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New SecDef Says President Obama Needs Military’s Help

Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward
Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward

New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday that President Obama needs policy guidance from a military perspective on a range of issues and the Pentagon was prepared to provide it.

"He needs help," Carter said of Obama. "He needs our best thinking, best analysis" to cope with "a rough world out there. There's a lot going on," Carter said in the Pentagon's auditorium in his first address to DoD personnel as the new Secretary.

Carter did not refer directly to the frayed lines of communication between the White House and the Pentagon that reportedly were a factor in the resignation of former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, but he stressed that the White House must be open to guidance from Pentagon civilians as well as the military.

"Two heads are better than one, and he'll get both heads" from the uniformed and civilian side, Carter said in repeating a point he made during his Senate confirmation hearings – that the Pentagon would be an independent and persistent voice in policy formation.

Carter, who resigned from the Defense Department in 2012 when Hagel was named to the top post, said he would devote himself to the welfare of the troops. "That's why I'm back – you and the mission," he told his audience.

In his introductory remarks, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work called Carter a "man of action" and warned the group in attendance to "buckle up, we're in for a heck of a ride over the next two years."

Carter has already had an impact since being sworn in at the White House on Tuesday, Work said. On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced Carter's decision to have Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, step down and named Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning, the highest ranking openly gay man at DoD, as Carter's chief of staff.

Carter, who resigned as Deputy Defense Secretary in late 2012, has served 11 defense secretaries over the years in various capacities, Work said. "It's hard to imagine someone with so sophisticated a grasp" of the job and military issues, Work said.

In his 23-minute, low-key address, Carter paid tribute to Hagel as a "distinguished and dedicated" public servant.

He pledged to service members and civilians in the auditorium that his own tenure as defense secretary would be marked by the same "dedication and commitment that brought each of you into the service."

Carter returned again to what he has described as his "three commitments" as defense secretary – to provide the White House with the best advice; to provide for the wellbeing of the troops; and to build a future force.

All of those commitments were dependent on ending the automatic spending cuts under the sequestration process of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Carter said.

"It's unsafe, it's wasteful, it's dangerous, it's unwise," Carter said of sequestration. "We've got to get out of that."

Carter said he also would focus on "appropriate compensation" for service members while preserving readiness. "There has to be a balance here" between readiness, and pay and benefits, Carter said without going into specifics.

Carter said that building the future force would involve making military service attractive to a new generation of American youth wrapped up in the "wider world of technology."

"These kids are different" than the generations that went before, Carter said. "We need to think about how we make conditions of service attractive to them."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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Department of Defense Pentagon President Barack Obama Richard Sisk

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