Department of Defense Press Briefing with Rear Admiral Kirby, January 23, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWPSF)—January 23, 2014. Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Afternoon, everybody.  I’m going to open up with a few remarks about the readiness of our strategic deterrence forces and about some decisions Secretary Hagel is announcing to help ensure that readiness.

Let me state right up front that Secretary Hagel believes we are fielding today the finest, most capable of strategic deterrent forces in the world.  He is confident our nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure and effective.  But he also recognizes that to keep it safe, secure and effective well into the future, the whole nuclear enterprise must be supported by both a modern physical infrastructure, as well as highly capable, skilled and motivated members of the military.

It was to some degree out of concern for that workforce that he visited F.E. Warren Air Force Base earlier this month.  While there, he was certainly encouraged by the talent and the professionalism of those airmen with whom he interacted.

But he was also reminded of the fact while there that not all of them live up to the same high standards required by the gravity of that work.  The secretary shares the frustration of Air Force Secretary James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Welsh about recent reports of drug use and cheating inside the ICBM force.  He welcomes the attention they are giving it, and he appreciates their leadership.

In fact, he spoke to Secretary James just this morning as she and General Welsh were wrapping up visits to missile bases across the country.  And he got a sense of some of her observations.

He also spoke this week with Admiral Haney, the strategic commander — the strategic command commander, who likewise assured the secretary that he is committing — that he is committed to addressing these issues.  Combined with other recent lapses by those responsible for overseeing our strategic deterrence enterprise.  The allegations that were raised and have been raised recently also raise legitimate concerns about the department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions.

Secretary Hagel believes it is time for the Department of Defense as a whole to place renewed emphasis on examining the health of the nuclear force, in particular those issues that affect the morale, professionalism, performance, and leadership of the people who make up that force.

He has today issued a memo to the senior leaders of this department, as well to those of the Air Force and the Navy, calling for the initial — the following initial steps.  First, in the next two weeks, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey will convene a meeting of key stakeholders in the nuclear enterprise here in Washington to raise and address any personnel challenges in the nuclear force.  Informed by this meeting, Secretary Hagel will direct senior leaders to develop and implement an action plan to do the following things, one, examine the underlying leadership and management principles governing the strategic deterrence enterprise and the health of the culture that implements these principles.

Two, identify successful personnel management practices within the strategic deterrence enterprise.  

Three, identify key gaps and/or problems concerning the growth and development of the personnel within the nuclear enterprise.

Fourth, identify remedies for any gaps or problems.

And, five, direct action to rapidly implement identified remedies and any other required actions.  He wants this action plan delivered to him in 60 days.  

Finally, the secretary is calling for an independent review to conduct a broader examination of the strategic deterrence enterprise as it relates to personnel.  This review which will involve the work of a small number of experienced former officials will do a couple of things.  It will assess the quality and effectiveness of our action plan, and it will provide us a sense of any persistent changes that we — that could affect the performance of the deterrence mission, as well as any recommendations to address those challenges.

This review will be completed no later than 90 days after its start, and we hope to get it started within the next couple of weeks.  Secretary Hagel has made it clear there is no mission more vital to our national security than that of strategic nuclear deterrence.  He has called it a no-fail mission.

And though he recognizes that the majority of men and women who perform this mission do so honorably and with great pride, a series of individual failures such as those we have recently witnessed give him pause.  To the degree there are systemic problems in the training and professional standards of the nuclear career field, the secretary wants them solved.  To the degree there are gaps in our understanding or implementation of those standards, he wants them closed.  And to the degree leaders have failed in their duties, he wants them held to account.

The secretary looks forward to meeting with senior leaders in coming days and to moving ahead with the important work of ensuring this department in every way continues to protect and defend our national interests.  Thank you.


Q:  John, you said in the coming — in two weeks, this meeting will take place.  Do you have any, I guess, firmer date?  And then, secondly, when the secretary was out at F.E. Warren, he didn’t sound quite this urgent.  What sort of tipped the scales and brought him to this?  Does he see any culpability within what he called the stewardship or the leadership of the Air Force?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  So on the meeting, I think it’s going to be, again, in the next week or so.  I said couple of weeks, because we’re still nailing down the schedules.  I mean, it’s hard to get leaders — senior leaders like that all together at the same time, so we’re working the schedules hard.  I think it’ll be, really, in the next week or so.

