged by who you are. You compete with you. You only have one competitor in your life, and that's you. You'll be the toughest competitor you'll ever face. You compete with the rest, but your toughest competitor is yourself.
So I think if you can answer all those questions, and keep them in balance most of your life, you're going to have a happy life, a productive life, and a successful life. And I, again, admire every one of you who has committed to what you are committed to and the way you do your jobs. It's very, very unique. Not many in the world can say that you are helping define in real terms the future of our world.
SEAMAN INGRAHAM: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
Q: Good afternoon, secretary. Senior chief (inaudible) from the Coast Guard MFPU, originally from Astoria, Oregon. I've got two questions. The first question I'm going to gloss over and not even ask, because of my concerns with the National Defense Authorization Act. The second question -- and although the first question was sincere, I'm not going to ask it. The second question is -- and this is also sincere, as well -- is with all the threats that our country faces, what's the number-one thing that keeps you up at night?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, there are a lot of things that -- that we all think about and we all wake up with every day in our lives. But I'm going to answer your question, but let me make a comment before I do, just a preface statement. It is very important for all of us -- and everyone in this room is a leader, and you're all moving toward more leadership responsibilities -- it is very important for all of us to remember not to be consumed or allow ourselves to be consumed with the crisis of the moment and of the day.
The reason I say that is because we will fail as leaders if we do. Yes, we've got the crisis of the moment. I'm dealing with a lot of different challenges every day, all over the world, and I have to deal with them, and I will. But you cannot allow yourself to get consumed with them, because then you can't think, you can't get above it and frame up the larger context of how all this has to fit into a larger scheme of where this country's going, where you all are taking the people who rely on you in your leadership positions, people who rely on me, people that I work with every day.
Now, to answer your question, because I think it does relate to what I just said, there are threats everywhere in the world. And many are external. But there are a lot of internal dimensions that we're dealing with, as well. I mean, you mentioned the NDAA. I mentioned our budget.
Sequestration has been devastating to this institution. It's something that our leaders and I work with every day trying to convince Congress to change that.
We've got a year or so to help inform and educate and try to persuade the Congress to change that. If they don't change that, then we are going to be faced with deeper and bigger cuts. We're continuing to be faced with deep cuts now. So that's what I referred to when I talk about an internal challenge, when you ask me what keeps me up at night.
Obviously, you all know enough about what's going on in the world, what's going on in the Middle East, what's going on in Europe, Eastern Europe. Asia-Pacific is full of tension. And you have to just frame it up in the larger context.
And the other part of this is, yes, it bothers me, yes, it worries me, but that's the job I've got. None of our jobs, including yours, are easy jobs. If you wanted an easy job, I once said in a committee hearing when I was in the Senate, if you wanted an easy job that you didn't have to make a lot of choices and decisions, go sell shoes. Well, I heard from all the shoe dealers all over the -- all over the country when I said that.
It wasn't to debase selling shoes. In fact, I used to sell shoes in a department store in Minneapolis. But it was to try to make the point that if you didn't want a challenging job with big headaches, you probably wouldn't be doing what you're doing. And I wouldn't have agreed to do this job. I mean, you just know it comes with the big problems, the big challenges.
It's never about challenges. Challenges are not new to generations and people. It's how you respond to them. And no one individual is ever smart enough, ever big enough to do it by himself or herself. It's never worked that way.
You respond to challenges using all the people, working with all the people. A lot of smart people in this country. A lot of smart people in this audience. And working together, we'll find the responses and we'll find the answers and we'll get through all of this.
So that's kind of the attitude I take every night, no matter how big the problems are, knowing you're going to get up in the morning, and not only will the same ones most likely be there, but there will be new ones. And that's my point about don't get consumed with it, because it'll paralyze you if you get consumed with it.
And you try to have a little fun with it. I mean, there's always a little fun you can have somewhere every day and have fun with people. Thank you.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I'm (inaudible) off USS Florida Blue from San Diego. Sir, you mentioned establishing partnerships and fighting a long war. And considering the loss of American life in Iraq, what is the United States doing to combat ISIS and prevent negation of American life lost in an attempt to stabilize that area?
SEC. HAGEL: Yeah. Well, some of you may know that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, and I testified in a classified closed hearing yesterday morning at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Iraq and Afghanistan. We took other questions, as well.
