Carter Talks Global Threats with Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Council

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Washington, DC – US Defense Secretary Ash Carter thanked the senior noncommissioned officers he calls his “eyes and ears” with the force as he addressed the 2016 Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Council at the Pentagon this morning (November 30).

Chaired by Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the council consists of the service and combatant command senior enlisted advisors. Troxell calls it “the Top 25.” The council is the only time all the senior enlisted leaders get together each year, and Troxell hopes to build synergy and cohesion among the group.

Carter said the role these senior NCOs play is important in transmitting the concerns of the enlisted force to Defense Department leaders and the as conduits of information from the top down. “I hope when you speak with these young men and women, you tell them how proud we are of all of them, and how proud we are of what they chose to do with their lives,” he said.

The secretary spent much of his time with the senior NCOs discussing readiness. He said each service has different readiness issues, so one solution cannot apply to all. The Army and Marine Corps are working to get back to full-spectrum operations after a generation of – necessarily – concentrating on counterinsurgency. The Marine Corps also has aviation issues it must address, he said.

In the Navy, shipbuilding and overhauling affect readiness. The Air Force is confronting an air fleet that is the oldest in the service’s history.

“There is a bill to be paid for 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

Carter said he does not begrudge the money spent, noting, “If you are in, you have to be all the way in.”

But there are costs and DoD is addressing those shortfalls. He said a new administration needs to take a serious look at the readiness issue and expects it will. “The world is the world,” Carter said. “So our major strategic directions will, I think, basically remain the same in the sense that the problems aren’t going to change, but approaches to them might.”

The secretary spoke of the four-plus-one litany of threats – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism. These probably won’t change, but he does not know what could happen elsewhere to change the equation.

The secretary specifically discussed the current efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “As far as ISIL is concerned, obviously there is the complete necessity to destroy this thing,” he said. “And we are going to do that.”

He doesn’t want any vestige of the group to be able to reconstitute in a couple of years. He said stabilization and economic efforts have lagged behind the military campaign against the group, and that is a concern. Providing hope and jobs for young Arab men are keys to ensuring the ideology loses its appeal.

Overall, the military needs to continue to innovate and encourage agility to build the force of the future. “Generations change, kids change, societies change; it requires a constant effort,” he said. “A force that has seen the future and grasps the future and gets there before anyone else does, is what we need to continue to nurture.”

The secretary specifically said he is more concerned now about the geographical base of the military more than any other personnel issue. The services need to reach into area underrepresented in the armed force, to give every American the opportunity to serve.

The council will continue through Friday.

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