And on your second question, I don’t think there was sort of a tipping point here or something that — you know, that — a tripwire that crossed in his mind.  It was on his mind when we made this trip.  It’s been on his mind ever since.  He’s had the opportunity now to speak to Secretary James a couple of times, specifically about this.  He got feedback from her trip today.

And so I think it’s just — it’s just been weighing on his mind and he wants to make sure that he is — is owning this, as well, for the department, and he wants to make it very clear that — that he expects us to take it seriously and to take action again in the coming weeks and months.

So it’s not — there wasn’t one tripwire here.  I think it’s just been a growing concern on his mind.  And, look, frankly, I mean, he’s been following the coverage, particularly by the Associated Press.  And I think that also has made an impact on his thinking.  There’s no question about that.

Q:  Another question on stewardship.  Whether — you particularly mentioned you want to look at the stewardship.  Is there some culpability among the Air Force leaders?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don’t think we know that right now, Lita.  I mean, again, we’re just now kind of diving into this, and he looks forward to deeper discussions with Secretary James and General Welsh, now that they’ve wrapped up their trip.  But, you know, one week’s trip — although meaningful and valuable — and I won’t speak for Secretary James, but I think she did learn a lot out of this — doesn’t — isn’t necessarily going to provide all the answers, either.

So I think stewardship obviously is the goal here.  Good leadership is certainly the goal.  And we’re just not at a point right now where we can assess specific culpability issues or have — you know, name specific people that are or will be held accountable.  I just don’t think we’re at that point right now.


Q:  You know, this sounds like a deja vu here.  You were here when Secretary Gates fired Moseley and Wynne over nuclear issues.  This does not sound as serious as losing nuclear weapons or parts to China — or parts to Taiwan that ended up — could you put this in perspective, in terms of what Gates did five years ago now — and this seems — this seems like personnel not behaving well versus losing nuclear materials or weapons parts.  I mean, put it in perspective, because this sounds more shrill than it really seems to be. 

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I would take issue with the characterization that it’s shrill.  And I think throughout what I just read — and, I mean, this is really related to the personnel issues.  I mean, everything that I just talked about, the things that he wants done, the action plan, the review panel are all geared to looking at the culture inside the strategic deterrent force, in particular the ICBM force, the growth in development of the people that work in that force, their opportunities, incentives they do or do not get, morale issues.

I mean, this is, in essence, mostly a personnel-related issue that he’s — that he believes we’re dealing with here.  This isn’t — it’s — and that’s why I think, you know, I can say and he can say that he’s confident in the safety and security of the nuclear mission and the nuclear arsenal.  This isn’t about — this particular issue isn’t about infrastructure.  It’s not about modernization of weapons.  It’s not about, you know, the next generation of — of nuclear submarines.  I mean, this is really about the people inside the nuclear deterrent force.

Q:  So the public shouldn’t feel that the Air Force has lapsed, that for five years of getting slapped around, in terms of the physical safety of the weapons and the — the — knowing where they’re located, all the issues that — that sent Gates off five years ago?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think the Air Force has done a lot with respect to those — the issues that they had to address back then.  And, again, our concerns today — the secretary’s concerns today are really more centered on people issues inside the nuclear force.  Yeah.


Q:  Have there been any security lapses associated with these cheating incidents or substance abuse issues?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  None that I’m aware of, Tom.  But, again, I think, you know, that’s — the Air Force leaders are looking at that right now, and in particular for the — with respect to the issue of cheating.  And I won’t get ahead of their investigative efforts, but none that I’m aware of right now.

But, again — but, you know, this isn’t — also, just about specific security lapses, whether there were or there weren’t.  And if there were, we’ll deal with that.  This is really Secretary Hagel’s larger concern that we might — we have — we have morale issues, we have performance issues inside a force inside the military that is just so vital to national security.


Q:  I’m really confused here, because if you don’t know if there are security lapses yet and you say the secretary isn’t sure about culpability, but he has growing concern, and one of the tasks is to assess the persistent challenges, people control the arsenal of nuclear weapons.  Why and how can you say — why can you say you are certain the arsenal is safe and secure?  How can you say that?  What proof do you have, given everything you’ve just laid out here?  People control these weapons.  People control this infrastructure.  How do you know it’s safe and secure?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, without going into chapter and verse and certainly getting into classified issues, I mean, I can tell you — and I can assure the American people — that we’re confident, again, in the security of the nuclear arsenal for this country, the physical infrastructure that supports it, the protection of it, and, frankly, you know, writ large, we’re confident in the professionalism of the majority of the force.

