By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke with students, faculty and leaders at Syracuse University in New York this morning, describing his vision and plans for building the “Force of the Future.”
The secretary visited the university on the second day of his first official domestic trip, which began yesterday and included a stop in Pennsylvania to speak with students from his high school alma mater in Abington, near Philadelphia.
Afterward he stopped at Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York, -- home of the 10th Mountain Division. There, he met with troops who recently served in Afghanistan.
Syracuse University includes the nationally ranked Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Research on Post-service Issues
Also at Syracuse is the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or IVMF, the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on post-service social, economic, education and policy issues affecting veterans and their families.
“You have done so much to welcome our veterans and their families,” Carter told the audience.
“And now [you’re doing] what we really need,” he added, “which is to couple thoughtful intellectual work to understand the … tremendous opportunities represented by this amazing group of people we call our veterans.”
On March 17, the department, the IVMF and the Schultz Family Foundation announced the launch of Onward to Opportunity. The new national program will deliver tailored, industry-specific training and certifications to service members and spouses on U.S. military bases before they transition to civilian life.
Onward to Opportunity
Onward to Opportunity is designed to give participants the skill sets they need to qualify for jobs with leading U.S. companies, offering a seamless transition from military careers to civilian employment.
Carter said he’s been in his new job as secretary for five weeks and he has a lot on his mind and a lot he wants to accomplish.
“But uppermost in my mind is ensuring that we have in generations to come what today gives us the finest fighting force the world has ever known. And that's not our technology -- that comes second. It's our people,” he said.
This means the department must recruit and attract the best, the secretary said.
He added, “We need to explain, we need to reach out, we need to recruit.”
But today’s national security challenges are not purely military in character, Carter said, they are also political, economic and social.
“You see that in the role of social media, you see it in the attention we give to conflict prevention and the connection between issues that we used to think were completely different, like public health or Arctic issues and security,” the secretary added.
That’s another way in which the department needs to think big and broadly, he said, “and our people have a lot of that breadth, a lot of that experience. They're a great asset for our country, so when they leave us we continue to consider them ours.”
The department’s obligation is to help service members transition from military life to civilian life, said Carter, adding that Syracuse University is a pioneer in helping service members and their families to make that transition -– “pioneering in thinking and in doing.”
Changing for a New Generation
“We’ve learned things in the last few years through the research of folks here and through the experience of having 2.6 million service members cycle through two very long wars,” he added.
“We’ve learned, for example,” Carter said, “that it's best for [service members] and therefore best for the country if they start thinking about life after the military as long as they’re in the military.”
This is because people today want to think about their futures, the secretary said.
He added, “They don't like being locked into anything. They like the idea of choice and agility and moving here and there.”
“If we're going to have a new generation we … can't offer them a conveyor belt that you get on and you don't move until you get off,” Carter said. “We're not going to be appealing if we do that, so we're going to need to change the way we think about things.”
New Transition Assistance Component
The secretary said the department has recently put in place an improved transition program that will evolve over time. It’s called the Military Life Cycle Model, a new component of the DoD Transition Assistance Program, or DoDTAP, to be implemented soon forcewide.
The model will help service members start preparing for transition early in their military careers, according to the DoDTAP website. Service members will have key "touch points” throughout their military life cycle that will allow them to align their military career with their civilian goals.
The department is committed to the program, Carter said, and is working with other government, state and local agencies and the private sector to ensure its success.
“I think we can improve our game further, and the way we'll know how to improve is to build our programs on the back of careful research of the kind that … this institution -- and this institution almost alone in our country -- is actually doing,” the secretary added.
Part of Something Bigger
Military service is one form of public service, he said, and other forms include working with the university and its schools, or working in policymaking, journalism and more.
“Even as we need to think about conflict and the solution of conflict in the broadest possible way,” Carter said, “we need to think about public service in the broadest possible way.”
He added, “I look out on all your faces, and you wouldn't be here if you didn't have at least an inkling of this. There's nothing better than getting out of bed in the morning and knowing you're going to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
It’s worth everything, worth all the effort, worth all the trouble, Carter said, “and it’s worth not getting paid a zillion dollars, which you're certainly not going to get in public service.”
‘We Care About the Needs of Everyone’
One of the reasons Carter believes the United States is exceptional, he said, is because of the spirit Americans bring to public service.
“We don't just care about ourselves, we care about the needs of everyone, and that's reflected in the way we conduct ourselves around the world,” he said.
“You guys are part of that so I'm grateful to be on your team,” Carter added.