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American Forces Press Service

Carter Addresses Legion Convention on Force of Future

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, September 1, 2015 — The desire to defend those who defend the nation shaped Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s commitments to the force, a national security strategy that meets this century’s needs and plans for the force of the future -- where innovation and technology are pillars of American strength -- he said today at the 97th American Legion National Convention in Baltimore.

Addressing some 5,000 delegates from legion posts around the country, the defense secretary told the Legionnaires that above all else, “our people” are what make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

“Few others know better than you: Our greatest responsibility is to make sure we never put a single one of America's brave sons or daughters or their families in harm’s way without the greatest care and reflection about why we’re doing it and how it benefits our nation,” he said.

Carter said in the next few years, about 1.5 million veterans from the 9/11 generation will join the 2.5 million people who have already left the military.

“How do we lay a foundation for veteran support needed 10, 20 [or] 30 years from now? How do we stay relevant and attract new leaders who will carry forth our missions?” he asked.

Every strategic decision should be a step to keep the nation safe and protect its allies and friends now and in the future, he said.

Addressing Current, Future Threats

As service members remain engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan to preserve gains the nation helped secure, DoD must also “turn the corner and look ahead to a full spectrum of threats today and into the future -- where our focus must be broader than counterinsurgency,” Carter said.

“In the Asia-Pacific, our rebalance toward the region -- where nearly half of humanity and the world’s economies reside -- is aimed at preserving a security architecture strong enough, capable enough and connected enough to ensure all nations have the opportunity to continue to rise,” he said.

While peaceful solutions to disputes are needed, “The United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world,” he said, citing the concerns of the U.S. and other nations about China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea.

The nation’s strategy also supports its European allies, counters Russian aggression and bolsters the NATO alliance, Carter said, and added that the situation in the Middle East is complex.

“We will deliver a lasting defeat to [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” the secretary said. “With a global coalition of some 60 nations, we’re taking the fight to ISIL across the physical, virtual, and ideological battlespace. Our coalition has conducted over 6,500 airstrikes, severely hampering ISIL’s movement and operations and systematically eliminating this evil group’s leadership.”

Carter said another important piece of U.S. strategy in the Middle East is the deal to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Regardless of circumstances, “Those who wish to do us harm will never find safe haven. If you threaten American lives you will answer for it, no matter what it takes,” the secretary said.

Military Must Embrace Change

Today’s military has no equal, but it must embrace change that has several dimensions, Carter said.

“We have to be open to the wider world of technology. We need a sensible long-term budget that does right by our military and taxpayers. And we need a 21st century personnel system to match a 21st century military -- that’s what I call our force of the future,” he said, adding, “Our unrivaled military must double down on an unrivaled American strength -- our capacity for game-changing innovation.”

Stronger bridges between DoD and the technology community are taking form, Carter noted, adding that investments in innovation and pushing research and development is producing growth in areas such as robotics, data science, cybersecurity, biotech and hypersonic engines.

And in addition to the best technology, DoD also needs the best people, Carter said.

“To support today’s force and meet tomorrow’s threats, we need long-term budget certainty. Our troops need the best training, the newest equipment, and the right compensation. For too long we’ve been forced to make painful tradeoffs, often on short notice, critically undermining our mission,” he said.

Personnel Changes Under Consideration

Proposals to change the personnel system also are under way, the secretary said. “We are thinking many ideas through and we need time to get the best ideas and advice, both from our services and groups like yours, the Legion,” he said.

“We’re pushing for flexibility by building on-ramps and off-ramps to give our people more choices, because wherever compatible with service needs, it shouldn’t feel like you have to choose between pursuing a promotion, supporting a family, or getting a quality education,” Carter said.

The two women who recently graduated Army Ranger school represent a future trend where a strategy of attracting the best personnel for the job from the widest possible pool of candidates. This means DoD keeps pace with change and stays open to the talents and strengths of all Americans who can contribute to the excellence of today’s force -- one where recruitment, retention and readiness are modernized in a way that’s worthy of a 21st century force, he said.

“To stay the best, we must keep our focus on our greatest strength, our people,” the secretary said. “If we do right by our people … America’s security will be assured for generations to come.”

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