USA/South Korea — Remarks by Secretary Gates at Camp Casey, South Korea

(Applause.)

SEC. GATES: I promise to be very brief because what I’d like to do is take a few ques­tions. I might or might not be able to answer them, but you can ask them. And then the main thing I want to do when we’re done here is thank each and every one of you per­son­al­ly, shake your hand, give pho­tographs, give you a coin, just tell you how much I appre­ci­ate you and your fam­i­lies for sup­port­ing you here. I thank you for com­ing, but I sus­pect that not all of you are vol­un­teers here, so any­way, thanks for being out here. I always look for­ward to get­ting out of Wash­ing­ton. In fact, any good day is a day out of Wash­ing­ton. And sim­ply to come here and say thanks and again, I know that your fam­i­lies are sac­ri­fic­ing with you being so far away as well. I’m back in Korea again this week for a unique event. A few months ago, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and Pres­i­dent Lee agreed for the first time to have a meet­ing here in Seoul, in Seoul of the two coun­tries’ for­eign min­is­ters and defense min­is­ters. And so we will have the first Two-plus-Two meet­ing tomor­row, deal­ing with a whole range of issues affect­ing our rela­tion­ship and fig­ur­ing out how to take this rela­tion­ship fur­ther in the future. We’ll cov­er a bunch of issues, includ­ing how to imple­ment the recent deci­sion to adjust OPCON tran­si­tion to 2015, what we know will call “strate­gic alliance 2015.” We were sched­uled to trans­fer in April of 2012, but at the request of the Kore­an gov­ern­ment, we agreed to slide the date to 2015 and also make the rela­tion­ship more robust in terms of exer­cis­es, com­mand and con­trol, capa­bil­i­ties, and so on. I con­tin­ue to believe that the Kore­ans are ful­ly capa­ble and a pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary ready to lead the com­bined defense. But I think this addi­tion­al time will allow us to make the even­tu­al trans­fer more wide-rang­ing and more syn­chro­nized and ulti­mate­ly bet­ter for the alliance. Although these changes and meet­ings were sched­uled long before the Cheo­nan tragedy, that attack and our col­lec­tive efforts to pre­vent anoth­er one will cer­tain­ly also be a part of our bilat­er­al dis­cus­sions this week. And in fact, I’ll go from here to a meet­ing in Seoul with Defense Min­is­ter Kim, where we will con­tin­ue our close coor­di­na­tion on a series of mil­i­tary exer­cis­es that we’ve sched­uled over the next sev­er­al months. These exer­cis­es, above all in the East and West seas — what we would call Sea of Japan and the Yel­low Sea — some of you may well be par­tic­i­pat­ing in and are designed to enhance our inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and readi­ness. But it’s also a strong sign of deter­rence or sig­nal of deter­rence to the North. And then tomor­row, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton and I, along with our Kore­an coun­ter­parts, will vis­it the DMZ to high­light how impor­tant oper­a­tions are there to the secu­ri­ty of the penin­su­la as well as the region, and demon­strate our stead­fast com­mit­ment to the ROK. As you prob­a­bly know, this year marks the 60th anniver­sary of the ROK-U.S. rela­tion­ship. The incred­i­ble pros­per­i­ty, free­dom, and vital­i­ty you see out­side the gates of this camp and through­out the South are the result of a steep price paid in blood and trea­sure by both the Unit­ed States and Korea and our oth­er allies. And although you’re far from home and not as much in the head­line as what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, I just want you to know we do appre­ci­ate your sac­ri­fice here, but also to tell you your vig­i­lance is excep­tion­al­ly impor­tant in one of the most volatile parts of the world. So on behalf of the pres­i­dent and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, I want to look you in the eye and thank you for your con­tin­ued ser­vice. I’ll stop there, take a few ques­tions. If there’re any intre­pid souls will­ing to put their hand up, and then we’ll get on with some pic­tures and some coins. So who’s going to be the brave soul that first starts — into the face of the ene­my? (Laugh­ter.) Yes.

Q Yes, I’m PFC (inaudi­ble). Sir, I was won­der­ing about the rumors of extend­ing the — sor­ry — the time you’re spend­ing for your tour to two years. If that’s just a rumor or if it’s true and also if it’s true, are they plan­ning to change — (off mike) — along the lines of vehi­cles — (off mike) — you can only have one — (off mike). SEC. GATES: Yes, there is — I approved a cou­ple of years ago — I have to get the specifics from Gen­er­al Sharp, but approved a cou­ple of years ago the idea of tour nor­mal­iza­tion here in the South. And Skip, if I get this wrong, cor­rect me, but what we’re look­ing at is a two-year tour for sin­gle mem­bers of the ser­vice and three-year for fam­i­lies. We’re pro­ceed­ing with the first phase in terms of fam­i­lies. It’s — this is a long term project, in part because of the infra­struc­ture that’s going to have to be built to sup­port the fam­i­lies at Humphreys and the cost and so on. But that is our plan and as we go to tour nor­mal­iza­tion with fam­i­lies, I think issues like you’re rais­ing in terms of vehi­cles and so on will all be raised — addressed, but the idea is — this for­ev­er has been a remote assign­ment in terms of not hav­ing fam­i­lies. And we think the cir­cum­stances are such, even after events like the Cheo­nan and so on that this is a place where Amer­i­can fam­i­lies would be com­fort­able and would be safe and make the ser­vice of our men and women in uni­form more bear­able and eas­i­er on the fam­i­lies. GEN SHARP: Sir, to that point, the change that you made two years ago has brought us from about 1,600 fam­i­lies here in Korea to today we have over 4,200 fam­i­lies. And in fact, sir, even up here in Sec­ond Infantry Divi­sion, they have about 600 fam­i­lies that are com­mand spon­sored right now. But to be able to address the issues that you’re talk­ing about, we’re look­ing at that and mak­ing sure that we build the infra­struc­ture in order to be able to have even more fam­i­lies come to the point where we can even­tu­al­ly allow all fam­i­lies to come to get to about 14,000 fam­i­lies here. Thank you, sir.

