At the start of an eight-day trip focusing on the rebalance to the Pacific, Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited troops in Alaska and highlighted the strategic importance of that state.
"The main thing I want to tell you is thank you. Thank you for what you do for our country. We don't take it for granted, and I don't take it for granted either," he said Friday at Fort Wainwright.
"You are at the hinge of a lot of what's important strategically, and what's happening strategically," he told military and civilian personnel.
Alaska is a key location for DoD because of its proximity to Asia and the Arctic, he said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks with soldiers and airmen during a visit to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Oct. 30, 2015. During the trip, which includes the Asia-Pacific theater, the secretary will meet with leaders from more than a dozen nations across East Asia and South Asia to help advance the next phase of the U.S. military's rebalance in the region by modernizing longtime alliances and building new partnerships. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)
"That's a two-way street, so it means that everything that could affect us comes over or by or near Alaska, and that puts you at the center of an awful lot," he said.
The Asia-Pacific region is of great consequence to the future of the United States, "more than any other single area in the whole world," Carter said.
Carter, who also visits Korea and Malaysia during this tour, credited the U.S. military for helping maintain peace and security in the region.
"One of the reasons why it's not in the headlines is because of you and what you stand for," he said. "You stand for 70 years of the United States being the pivotal power in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region."
The good climate has allowed prosperity to occur, he said. "We aim to keep that up. That's what the rebalance is all about."
Carter commended the soldiers for taking part in the Pacific Pathways exercises with partner countries. He described the endeavor as a "great innovation" to situate the Army at the center of the strategic transition.
The soldiers just returned from a Pacific Pathways deployment to Korea, Japan and Mongolia and are preparing for additional training with Asian armies this year.
The Air Force, Carter said, has an important role to play in the rebalance, noting the service has aircraft based in Alaska that are some of the quickest responders to contingencies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
In a question and answer session with the troops, Carter outlined his priorities and concerns, including fighting sexual assault in the military and preventing suicides.
Other priorities included defeating Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and enabling capable and motivated local forces.
The secretary highlighted other areas of concern as Russian aggression, Iran and the Middle East, and responding to humanitarian crises. China is a large trading partner with the United States, Carter said, but efforts are needed to maintain relations.
"Peace isn't kept automatically. We have to work at it all the time, and that's true with respect to a country like China," he said.
By Lisa Ferdinando
DOD News / Defense Media Activity
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