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Secretary Gates' Remarks at Camp Lejeune

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 12, 2011

                 SEC. GATES:  Good morning, Marines.  It's good to be back here at Camp Lejeune.  Thank you all for being here this morning, although I know, from a little experience in the military and a lot of experience in government, that more than a few of you probably aren't volunteers.  

                Let me just single out a couple of people.  You all are very lucky to have General Paxton as commander of 2MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force).  I got to know Jay very well when he was doing an onerous paperwork job in the Pentagon, and I can't tell you how much happier he is to be here at Camp Lejeune. 

                I also have with me my senior military assistant, Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly.  John is a tremendous adviser and counselor.  I also have with me Colonel Kris Stillings, who will become the commander of the Marine OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Quantico this summer.  So I get a lot of good Marine advice. 

                I'm not here to give a long speech, and I do want to save plenty of time for any questions or comments, but I did want to come back to Lejeune one more time before I retire at the end of June, just to say thank you and, as I say, to take some questions and hear any concerns that you have. 

                But first I just 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.  Thank you for protecting our country.  And a special thanks to your families for their sacrifices, their service, their patience, for taking care of the home front while you're on the battlefield. 

                Each one of you could have done something easier, safer and better paid, but you chose to step forward to wear this country's uniform, and most especially the eagle, globe and anchor.  Our nation owes you an extraordinary debt for your decision to serve in a time of war and for what you're doing every day. 

                America has leaned heavily on the Marine Corps this past decade and will continue to do so going forward, because Marines are always ready, no matter what the mission.  In just the past few months, Marines from the 2MEF have responded to Japan's devastating earthquake and nuclear crisis, evacuated civilians fleeing upheaval in Tunisia and Libya, conducted multiple airstrikes against Libyan tanks and armored vehicles advancing on Benghazi, and in Afghanistan have given the Taliban a severe beating and pushed them out of their traditional strongholds in Helmand after some of the heaviest fighting of the war. 

                I believe that the future of the Marine Corps, an expeditionary force with a maritime soul, is very bright.  The Marine Corps provides this nation with employable -- deployable middle-weight formations ready to fight on arrival, able to support itself from a minimal footprint, one that can rapidly respond to a range of contingencies.  

                As former commandant General Carl Mundy said, expeditionary is not a mission.  It's a mind-set.  For the last two centuries, the Marine Corps has been the tip of the spear, taking on the nation's toughest missions.  That's exactly what has been demanded of you in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and what will be required in the years to come.  

                The Marine Corps has been at the leading edge for over 200 years in adapting and responding to new technologies and new threats.  Even as our country faces great challenges, the adaptability, initiative and improvisation, along with the raw courage that is displayed by the United States Marines every day, gives me confidence that we can and will prevail as this country has in the past. 

                I came to this job four and a half years ago.  Every day I have held it, we have been at war, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also against terrorists and other evildoers.  You and your brothers and sisters in uniform have turned the tide in every case.  When others said the cause was lost, when our efforts encountered storms of criticism, you fought on to success.  Americans know what you have done, what you have accomplished, and I promise you they will never forget. 

                Nor will I.  I understand and feel more about what you have been through and what you have sacrificed than you can possibly imagine.  You've always been in my thoughts every time I signed the orders deploying you.  Every visit to the front, every visit to a FOB or a COP, every visit to a hospital, every condolence letter I write, every funeral at Arlington, reminds me every moment of every day what you have endeavored and the cost of what has been accomplished. 

                I have felt a deep sense of personal responsibility for each and every one of you.  And so after the wars themselves, taking care of you has been my highest priority, doing whatever was necessary at whatever cost to get you whatever you needed to accomplish your mission, to come home safely and, if wounded, to get you the best possible care from the battlefield to the home front.  You are the best the nation has to offer.  And it has been the greatest honor of my life to serve with you.  Semper fi. 

                Thank you.  (Applause.) 

                And now if -- there are a couple of microphones up here, and I'm happy to take some questions.  We have several minutes here.  So if you don't ask questions, we're going to spend a lot of time just staring at each other.  And maybe we can change the -- maybe we can change the lights so that I can see the audience. 

