Gates to Troops: U.S. Must Sustain Force Excellence
(May 18, 2011)
|MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.,, May 12, 2011 –
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke with Marines and
soldiers and watched them train today at two East Coast
military bases, thanking them for their service, and -- 48
days away from his June 30 retirement -- saying goodbye.|
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses about 400 Marines from the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines Regiment, thanking them for their service at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 12, 2011. DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen
||“I want to thank you for your service, for your
sacrifices, for taking care of your buddies, for your victories in
Anbar and Helmand and so many other places,” Gates said during a
town hall with about 1,100 Marines.
Gates took questions from
these Marines at Lejeune, and from soldiers at the U.S. Army
Training Center at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Topics were diverse but
questions that arose most often among the troops involved the future
of the military services and Defense Department budget cuts.
“Four times in the last century, after wars, we have unilaterally
disarmed ourselves and then have had to
discover all over again that the world isn't a friendly place,”
At the end of the Cold War, the secretary said, “people
talked about the ‘end of history' like everybody was going
to live together in peace and harmony.”|
problems with Iran and North Korea, China's military
program, the conflict in Libya and upheaval across the
Middle East show “that the world is a very unstable place
and will be so for a long time into the future,” he said.
Where the next hot spot will develop is impossible to
say, he added, “but there's no doubt in my mind about one
thing, and that is [that] you will be needed and you will be
The United States will always need its
military capability to protect its interests and security ,
“One of the things I feel strongest
about,” he added, is that the nation does not repeat
mistakes made during budget cuts in the 1970s and 1990s that
“hollowed out the force.”
Such damage, he said, comes
from sustaining force structure while reducing manpower,
flight-training hours, tank miles, steaming days for ships,
and money for exercises and training.
“That's how you
hollow out a military,” he said.
“You have the same
number of brigades or regiments but you don't have the
people to staff them and you don't have the money to train
and keep the people who are doing the job at a level of
excellence that is required.”
across-the-board cuts represent managerial cowardice.
“What I intend to do is try and shape this going
forward, before I get out of here,” he said, so the
president and Congress understand the hard choices that need
to be made.
Over the next 10 to 12 years, Gates said,
his approach would include continuing the efficiencies
effort begun in the Defense Department last summer and
cutting marginal capabilities and missions.
piece -- the hardest to implement, he said -- involves
“forcing decision makers to look at our strategy and our
capabilities and [decide] where they are prepared to take
risk in meeting future challenges.”
As an example he
cited the Quadrennial Defense Review, in which “there are a
bunch of scenarios of all the different things we should be
prepared to take on in the years to come,” Gates said.
One scenario that has been included in the review over
the years, he said, “is our ability to fight two major
regional conflicts at the same time -- let's say, just
hypothetically, Iran and North Korea. And we built the force
to be able to do that.”
If the nation decides it is
unnecessary to have that capability because the odds of
getting into simultaneous conflicts are so low, Gates said,
“what are the implications for force structure of that?”
Such a decision poses a risk, the secretary said. “The
risk is that we're wrong. And the enemy always has a vote.”
Gates added, “My hope is to tee this up for [defense
secretary nominee] Leon Panetta and for the president in a
way so that they can make conscious choices and decisions
with the advice of the chiefs and the combatant commanders
in terms of how we move forward on the kinds of reductions
they're calling for.”
The key, he said, “is
sustaining the excellence of the force that we have.”
This is as good as the military of the United States has
ever been, Gates said.
“Whatever we do, we cannot let
that quality diminish, from the quality of the people that
we have and the ability to take care of them, to the money
to take care of the training and keeping the standard of
excellence where it is,” he said.
“You are the best
the nation has to offer,” Gates told the troops, “and it has
been the greatest honor of my life to serve with you.”
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
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