That said, I mean, clearly, we’ve got some issues here.  And there are very — at the very minimum, there are some individuals inside the ICBM force that — that don’t or aren’t willing to live up to those standards.  

What the secretary wants to know is, what else don’t I know about what I don’t know?  So he wants this review panel to look at not just the ICBM force — this is why he’s bringing in an independent review to look not just at the ICBM force, but the whole nuclear force.  And I think these are fair questions to ask right now.  In fact… 

Q:  That’s my question.  Is — doesn’t he — he acknowledges he wants to know what he doesn’t know.


Q:  What doesn’t he know?  So how — how can you reconcile that with being absolutely certain the force is safe and secure?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think he’s confident that it’s safe and secure, but I — but — but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be asking — we shouldn’t be asking harder questions of ourselves and trying to find out if there’s other issues we’re not aware of.  I mean, this is simple prudence.  This is just good management and leadership.  And I think it would be imprudent for us to do otherwise.  In fact, I would expect that you would challenge us if we weren’t asking these questions and challenge us if we weren’t having other people from outside come in and take a look at our own — our own homework.

I mean, one of the things he wants this review panel to do is take a look at the action plan that he’s going to have the department right up and grade our homework.  I think this is — you know, he believes this is — this is the right thing to do.  It’s prudent leadership.


Q:  John, the department eased regulations this week on beards and other religious headgear.  Can you explain that decision and where it came from?  It comes on the heels of changes to force culture, force structure, in terms of allowing women into — or investigating whether women — opening combat positions up to women.  And there are some who are saying that this is an example of social engineering in the military right now.  Can you comment on that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I sure can.  First of all, it’s not social engineering in the military.  The secretary believes that the — that the opportunity to serve your country in uniform should be as open to as many Americans as possible, obviously, within certain standards, of course.  And he’s committed, as was Secretary Panetta before him, to removing as many barriers to that service as possible and to make the military service a vocation that one wants to pursue and can pursue for a career.

So all of these changes that you’re seeing writ large are really, I think, just an honest effort to make sure that — that Americans of all stripes and sizes are able to serve in the United States military.  Now, on the specific policy that you’re talking about, with the religious accommodation, it’s an updated policy from one which I believe was first written in 2009 — I have to check on that — and — but what’s different about this policy is, it declares very specifically that this department will accommodate some religious needs of our service members.

So in — under that umbrella, it sort of establishes department-wide guidance to the services on religious accommodation.  Each of the services have their own.  This sort of puts an umbrella cap on that.  But it also — and if you read it, you’ll see it also makes it very clear that mission accomplishment comes first.  I mean, we want to accommodate as much as we can, but nothing can get in the way of accomplishing the mission.  That’s got to come first.

And so for an individual that has a request or wants a waiver, it’s going to get looked at seriously, case-by-case basis.  If it has to go higher in the chain of command, it will.  But ultimately, the arbiter is going to be, does it affect our ability to accomplish the mission or not?  Does that answer your question? 

Q:  Follow?  Can I just follow?


Q:  Two questions, one on this one, if that includes (OFF-MIC) many, many years that Sikh community, Sikhs in the U.S. military that they will be allowed now to wear their turbans?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It does — in fact, I think there were some Sikhs that were talking about this policy.  I mean, it does — it does allow for that.  But, again, it has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, evaluated by the unit commander, and the mission can’t be — can’t suffer as a result of accommodating some of these religious requirements.  So it’s — I mean, yes, it’s — a Sikh can request the wearing of religious attire, but, again, it has to be looked at case-by-case.

Q:  So it’s not an automatic policy that if they want to wear, they can wear the turban or other religious incarnations that they may have…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  If by automatic, you mean universally and apply all at once, no.  As I said, two points — two points that need to be made clear about this.  One, we’re saying as a department we will accommodate these preferences and religious requirements.  Number two, the mission can’t suffer as a result.  Okay?

Q:  Thank you, John.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Just a second.  Mick?

