WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a standing-room-only all-hands gathering in the Pentagon’s auditorium on Feb. 19, Defense Secretary Ash Carter enthusiastically greeted those he will lead, and discussed his priorities.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work introduced Carter, citing the defense secretary’s “deep understanding of our business, of our shared enterprise, of organizing and training and equipping an organization (and) a fighting force that is ready for war and operating forward to preserve the peace.”
Taking the podium, Carter said, “The first and most important commitment for me always has been and always will be to you … I mean all of you — those who make up the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, and the finest and most decent fighting force the world has ever known.”
The total national team includes soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It includes civilians and contractors, he added, “and the fallen, the families of the fallen and wounded warriors. I think we have to start there.”
To those he will lead, Carter explained how he sees the job and what he’ll be doing, and detailed his commitments and priorities.
Carter said a critical responsibility for him as defense secretary is “to make sure we never put anyone and their family in (harm’s way) without the greatest care and reflection about why we’re doing it and what its purpose is and what the benefit is for our nation and for the future.”
A primary role in the job, the secretary said, is to assist the president and the national leadership in making decisions that will keep the nation safe and protect the country and its friends and allies now and into the future.
“We’re a large institution … a beacon of quality, if I may say so, in the federal service, so we have a lot to offer our national leadership in helping them make decisions,” Carter said.
DOD’s ‘great expertise’
“I intend to be very active in doing that,” he added, “and I will be counting on you to help me, and lift the great expertise of this department and all its people to the service of the country’s national security decisions.”
Carter summarized the multiple national security threats — old and new — facing the nation, but said the nation also has bright opportunities to explore.
“We are not only the finest fighting force in the world, but I think we’re the brightest beacon of hope as a country in the world,” Carter said.
“If you want evidence of that,” he added, “take a look at who has all the friends. The United States has friends and allies in every part of the world. No other country on earth can say that, (and) our antagonists have none or few.”
Carter said the country has a lot to be proud of and many opportunities to pursue, “if only we can all come together and grab hold of them” for a better future.
Today’s constrained budget and resource environment presents challenges, he acknowledged.
“If we’re going to convincingly make the case to our people that they need to spend more on their defense — which I believe they do — we need to, at the same time, show them that we know we can do better at spending that money,” Carter said.
Being open to change and to the wider worlds of technology and culture will help make the Pentagon better at spending money, and better at succeeding in the future, he added.
“If we’re going to continue to be the best, we need to be open to the future and open to change. And you’ll see me challenging you all and myself to be open in that way,” the secretary said.
For the Defense Department, succeeding in the future also means attracting young people to the department’s mission, he noted.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States were a “terrible” thing, Carter said. However, 9/11 also was a “galvanizing thing for our country,” he said, that “motivated many people” to come to the defense of the nation.
The next generation
There is something compelling about the commitment, the mission and the excellence that those in DOD’s workforce represent and that those to come will find attractive, he added.
“They’ll want to follow, not in our footsteps, because … they’re going to want to do it in their own way, but in the same general direction that we came,” the secretary said.
Carter said he’ll try in the best way he knows how to speak to the country as a whole “about us and who we are, and try to reflect who you are. And speak to the generation to come and appeal to them and challenge them to fill the shoes of the really excellent people I see in front of me.”
He told the audience, “You are excellent. You mean everything to me. The people of this department are so very wonderful and my wife Stephanie and I are so very devoted to you.”