And we dealt with that question, because it is the centerpiece of -- of really everything that's going on in that part of the world. And to answer your question, the way I answered it in the testimony I gave and in the questions I gave and General Dempsey gave is, what are we doing?
First, the president's made this very clear, as I have made it very clear to some public statements I've made, as well as General Dempsey, that, number one, our focus is to protect Americans and our interests in Iraq. Number two is to assist the Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIL, ISIS, the Islamic fundamentalist groups that are present and threatening the government, the stabilization, the people, the people of Iraq.
I understand exactly what you said about sacrifices made by Americans. Many, many for many years, sacrifices were made by Americans. A lot of blood lost, lives, limbs, Americans, treasure. And that is -- that's meaningful. That means something.
And so what we can do, what we are doing is assisting in every way we can to help the Iraqi people defeat the brutal fundamentalists that are attempting not -- not just destabilize Iraq, but essentially take control of Iraq. You, I think, know we have assessment teams that we have sent over to Iraq. They are under the leadership and supervision of General Lloyd Austin, who is our CENTCOM commander. General Dempsey, all of our senior leaders are involved in this.
And we are getting daily assessments, and the finality of those assessments will be completed in the next few days, and we'll have a further context of what recommendations they'll make. In the meantime, we're doing everything we can, as I said in those two general areas, protect our people and assist ISF in their efforts to defeat ISIL.
One additional point about the specific question on ISIL. Make no mistake -- and this country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress -- this is a threat to our country. This is a force that is sophisticated, it's dynamic, it's strong, it's organized, it's well-financed, it's competent, ISIL. And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East. It's a threat to Europe. It's a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it's a threat to us.
So it is clearly in our interest -- when I talk about protecting American lives in America, I also said protecting our interests. And ISIL may not appear to be an imminent threat to the United States. It is a threat to the United States. It is a threat, a clear threat to our partners in that area, and it is imminent. And I think you look further in that -- in that area in the Middle East to see what's going on, in Syria, in Lebanon, what's going on in Israel today, the Gaza Strip, Libya, Egypt, there -- there is hardly a stable country in that -- in that area of the Middle East.
And that's -- that's very dangerous for all of us. So we need to continue to work strongly, closely, as we have been with our partners in that area. Jordan is always under threat. With Turkey, we have interests across -- across the globe, and we protect those interests.
And you started your conversation about partnerships, as I mentioned, and that's the right focus, partnerships. That's clearly one of the reasons that we have put such a preeminent focus on partnerships, is this is a good example of why we need strong partners in the interest of all of our security. Thank you.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. FT2 (inaudible) NSSC, Naval Submarine Support Center, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I wanted to ask you, as -- as the Ohio-class is -- they're starting to kind of show their age a little bit, they're getting old. My -- my last ship was older than I was.
Is the Ohio replacement going to be able to -- what's -- with the sequestration, is -- are we going to be able to, you know, continue to develop the Ohio replacement to relieve the Ohio-class and continue its mission of strategic deterrence?
SEC. HAGEL: We have every commitment to the projections to bring on that new class of submarines. And, yes, it's -- it's forcing us to make some hard choices with -- in our budget. But it is clear -- I've been clear on this, president's been clear, all of our senior leaders, that we need a new generation of Ohio-class submarines. And we're going to prioritize that.
This area, this base, the expertise represented here, what you do is going to continue to be very important for the strategic interests of this country. So, yes, the budget problems are presenting big problems for us.
There's only so much to go around. You can't get any more. And so it's forcing us -- and that isn't all bad, in one sense, to prioritize. And if we had more time to prioritize, if -- if that was on a more gradual slope of cuts, it would be more responsible. But, unfortunately, that hasn't been the case and it will not be the case if sequestration continues to hold.
But we are continuing to be committed to a new generation of Ohio-class submarines. And this place right here is going to continue to be very important.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. HAGEL: Yeah.
STAFF: All right, team, that's the last question that we have time for (OFF-MIC)
SEC. HAGEL: (inaudible) Okay. If anybody wants their picture taken with me -- you don't have to -- but if you'd like it taken, come on up. I want to take it with you. And I've got these coins they gave me. There may be some old Leon Panetta or Bob Gates coins, but I don't know. (Laughter.)
They were great secretaries of state -- of defense, so it's all right. And we'll make sure they're my coins. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)