Defense Secretary Ash Carter thanked U.S. troops at Osan Air Base, South Korea, for their service and spoke to them about the importance of the Asia-Pacific region.
Traveling on his first official visit to the region as defense secretary, Carter held a troop talk yesterday and told a group of gathered service members it was a privilege to be with them. He assured them that their presence in such a dangerous location was not taken for granted.
“If you think about it, the Middle East is in the headlines all the time,” he said, “but the reason this place isn’t in the headlines is because you’re ready any time to deter conflict on the peninsula. This is the place where we ask our forces to be the most ready all the time. We know ‘fight tonight’ is not just a slogan. It’s the real deal.”
Carter: Future Lies in Asia-Pacific
The secretary told the troops the region they help defend “is the part of the world where, more than any other single part of the world, the future lies.”
He noted that half of the world’s people and half of the global economy reside in the region, and he said it’s very important that peace be kept.
“One of the most dangerous places is right here on the peninsula,” Carter said. “And you, every day, by being as ready, and as skilled, and as formidable as you are, deter attack and keep the peace.”
Working With Allies
The defense secretary noted the Asia-Pacific region is also a place “where we do what Americans do, which is work with allies,” adding that the United States is the only country with partner countries all over the world.
“And that’s not just because we’re strong,” he said. “It’s not just because we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known.” He told the troops that it’s “values, what we stand for and what we stick up for” that makes other countries want to work with the United States.
“We work hard at that,” Carter said. “I recognize you work hard at that every day, because it’s hard for two different militaries to work together.”
But fortunately, Carter said, U.S. military forces have been doing that work for a long time in South Korea, as they have in Japan, and their efforts represent an important capability of the United States.
“There’s a lot going on in this alliance, as there is going on in Japan,” Carter said. “In Japan, we’re just on the cusp of a visit by the prime minister to Washington, where he’ll have the opportunity to meet with the president.”
Not long thereafter, he added, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will also go to the United States. “I think it’s a reflection of the importance we attach to our alliances out here and the importance we attach to the Asia-Pacific region that we’re welcoming them to Washington,” Carter said.
The secretary talked about the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, explaining it came about after many years of “necessary but strong preoccupation” with Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This [region] is where we have strong alliances that are just in an exceptionally strong position,” he said. “Why is that so? It’s not [just] because of our equipment.” What makes the U.S. military the best, Carter said, is the quality of its people and their dedication.
Taking Care of Troops, Families
Carter noted that his visit coincided with the Month of the Military Child. He talked about his appreciation for the sacrifices service members’ families make.
“Many of you have families who also sacrifice in order that you can do what you do here for us,” he said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d pass on my thanks to them as well.”
The defense secretary said his highest priority is to make sure the department can continue to attract and retain excellent people, and reward them for what they’re doing.
“There’s no other military in the world that can claim the quality of people that we have,” Carter said. “We’ve demonstrated that again and again and again, and just looking out here in this audience, I see it. So please accept my thanks on behalf of our entire country for what you’re doing out here. I think it’s not only the United States but the entire region that benefits from it. They recognize that. That’s why they want to be our friends and allies.”
Security and Conflict
Discussing security, Carter compared the concept to oxygen. “If you have it, you don’t pay any attention,” he said. “But if you don’t have it, it’s all you can think about.”
The secretary said the United States “and the world that we protect, for the most part, doesn't have to worry about their own security.”
“But if you look at places where there is ongoing conflict,” he said, “and you see the families that can’t raise their children in peace, can’t dream their dreams, can’t live their lives in a normal [way], it’s really a sad thing.”
The defense secretary told the service members that they provide that kind of security on the Korean Peninsula.
“I don't think there’s anything that you could be prouder of than being part of a mission that’s that big and so much bigger than any one of us individually is,” he said. “Just know that I wake up every morning thinking about our folks around the world, and we’re so proud of you and so grateful for what you do.”