By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2015 – On the first day of a two-day domestic trip, Defense Secretary Ash Carter today visited the high school he attended in Abington, Pennsylvania, to speak with students whose generation, he said, represents the future of national security.
Carter -- Abington class of 1972 -- got a standing ovation as he took the podium. After he spoke and answered a round of questions from students in the packed high school auditorium, they stood, clapped and cheered as he thanked them for their attention.
On his first domestic trip as defense secretary, Carter is also scheduled to visit Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York -- home of the 10th Mountain Division. There, he plans to meet with troops who recently served in Afghanistan.
Before traveling back to Washington, the secretary will stop at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, to discuss the department’s commitment to building what he calls the “force of the future.”
Joining the Military
In his remarks, Carter referenced the 150-plus Abington graduates who had joined the military before and after attending college since 2000.
The secretary mentioned of some of his favorite high school teachers and coaches, some of whom were in the audience. He also named Lt. Matt Capps, a Navy helicopter pilot and 2000 graduate, whose mother Carole, a school employee, was in the audience.
“Movies like ‘American Sniper,’ video games like ‘Call of Duty’ and TV commercials with troops coming home are most likely where you see our military in your everyday lives, unless you have a family member or friend who is serving,” Carter said. Those images are somewhat true, he added, but they’re only part of what the 2.3 million men and women in uniform do every day in their jobs and in their lives.
The Future of National Security
“I wanted to come here today because your generation represents the future of our country and the future of our national security,” Carter told his audience.
“We now have the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” he said to applause, “and they’re not just defending our country against terrorists in such places as Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq -- they’re helping defend cyberspace, too.”
Service members work with cutting-edge technologies such as robotics and in fields such as biomedical engineering, the secretary said.
When disaster strikes, military forces deliver aid all over the world, he added, from the 2011 nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan to super storm Sandy in the United States. And they mobilized to Africa to save thousands of lives, helping to keep the deadly Ebola virus disease from spreading around the world.
Evolving Military Missions
“Our country’s military missions continue to evolve rapidly as our world changes and technology continues to revolutionize everything we do,” Carter said, “and … the institution I lead, the Department of Defense, must keep pace with that change as well to keep our nation secure.”
The secretary told the students that some people join the service right after high school and pursue a college education over time while serving. Some in college participate in the ROTC, a college-based program for training commissioned officers.
“In all cases, college and higher learning are encouraged, because we need our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be the best and the brightest this country has to offer,” Carter said.
Nearly 40 percent of military officers come from ROTC programs at colleges and universities, he added, noting that the services send many members to top-notch graduate programs, such as civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, medical school at Stanford University, and business school at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The New GI Bill
Everyone who serves, Carter added, can get college benefits through the GI Bill –- now called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 -- which over the past five and a half years has helped more than 1.3 million Americans pay for college.
“You don’t have to join the military to serve your country –- I didn’t,” Carter said. “But Matt and all those other Abington graduates are the foundation of our future force.”
The future force has other pieces too, he added, such as having the best technology and the best planes, ships and tanks. “But it all starts and ends with our people,” he added. “If we can’t continue to attract, inspire and excite talented young Americans like you, then nothing else will matter.”
To help build the future force, the department must be able to attract young people and put the current generation’s command of technology to work for the nation, the secretary said.
Building the Future Force
Carter mentioned the kind of data-driven technology that allows Netflix to suggest movies and TV shows, Twitter to suggest who to follow and Facebook to suggest who to add as a friend. He said the same technology could be applied to chart how people are doing every day in all aspects of their jobs.
“We also need to use 21st-century technologies –- similar to LinkedIn and Monster.com –- to help develop 21st-century leaders and give our people even more flexibility and choice in deciding their next job when they’re in the military,” he added.
The department has internships, fellowships and pilot programs that allow people to pause their military service for a few years while they get a degree, learn a new skill or start a family, the secretary said, but he added that such programs are still small.
“These programs are good for us and our people, because they help people bring new skills and talents from outside back into the military,” Carter said. “So we need to look not only at ways we can improve and expand those programs, but also think about completely new ideas to help our people gain new skills and experiences.”
Equal Opportunity, Better World
Carter said the department also plans to keep making sure that anyone who is able and willing to serve their country has a full and equal opportunity to do so, drawing talent from a range of gender, racial, religious, cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds.
“Whether you’re a man or woman, gay, lesbian or straight -- no matter what walk of life your family comes from -– we’ll make sure you’re treated with dignity and respect,” Carter told them.
The secretary said the services will be competing hard around the country for talent like that represented by the students at Abington.
“I know that not everyone here is thinking about military service, and that’s okay,” he said. “If you’re like I was and you’re still interested in serving your country and making a better world, we need to be ready to help with ways you can serve as a civilian. Right now that’s not something our local recruiters offer, but we have to rethink that.”
The department wants people to consider military and public service because, “when it comes to working in national security, no matter what you do –- military or civilian –- you will be better off for having been a part of this incredible mission,” Carter said. “Whether it’s the people, the skills or the experiences, nothing else compares. I guarantee it.”