SEC. GATES: Yes, sir?

Q (Inaudi­ble) — coun­ter­parts would like to ask, is there any rev­e­la­tion about — (inaudi­ble).

SEC GATES: I’m sor­ry?

Q Is there any rev­e­la­tion about our Marines going to patrol caps, or berets?

SEC. GATES: First I’ve heard of it. (Laugh­ter.) They don’t tell me these things. (Laugh­ter.)

Got some in the back here.

Q My name is Pri­vate Rogers and my — (inaudi­ble) — arti­cle in USA Today with Gen­er­al Casey basi­cal­ly speak­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of going to a nine-month deploy­ment in a com­bat zone, that way when sol­diers return home that they’re able to spend more time with their fam­i­lies based on a 24 or 36-month rest peri­od. What’s the pos­si­bil­i­ty of that hap­pen­ing?

SEC. GATES: Well, that cer­tain­ly is Gen­er­al Casey’s goal. His goal is to have one year deployed and three years at home for the Army. We have a ways to go to get there. Our first goal is to get the one to two. And one of the rea­sons that the Army has had 12 months tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in con­trast to the Marine Corps and the Navy and the Air Force and so on, among oth­er things it’s just been the logis­tics, try­ing to move as many forces as the Army had in Iraq and Afghanistan on nine-month cen­ters has just been beyond our capa­bil­i­ty. I think that what Gen­er­al Casey is hop­ing for is that stress on the force comes down with the draw­downs in Iraq — and we will be down to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of August. And as we put a lim­it — as we reach the autho­rized strength in Afghanistan, that then let’s get to one to two and then move toward one to three. And I know that it is his goal that once we’re not involved in these two wars simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to be able to get to nine-month deploy­ments, which would obvi­ous­ly be a lot eas­i­er on troops and their fam­i­lies. I would say the first goal is to get to one-year deployed, two years at home, and then we can prob­a­bly look at mov­ing to nine-month tours. But I won’t kid you. I think it’s still — I think it’s still a ways away. The first thing is to get every­body two years at home first. Yes, right over here.

Q (Inaudi­ble.)

SEC. GATES: That’s a very good ques­tion and I think you would have to ask most of the state leg­is­la­tors that. I’ve often — the ques­tion in Viet­nam was how come at 18 you’re old enough — actu­al­ly dur­ing Viet­nam, you were old enough to be sent to war and you were old enough to drink, but you couldn’t vote. And now, you can vote at 18 and you can enlist at 17 or 18, but you can’t drink. And those are basi­cal­ly the rules that the states and Con­gress have imposed on us. And frankly I don’t see much prospect that they’re going to change. I under­stand the frus­tra­tion.

Yes, ma’am, right here.

Q I was won­der­ing about your views on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” pol­i­cy and what’s the progress of that being relieved? SEC. GATES: Well, the pres­i­dent has said that he wants the pol­i­cy changed. It is the law, and so it requires an act of Con­gress to change the law. It has passed the Sen­ate at this point, but it remains to be seen. In the mean­time, we are car­ry­ing out this review of the entire mil­i­tary because I think as we — if we move down this road, if the law changes and we’re told to imple­ment it, and we will if the law changes, then how do we do this in a way that makes sense? How do we iden­ti­fy before­hand the prob­lems, the issues, the chal­lenges that we’re going to face, the kind of train­ing require­ments we’re going to need, the kinds of changes in reg­u­la­tions, the impact on ben­e­fits, all these things need to be addressed in advance. And that’s where we want to hear from you all. And just sta­tis­ti­cal­ly some of you have to have got­ten the ques­tion­naire we sent out, since we sent it to 200,000 mem­bers of the active force and 200,000 mem­bers of the reserve com­po­nent. But it’s very impor­tant for us to hear from you your views on this and par­tic­u­lar­ly the chal­lenges and issues, or your sup­port or your oppo­si­tion for that mat­ter, because we just need — we need a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how to do this smart. I’ve told the Con­gress — I’ve been pret­ty blunt with them — there’re two ways to car­ry out change. There’s a smart way and there’s a stu­pid way. And I’m deter­mined that if we’re going to — if a law changes and we car­ry out this change, I’m deter­mined that we do it smart and in a way that has the least pos­si­ble impact on our force, on our fam­i­lies, and on unit cohe­sion. I would also say that my hope had been that the Con­gress would wait on leg­is­la­tion until after we’d heard from you all, in the hope that it might actu­al­ly help shape the leg­is­la­tion. They haven’t — they didn’t — the House and Sen­ate didn’t do that, but they also have put in the law in such a way that we will be able to com­plete this review and do all the things nec­es­sary for smart imple­men­ta­tion if the law changes with­out con­straints of time. So I think the com­pro­mise that they came up with was not my pre­ferred option, but it is an option I think we can work with because it won’t rush us to do some­thing stu­pid. Maybe one more? Yes, sir.

Q Can you tell us more about the exer­cise?

SEC. GATES: Well, the gen­er­al was just brief­ing me on that on the way up here in heli­copter. It’s going to be a pret­ty big exer­cise. I think alto­geth­er about 18 ships, 10 U.S., eight South Kore­an, a lot of air­craft, and there’re going to be anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare oper­a­tions. There’ll be air­craft oper­a­tions using the Air Force train­ing range. So it’s going to be a large exer­cise and a pret­ty broad-ranged exer­cise.

Okay, let’s get some pic­tures.

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