Q:  Sorry.  Doesn’t this open a Pandora’s box to administrative and legal challenges?  I mean, the list of religions and religious groups is nearly 100.  So one can only imagine the number of accommodations that would come out of 100 different groups or request for accommodations.  And if they’re denied, one can see where there would be a plethora of administrative or even legal challenges.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, it’s one of the reasons why we wanted to rewrite the policy and have it in writing, so that you have — you have an anchored document to go back and look at that makes sense for why you’re willing to take a look at these things.  I mean, that’s why we wanted to codify it in writing this way.  I mean…

Q:  It’s — those individual decisions are then kicked down to the command level.  

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not necessarily.  If — and I don’t mean to get into this level of detail, but if — if a service member — you know, is requesting a waiver for something that doesn’t require changes to a uniform, like, for instance, or grooming an appearance standard set by the service, those can be handled at the unit level, and we think they should be handled at the lowest level possible.

If, however, the request requires a waiver of service policy with respect to grooming standards or appearance or the wearing of a uniform, then it’s going to go higher in the chain of command, perhaps all the way up to the personnel chief of the service.  

So there’s — there’s flexibility in this to work it from both angles.  But, again, that’s why you want a policy that’s clear and it’s codified. 

Now, whether it opens us up to legal challenges, then I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.  But I don’t — you know, I don’t think we believe it’s necessarily going to lead to that, not if it’s — not if it’s executed properly in a measured way, you know, by good leaders.

Q:  And back to the review of the Air Force and — and the strategic nuclear mission, has the secretary lost confidence in the Air Force to be able to handle this issue?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, he has not.

Q:  Then why has it been kicked up to his level to launch a Pentagon-wide review…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It hasn’t been kicked up to his level.  He exerted himself on that.  He believed it was important for him to also be a leader in this effort and to make it clear that he is tracking this very, very closely. 

But also, as I said at the outset, it’s not just about the ICBM force, and it’s even not just about the Air Force.  The reason he wants to take these steps is because he wants to look at the entire nuclear force across the services.  So he — again, he wants to know what else is out there that I’m not aware of, what else don’t I know?  And that’s certainly within his purview as the secretary of defense.

Q:  John, what about the culture in the ICBM force gives him concern?  I mean, go into a little more detail if you could about that.  I mean, if the culture is known for, you know, attention to detail, safety, et cetera, what — but is there something about that culture?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think when he — you know, I think when he went out there and he got a chance to visit with some missiliers and we went down to a launch control center, again, very professional, talented people with whom he interacted.  But he also said that this is a — this is a mission that, while vital, doesn’t get a lot of attention — they deploy for days at a time down to these centers in the middle of the country.  

They don’t — they don’t — and so it could be lonely work, and he acknowledged that.  It can be unheralded work and sometimes unappreciated work.  He acknowledged that.  And then you add that just general concern about the morale and well-being of people that are doing this, you know, very difficult work to the behavior issues that we’ve seen pop up recently, the cheating and the — the alleged drug use.  I think that that’s more than enough, I think, to be concerned that perhaps there’s a larger cultural issue here that needs to be addressed.


Q:  Admiral, last time we heard from you about this, and from the chief and secretary of the Air Force, we were talking about a population of about 37 officers between the alleged drugs and cheating.  Is that still the same size of the population that has led to this concern?  Or has (inaudible) and SecAF’s visits revealed more people up there that has prompted them to ask SecDef for this broader review?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don’t know.  I don’t know if the numbers have changed necessarily.  In that cheating investigation, as far as I know, it’s still 34.  I do have, if you want it, I do have some updates on the testing results, if I could find them here.

So as of last night, 481 missile combat crew members out of the total of 499 were tested, there are 18 left to test.  The pass rate right now is just over 95 percent.  So there’s been a total of 22 failures.  For those 22 who failed, they’ll be retrained and returned to duty following a second retest.  I don’t know what the schedule is going to be looking like for that.  You’d have to talk to the Air Force.

The remaining 18 missiliers who have yet to be tested that are still on leave or temporary duty and they’ll be tested upon their return.  But I don’t know if the numbers have changed necessarily from those implicated.  


Q:  On accountability, it sounds like you’ve got some results already as a part of this.  Why haven’t the Air Force commanders involved with these wings or these units been held accountable or disciplined because they’ve got officers who weren’t able to pass this re-examination?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’ll refer you to the Air Force on their policies with respect to what they do when somebody fails a test.  I truly don’t know that.  But, I mean, we’re talking about test failures here.  I’m not talking about, you know, ethical lapses or misbehavior.  We’re talking about people failing a test, and the Air Force has policies and procedures in place for what happens when you do that.  And I know there’s a retest involved, but I’d really refer you to the Air Force on the specifics of that.


