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)