                STAFF:  OK.  If you have a question, go ahead and walk up to the microphone.  

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Sergeant Benson, 8th Engineer Support Battalion.  My question is, in the coming months, years, we're starting to downsize the troops in Afghanistan.  As a military, what are we expected?  Are we getting ready to go into another hot spot, or are we kind of going -- drifting to a -- say, a peacetime military? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, you know, one of the things that has happened -- when we have gone through significant budget cuts before in the 1970s and in the 1990s, there was no apparent threat on the horizon.  In fact, after the end of the Cold War, people talked about the "end of history" like everybody was going to live together in peace and harmony. 

                That's quite different right now.  The fact is that it is evident that with not only terrorism but Iran and North Korea; China's military program, building programs; the problems we're encountering in Libya; upheaval across the entire Middle East -- the world is a very unstable place and likely will be so for a long time into the future. 

                And therefore, my concern that as we face the budget pressures that we will, that our military capabilities not be weakened.  My view is that when it comes to predicting -- particularly since Vietnam, since so -- since 1974, '75 -- since Vietnam, we have had a perfect record in predicting where and when we would use military force.  We have never once gotten it right.  We never had any idea six months before we went into Grenada or Panama or the Balkans or Haiti or Iraq or even Afghanistan until after 9/11.  We never had any idea where we were going to be deploying to these areas. 

                So my concern fundamentally is a historical one.  And that is four times in the last century, after wars we have basically unilaterally disarmed ourselves.  And then we have had to discover all over again that the world really isn't a friendly place and that we always need to have our military capability to protect our interests and our -- and our security. 

                So I'm hoping we won't make that mistake again.  That's a long approach to your question, but the honest answer is, I don't -- I -- you know, if you'd asked me four months ago if we'd be in Libya today, I would have asked you what you were smoking.  But these things develop, and we have to be ready when they happen.  You can't just sort of say, okay, we'll take a year or two to get ready.  And so I think -- I can't predict for you the next place where you may be called upon.  And I can't predict whether it will be a combat situation or the kind of situation that you've dealt with in Japan with a huge natural disaster.  But there is one -- there's no doubt in my mind about one thing, and that is you will be needed and you will be deployed. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  (Inaudible) -- with 210.  Sir, my question is, with our current economic state, the government almost foreclosing and our new SECDEF, should we worry about the possibility of the option of us not getting paid again or possibly not getting paid in the future? 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I don't think so.  The one thing that -- heck, the one thing that will always be done is they will always find a way to pay the military.  My -- I have a basic saying that I've used a few times with Congress based on history that it's always good practice to pay the guys with guns first.  But I don't think that that will be a problem.  We had -- we had this unique situation where we ended up with four continuing resolutions.  And the way most of these budget issues get resolved is sort of at the very last second before going over a cliff.  It makes it awfully difficult.  We wasted billions of dollars because of these continuing resolutions, in things we couldn't do, or disrupted contracts and so on.  But I don't think you'll have to worry about being paid. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Corporal -- (inaudible) -- Engineer Battalion. 

                My question is, with the economic state of our country, and with the current war in Afghanistan, how are things like Libya and Japan going to affect -- as well as with the downsizing of the military -- how are they going to affect our operations in those other countries? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, there won't -- there really won't be any impact on Afghanistan.  We -- the cost of the wars that we are in both Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for through something called an Overseas Contingency Fund, and those have routinely been funded by the Congress -- not so routinely back in '07 and '08; there were -- there were huge fights over them.  But the House -- just yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee, as I read the newspapers, voted the $118 billion for the overseas contingency operations, which is fundamentally Iraq and Afghanistan. 

                In the case of Libya, unfortunately, we're fundamentally having to eat that one.  And so it's probably at this point somewhere in the ballpark of $750 million, and we'll find the money.  But in terms of our operations overseas, the budgetary problems that the country is facing and the deficit I think will not have an impact in terms of funding the operations that we're in. 

                Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Lieutenant Keeve, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd MLG (Marine Logistics Group). 

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