Q:  Admiral, thank you.  Can you tell us what the U.S. military is doing to prepare for any possible attack, any contingency around the Sochi games?  There’s been a lot of focus on potential terrorism and perhaps an evacuation plan that the U.S. military would be involved in.  Are ships underway?  What’s — what’s happening?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay.  First of all, security for the Sochi Olympics — the responsibility for security with the Olympics rests with the Russian government.  And the Russian government is — has obviously taken all the threats to security there at the Olympics very seriously, but it’s their responsibility and not anybody else’s. 

That said, the commander of European Command has done and continues to do prudent planning in case any military assets of the United States might be required to assist in any way.  I will — I want to stress right out at the — at the beginning here that there are no such requests and we don’t envision any such demand.  

But it would be, again, irresponsible for — for him, for the United States military not to at least be thinking about what do we have in the region, what do we have that could potentially use what’s available?

So I would — you know, and really kind of rather leave it at that, we’re looking at what assets we have in the area and what might be available for use.  I know there have been press reporting out there that — that a couple of ships will be in the Black Sea, and in that — in that area during the time of the Olympics.  That’s true.  They are not in the Black Sea now.  I don’t want to get ahead of ship’s movements or talk about specific schedules, but it is true there will be a couple of ships in the Black Sea.

There’s been, you know, no — no specific planning for evacuation.  There’s been no request to have, you know, a plan to do that right now.  As you know, Justin, the evacuation of American citizens is always done in concert with and at the request of the United States State Department, and there is no such request like that for that at all.  This is simply a military commander doing what military commanders are supposed to do, and that’s to be thinking ahead, just in case.

Does that answer your question?

Q:  Yes, thank you.

Q:  I have just a follow-up on that.


Q:  There’s also then some discussion about whether or not the U.S. would provide either some IED equipment or other types of technology to the Russians.  Can you update us on where that exactly stands?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  I think — I mean, I certainly would refer you to General Dempsey’s staff for more specifics on this, but as I understand it, this was — this was an informal conversation between Chairman Dempsey and his counterpart, his Russian counterpart.  And it was — it was just — it was a brief discussion about counter-IED technologies. 

There is no formal request from the Russian government for — for that kind of technology or assistance.  There was no offer made by the chairman to provide technology or assistance in that regard.  I think this was just an informal discussion about the — about the technologies itself and the possibilities for potential use.

But, again, I want to go back to what I said at the beginning.  Security for the games rests with the Russian government.  It’s their responsibility.  The United States has made clear very early on that we’re willing to assist in any way that we can.  There’s been no request for such assistance.

Q:  Do you think it’s safe for Americans to be there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I believe the Russian government is taking this very, very seriously.  And I believe they are applying as much energy as possible to providing security for the games.

Q:  Could you tell us…


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Hang on a second, Mick.  Bill?

Q:  Have the Russian military given any — any indications that they will not be — explicitly telling you that they will not be asking for U.S. assistance anyway, even if it came to the issue of evacuating Americans?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any such statements that they would — that they explicitly said they won’t be.  Not aware of anything like that.  But, again, you know, you can consult the State Department, as well.


Q:  (OFF-MIC) capabilities of the two ships entering the Black Sea, without giving away their location or…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, look, I mean, you guys have been covering the Navy a long time, too.  You know, our ships are multi-capable.  We have lots of different ships in the Navy, and while some are specifically designed for specific purposes, they also can conduct all kinds of missions.  And so…

Q:  (OFF-MIC) specifically designed for airlift missions?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The — the ships that we’re going to putting in the Black Sea are ships that — that have by design multiple capabilities, as most of our ships do.  And most of our ships are capable of helicopter lift.  Most of our ships have some sort of medical facility onboard.  Most of our ships have the ability to either command and control assets or at least to communicate with other assets.

I mean, I don’t want to get into the specific details there, because — and there’s been no mission assigned to them, either, no specific mission with respect to the Olympics, that is.

Q:  And you said that an evacuation operation would come at the request of the State Department.  But doesn’t the U.S., the State Department need permission or get a request from the Russian government to conduct any kind of evacuation operation?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  As far — I’m not an expert on State Department policies and procedures.  I understand that, you know, in the past, when there’s been the need to do evacuations, it’s certainly done in consultation with the host government.  There’s — clearly.  But again, Mick, I mean, we’re just not there right now.

