USA — Gates Visits Marine, SEAL Training in San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Aug. 13, 2010 — A trip that start­ed with pre­sid­ing over the assump­tion of com­mand for a four-star Marine Corps gen­er­al end­ed with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates pre­sid­ing over a Marine Corps Recruit Depot grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mo­ny today.

Gates also observed Basic Under­wa­ter Demolition/SEAL training. 

The sec­re­tary presided Aug. 11 at the assump­tion of com­mand for Marine Gen. James N. Mat­tis, who has almost 40 years of mil­i­tary ser­vice, as the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. Today, the sec­re­tary met ser­vice­mem­bers on the oth­er end of the per­son­nel pipeline, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the grad­u­a­tion of A Com­pa­ny, 1st Train­ing Bat­tal­ion, and of sailors striv­ing to be SEALs with Class 84. 

In a news con­fer­ence at the Marine base, Gates said it was impor­tant to him to vis­it these Marines and sailors. “They are all vol­un­teers, and they vol­un­teered at a time when the Unit­ed States is at war,” he said. 

And it is per­son­al to him, the sec­re­tary added. 

“I think going from being a uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dent to this job actu­al­ly made it hard­er,” he said. “I spent four and a half years [at Texas A&M] watch­ing 18- to 25-year-olds walk around cam­pus in flip-flops and shorts and T‑shirts, wear­ing back­packs and hav­ing fun going to class,” he said. “And then in an instant, I was watch­ing kids exact­ly the same age – 18 to 25 – in full body armor in Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

He said the surge in Afghanistan is only just now reach­ing its full force. The Unit­ed States soon will have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, with allies deploy­ing anoth­er 50,000. Casu­al­ties have risen in Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary said, that’s not a surprise. 

“We knew if we became more aggres­sive in areas where the Tal­iban had ruled undis­turbed … casu­al­ties would be high­er,” he said. “My hope is that we will see in Afghanistan what hap­pened in Iraq — that is, ear­ly in the surge, casu­al­ties rose as we were in the thick of the fight. Then, as we start­ed hav­ing suc­cess, the casu­al­ties began to decline sig­nif­i­cant­ly. That’s my hope.” 

Gates said that’s anoth­er rea­son he is so impressed with the young men and women join­ing the mil­i­tary today – they know they are going into battle. 

The recruits who grad­u­at­ed today will be the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of sav­ings that come about from his push to elim­i­nate dupli­ca­tion of capa­bil­i­ties, a bloat­ed and top-heavy hier­ar­chy and unnec­es­sary over­head in the Defense Depart­ment, Gates said. “I want [the sav­ings] to go to force struc­ture, I want it to go into mod­ern­iza­tion and invest­ments in future capa­bil­i­ties, and I’m espe­cial­ly con­cerned that we don’t have inad­ver­tent con­se­quences as this is imple­ment­ed up and down the line,” he added. 

Top lead­ers must study the sit­u­a­tion and look at the sec­ond- and third-order of effects before imple­ment­ing any changes, Gates explained. “I want the main­te­nance guys to have the tools and equip­ment they need, I want train­ers and recruiters to have what they need,” he said. “The whole pur­pose is real­ly to slim down on over­head and bureau­cra­cy and large staffs, and try to con­vert that from tail to tooth.” 

The sec­re­tary said he has met with ser­vice lead­ers on the plan and he is pleased with their pro­pos­als. “I think the ini­tial look is they are all tak­ing this seri­ous­ly. They are lean­ing for­ward,” he said. The ser­vice sec­re­taries and ser­vice chiefs are excit­ed about the pro­gram, Gates added, because they get to rein­vest any sav­ings back in their ser­vices. Sav­ings at defense agen­cies or at the com­bat­ant com­mands will go back to Gates for redis­tri­b­u­tion. “I want to know what they are going to invest in,” he said. “For exam­ple, if I was able to give the Navy a bil­lion dol­lars more a year, what is their high­est pri­or­i­ty? Ship-build­ing or what?” 

The ser­vices have some very ambi­tious and aggres­sive plans, “and they look good to me,” Gates said. 

Gates left the Recruit Depot and moved to North Island. On one end of the beach is the Hotel del Coro­n­a­do – a world-class resort. At the oth­er end is the Navy’s Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, where 67 sailors were in the midst of “Hell Week” at BUDs. The class start­ed four weeks ago with 180 sailors, and now has 67. Dur­ing Hell Week, the sailors are stressed phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly. The have timed runs, timed swims, count­less exer­cis­es, small-boat exer­cis­es, lit­tle food and even less sleep. 

The 67 remain­ing can­di­dates were on the beach exer­cis­ing with Zodi­ac boats when Gates walked over the sand dune. The young men were cov­ered in sand and crud from ear­li­er exer­cis­es. The sailors gath­ered around the sec­re­tary, and he thanked them for vol­un­teer­ing to serve their nation and for fur­ther vol­un­teer­ing to be a SEAL. Then the sec­re­tary said what all the young sailors want­ed to hear: “Class 84, you are secured from Hell Week.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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