SECDEF honors military children at Yokota AB

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Behind those who make up the greatest fighting force the world has ever known are families, many including children, who serve the nation around the world just as their parents do, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said April 8, in Japan.

On his first official trip to Northeast Asia as defense secretary, Carter is visiting Japan and South Korea to focus on strengthening and modernizing U.S. alliances in that region.

In Japan, the secretary held a military family town hall at Yokota Air Base to celebrate April as the Month of the Military Child, established in 1986 by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

The month recognizes nearly 2 million U.S. children who have one or both parents serving in the armed forces.

Military kids town hall

To an audience of service members and military kids of all ages, Carter explained why the U.S. military is the world’s greatest fighting force.

“We have the best technology in the world and we have (many) friends and allies … and by doing what you’re doing here in Japan, you reinforce that. But that’s not the secret,” he said.

The people who make up the American military are the secret, the secretary said.

“Nobody else can compare in terms of the people who make up their militaries,” Carter said. “We can ask you to do the most complex tasks, the most delicate things, the things that require the most smarts and savvy and strength -- and you do it.”

Kids serve, too

And behind every service member is a family, and often, children.

To the military children in the audience Carter said, “Even as we can’t do anything without your dad or your mom, they can’t do anything without you. And so, to the kids who are here I want to say to you -- thank you for sticking with your folks as they serve our country. And that way you’re serving our country too.”

After a round of applause for the military kids, Carter said it’s important for U.S. service members to be in Japan and in the region.

Peace and stability

In a world where many parts of the globe always seem to be in turmoil, he asked the audience why the Asia-Pacific region is “generally so peaceful and therefore so prosperous, raising their children in peace and dreaming their dreams?”

It’s because the Asia-Pacific nations have had year after year of peace and stability, Carter said. That stability has allowed Japan, South Korea, China, India and others in the region to develop and prosper, he explained, “because of the peace that the United States, more than any other single factor, has created in this part of the world for decades.

“In a nutshell,” the secretary added, “when we talk about (the United States rebalancing to the Asia Pacific), it really means focusing on this part of the world … because half of humanity lives here (and) half of the wealth of the world is here.”

The region wouldn’t be so peaceful and stable, he added, “if it weren’t for … the longstanding presence of the U.S. military here in Japan and elsewhere. So you are part of a winning formula out there, and it wouldn’t be this way without you.”

Traveling and growing

To the kids, the secretary said he knows that being part of a military family isn’t always easy.

“You move around a lot, much more than most American kids, because your folks have to move. So you have to get used to new schools and new friends, and that can be difficult,” he added.

But the same conditions also give military kids more experience as young Americans because they have a chance to travel and understand different cultures and make friends around the United States and around the world.

“I think in the end you (become) stronger people for having done it,” Carter said, adding that it’s also hard when parents are deployed and are away from home for a long time.

“We know that people sacrifice in order to be in the military,” he added, “and we know that they’re not the only ones who sacrifice, that their children sacrifice as well.”

Service and success

Military kids are some of the most successful citizens, he told the audience.

Military children who grew up on overseas bases and across the United States have gone on to win Heisman trophies and National Basketball Association championships, they’ve become Grammy-winning artists and Oscar-winning actors and actresses, they’ve written best-selling books like “The Hunger Games,” and one former military child became an Army doctor and is now training to become an astronaut, according to military websites.

“You’re going to go to great places in the future,” Carter said, “and if that is some way that we pay you back for what you’ve given us … I hope (your success) has something to do with the fact that you’ve been military kids.”

He added, “Thank you on behalf of everybody in the United States. We don’t take it for granted -- we really appreciate what you’re doing out here.”