YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the crew of the USS Stethem, which is docked at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Oct. 4, 2013.
Transcript of the conversation:
SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I am very proud of what you're doing. The president of the United States is proud of what you're doing. America is proud of what you're doing.
I'm here in Japan for a couple of days, came over from South Korea before that, talked to troops, meetings. I think we've made some progress with our bilateral partners and friends to strengthen the alliance between the Japanese and the Americans, as well as the Republic of South Korea and the United States.
The trilateral relationship of our three countries is particularly important. You play a big role in that. The 50,000 men and women who represent U.S. Forces Japan are really the anchor and the cornerstone of America's presence in the Asia Pacific. And we, again, appreciate your service and your sacrifices, and particularly your families'. And I want you to greet your families for me, tell your families that we appreciate what they're doing.
These are challenging times. You all understand that better than almost anyone. You are right out here where it matters most. And you are doing work where there is little margin for error. It is critically important, as we build relationships and alliances and we defend our interests, as well as the interests of our allies. These are defining times.
These are times you will look back on as you complete your service to our country and have not only the sense of pride and purpose that you accomplished something pretty special, but you helped shape history, and that's what you're doing out here. You really are shaping history. You're not just observing history, but you are participating in history.
I know you're from all over. I've seen your backgrounds. You represent the best America has. And I know occasionally you wonder if anybody's paying attention. We are paying attention. And, again, I came out here specifically to say hello to you and to thank you for everything you're doing.
I've got some time for questions, advice, whatever you want to talk about. I'd be glad to spend some time with you on it. I always value what our troops think, what our people believe. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? I know as you look on Washington these days, it appears that we are having some difficulty governing ourselves. But that is part of the business of democracy.
You know that the president is totally committed to you. As you know, he signed a bill into law that exempts our military from the shutdown. That means, as you all know, our country wants you to stay on the job, needs you to stay on the job, and you're going to be paid for it. I know that's not an insignificant factor in your lives, but you were specifically cut out of the shutdown process by the Congress, and the president signed that bill into law.
So we'll get through this in Washington. Yes, it's difficult. It's messy. And you all are aware of that. But our country is too good, too strong. Our people are too good and too strong. We'll get through it, and we'll be better for it.
All right. What do you want to talk about? Anything.
I am well aware, by the way, of the history of this ship, who it was named after and why. I recall that -- that time in 1985, and I know your every proud to have Stethem's name on this ship and your part of it. And I know you recognize that every time there's a change of command, and it's a tremendous tradition to have Robert Stethem's brother come out here and be part of that change of command ceremony.
And I'm proud that we would recognize such a great American hero as Robert Stethem this way, in naming an important ship that is at the forefront of protecting America's interest and our allies' interest. Anything that you want to talk about. Yes?
Q: Mr. Secretary, the government shutdown, what's the effect on the DOD schools?
SECRETARY HAGEL: The question is DOD schools, how are they affected by the government shutdown? And we're exempting all of the -- the vital components of supporting our military. That's part of the exceptions. I have asked our lawyers and our comptroller to examine what additional civilians we could bring back. We had -- we were forced by law to furlough many, many of our civilian workers. But we're trying to find a solid legal interpretation here in the law that can bring back more people in support of our military.
The fact is, all our civilians who work for the Department of Defense support our military. There's no job in our Department of Defense that doesn't support the military. So I think theoretically -- I'm not a lawyer, but I do have some appreciation for common sense, and common sense tells you that if you're working for the Department of Defense, you're supporting the defense and the security of America, and you're supporting those who are on the front lines, those in uniform, like you, who do this nation's business. So we're going to take care of all the components of DOD that support you and your families.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary --
SECRETARY HAGEL: I'm sorry. Yeah, I'll come back to you here. We'll get -- go ahead.
Q: (off mic)
SECRETARY HAGEL: That's a good question. The question was, what is the role of the United States in the next three years? Well, the president has been very clear on this point, that starting with the rebalance to the Asia Pacific, does not mean that we're retreating from any other part of the world. We're not.
We have responsibilities in the Middle East. We have friends. We have allies in the Middle East, as we do all over the world, and we will continue with our allies to play a role in the Middle East.
I think what happened at the United Nations last week was very positive, was very encouraging, to get the United Nations to act on the chemical weapons issue in Syria. We were able to bring the Security Council together on this. We are in the forefront of dealing with that. DOD is part of that.
I think, on the Iranian piece of this, there was very positive developments last week. A long way to go. Actions must match words. We're very clear-eyed and realistic about all of it. We have the greatest, strongest military in the world. We're the strongest nation in the world, our economy, our military, every component of who we are. That's how you assure your freedom and your security.
But at the same time, Secretary Kerry and I addressed this issue yesterday. Democracies engage. Engagement is a sign of strength. And we'll see where it goes. But I think we all agree that if we can resolve differences and problems peacefully, versus going to war, I think you're the first to agree that's probably a better option, because you've got to fight the wars.
So there will be a role for the United States in the Middle East. And as said, we're not retreating from any part of the world. Alliances become more and more critical, maybe more critical than they have ever been. It is building capacities for our allies, helping our allies. It's what we're doing here in the Middle East, part of what you're doing -- I mean, here in the Asia Pacific. It's what we're doing in the Middle East, is as you -- as you build alliances, strengthen those alliances, you strengthen their capabilities and capacities to defend themselves.
And that's much of what we're doing here, certainly in the Asia Pacific, as well as the Middle East and around the world.
GEORGE LITTLE: We're going to get one more.
SECRETARY HAGEL: Okay, one more. We had somebody in the front row here, yes.
Q: (off mic) with the government shutdown, will there be any effect on Seventh Fleet operations?
SECRETARY HAGEL: With the government shutdown, will there be any effect on Seventh Fleet operations? No.
Okay. (Laughter.) How's that? My team like it when I give one-answer -- one-word answers. How's that? I get myself in less trouble. (Laughter.)
Thank you all very much. Much success to you. We're very, very proud of you. Take care of yourselves. Thank you.