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Carter: DOD will prevail against uncertainty

  • Published
The Defense Department will prevail against both strategic and budgetary uncertainty, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of the military community April 16.

Carter spoke to service members and civilian employees during a visit to Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The base is home to U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, among other organizations.

Carter said his visit focused on TRANSCOM, but he commended the base's entire workforce for "everything you have done and are still doing in Afghanistan to win there ... and I think that's in sight and within reach."

Spinning a globe and looking for the most forbidding places to wage a war shows the enormity of the effort, Carter said.

"Antarctica's No. 1, and Afghanistan's No. 2," he said. "And yet, you've done it. You've gotten us in, and you're in the process of getting us out. And that is an historic accomplishment that ... could not have been done without the work here of TRANSCOM and everyone here who works logistics."

Defense Department leaders are committed to supporting their troops in Afghanistan until the last one leaves," Carter said. Yet, he noted, that with "one foot firmly planted" in Afghanistan, DOD also must maneuver in a rocky security environment while weathering budget turbulence.

The department must focus on the factors that will define future security challenges, Carter said, listing as examples new threats, new technologies and new business practices. The Pentagon review Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered is a step in "turning this great strategic corner," he added.

"Of course, we have to do that with a government that doesn't seem to be able to function in terms of putting together an overall budget for us," he said. "And so we live with uncertainty, we live with turbulence and, basically, nonsense."

Carter said there is "no excuse for" the provision in budget law known as sequestration, which took effect in March and imposed across-the-board spending cuts on much of the government, including DOD.

"It's stupid, it's disgraceful, but there it is," he said. "And I know you all are working through it as best you can."

The fiscal year 2013 pain of sequestration will end Sept. 30, Carter said. "My guess is our budget uncertainty will not," he added. "So we're going to have to manage in an atmosphere of uncertainty. The president ... has submitted a (fiscal 2014 budget request) that gives us some stability, but I don't know what its chances are of actually ever being enacted."

With the huge financial pressures facing the United States, Carter said, it's especially important that military members demonstrate to the American people that "we're using each and every dollar they give us in the best possible way." DOD strives constantly to improve business practices and attention to taxpayer value to assure Americans their defense dollars are well spent, he added.

"We need to sustain their confidence and be an inspirational institution to them," Carter said.

The deputy secretary told his audience he shares with them the "great feeling" that comes with "being part of something that is bigger than yourself." Carter also thanked the members of the audience and their families for the part they play in defending global security.

"In other respects, these jobs are incredibly hard," he said. "Deployed or not deployed, there are challenges, there are long hours, there's turbulence and uncertainty and, in some cases, physical danger -- but always stress. And the demand upon you to be the best that you can be and give everything you can. And we don't take it for granted."

Responding to a question about uncertainty, the deputy secretary acknowledged there are "big changes ahead" as the services recover from a wartime footing.

It's reasonable that in a time of strategic change, military leaders refocus their attention and think differently, Carter noted.

"What's unreasonable is turbulence," he said, adding that he thinks Congress will change its approach to budget management "when it really dawns on the public how wasteful this is, and harmful."

Because of the current budget limbo, Carter said, "we all need to get our heads in a game that's not only different from the last 10 years, but has substantial uncertainty."

While that game partners strategic uncertainty with budgetary uncertainty, he said, "that's OK."

"That's a game we don't want to play, but it's a game we can get better at, though we're really getting nailed in (fiscal) 2013," he added.

Defense leaders and military members have learned a lot over the past decade-plus, Carter said.

"This is the most adaptable, creative, can-do, amazing organization in the world. ... We have adaptability in our DNA here," he told the audience.