By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, August 25, 2015 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter and some of his top advisers yesterday briefed a group of civilians from around the nation -- leaders from business, academia, filmmaking and city government -- as part of the department’s longest-running public liaison program.
For most of the years since 1948, the secretary has invited American business, community and academic leaders to the Pentagon, and to directly observe and engage with members of all five of the armed services at facilities in the United States and sometimes internationally.
The program began as the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference and now is called the Secretary of Defense Senior Leader Engagement Program, or SLEP.
Engaging Opinion Leaders
Over the years the department has conducted 84 programs for 6,700 invitees to boost public understanding of national defense.
The competitive program seeks to illustrate the U.S. armed forces’ strength and readiness and educate attendees on the challenges faced by service members and their families. It also provides the public a closer look at national defense policies and programs through the eyes of the opinion leaders who take part in the program.
Carter welcomed the SLEP members to the Pentagon yesterday, taking photos with each one, giving them challenge coins, and answering questions.
Earlier in the day, the group heard briefings by defense officials involved in policy and in operations.
Dr. Mara Karlin, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, explained how the department plans for its future.
“We actually are mandated by Congress to look 20 years out" and to look for future trends, she told the SLEP group.
Visualizing the Force of the Future
“If we look 20 years back, the department was barely using e-mail,” Karlin added, noting that trends for the future could include robotics or autonomy or 3-dimensional printing.
“3-D printing … in many ways can change what we're doing but it can also change what our partners, our allies and our adversaries are doing,” she explained.
The experts in her office, with the rest of the department, work to understand some of the wars DoD might fight in the future -- wars with great powers, states with nukes, states with weak governments and terrorists on the rise -- and use those to do scenario-based planning, Karlin said.
From the scenarios come decisions from the services about how to use their capabilities, then from the department about how to invest in the future force for such fights and how to make changes if the scenarios are wrong.
From Air Force Lt. Gen. Tod D. Wolters, director for operations on the Joint Staff, the group heard about current defense challenges, including the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“The counter-ISIL game plan is huge -- it’s something that we know will probably take a full three years to resolve,” he told the group.
The department has looked at ISIL from all angles -- in isolation as it resides in Iraq and Syria, and in its potential forms elsewhere -- from a counter-ISIL program that starts at Islamabad and tracks through the west, through the Middle East and all the way down to the northern and western tips of Africa, he said.
They do that, he added, “to ensure that the efforts are coordinated across that swath of territory from a counter-ISIL game plan to ensure that we're doing the smartest things we possibly can.”
For the rest of the week, the SLEP members will visit, learn about and participate in operations with members of the Coast Guard, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Air Force.
For past members of the DoD outreach program, this hands-on experience was a highlight of the trip.
In a 2011 blog post, program alumni Tom Garfinkel, president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Padres Baseball Club, described part of his experience.
“We fired multiple types of weapons and participated in training exercises. We traveled on Air Force planes and Marine helicopters, and we toured nuclear submarines and rode in anti-mine vehicle protection system and amphibious assault vehicle convoys,” he wrote.
“But most importantly, and certainly most impressively, we met and spent significant time with the men and women who have dedicated themselves so selflessly to service in the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard,” Garfinkel added.