Q:  I understand that, but you said in — so, in other words, the U.S. would have the right to go in, conduct an evacuation operation without a request or permission from Russia?  Is that what you’re saying?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I said — I just said that…

Q:  You said in consultation with.


Q:  That’s different.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I said we — we do these things in constant communication and consultation with host nation governments.  But, look, I think getting into hypotheticals about an evacuation that hasn’t been asked for — the games haven’t even started yet.  And we’re talking about potential evacuations of Americans.  That’s simply not, you know, on the radar scope right now.

We’re moving a couple of ships in there.  They have other missions to do in the Black Sea.  It’s not unusual for us to operate in the Black Sea.  And, you know, it coordinates well with the timing of the Olympics.  But — but, again, there’s — I think we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves when we’re talking about potential evacuations of Americans.  I’m just — we’re just not there.


Q:  John, there’s been a couple reports this week about plans — new plans for Afghanistan post-2014 that sort of suggest the military may be beginning to think about the prospect of maybe not having a BSA.  Can you talk about whether there’s — is the building beginning to make some plans for a potential zero option?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I would just go back to what we’ve been saying for quite some time.  We need to get a bilateral security agreement as soon as possible.  And if we don’t, we’re going to have to begin planning for a complete withdrawal of all forces by the end of this year.

But I’m not going to speculate about the likelihood of getting that bilateral security agreement or when that might be.  That’s a question better put to the Karzai administration.  We’ve made our desires very, very clear, and we’ve had open, transparent discussions with President Karzai and his staff about the document itself and the need for it, and I would leave it at that.


Q:  (OFF-MIC) Secretary Gates clearly not afraid to fire senior leaders, to hold them accountable.  In contrast, Secretary Hagel has indicated that firing people isn’t necessarily the best way to solve a problem.  He’s talking about the sexual assault situation, in that context.  Is he prepared, though, to hold people accountable?  Is he in a firing mood in this thing?  The Air Force has a sustained record of not maintaining a healthy nuke force for years.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think I said it right there in the opening statement.  To the degree that — that leaders need to be held to account, he will hold them to account.  We’re just not there right now, Gordon.  I mean, we’re just trying to unpack this issue and this problem and try to get our arms around it.  That’s why he’s having a review team put together.  That’s why he’s bringing the leaders into the building.  And I think we’ve got a lot of work to do to better understand the scope of the problem before we get to the point where, you know, we’re firing people.

And I don’t think — Secretary Hagel doesn’t want to set that as the — as the goal.  I don’t think he wants to set that as the bar for success by how many get — you know, lose their jobs over this.  His — what he’s setting as the bar and his measure of success is making sure that we’ve addressed whatever personnel — systemic personnel problems there may be inside the nuclear force and fixing them.

Yes?  Back there?

Q:  Yeah, thank you.  The Chinese air force today announced that they had been sending patrols into their air defense identification zones to warn foreign military aircraft.  Were U.S. aircraft included in that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I haven’t seen that report.  I’m just going to have to take the question for you and get back to you.  I’ve not seen that report.

Q:  Do you have any reaction at all to this practice, if the reports are true?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, let me look at the report first and get you a better answer.  I’m not going to speculate from up here with something I haven’t actually seen.  


Q:  Is the secretary supportive of what appears to be this move to defund — defund the commissary, effectively defund the stateside commissaries in the — in the coming budget?  And, you know, related to that, is that issue — and in pay and benefit, Congressman Ryan has a — a study out of the CEO last week suggesting big hits on TRICARE.  There’s the ongoing fight over the COLA.  Is the secretary of this department concerned about the growing feeling in the ranks?  And especially in the — in the service organizations that this department is going back on promises made to the troops?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, there’s a lot in those two questions.  Look, I think — I think the secretary addressed this, too, while we were out there in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago.  I mean, he’s — he’s certainly — as a veteran himself, he’s sensitive to making sure that our troops and their families get the — get the benefits — financial and otherwise — that they’ve earned, that they deserve.  And he understands that there’s anxiety and concern over compensation reform.  And he’s made it very clear to leaders in this building that — that we’re going to move ahead on compensation reform in a balanced, measured, responsible way, a transparent way.

That said, he’s also been very clear that we have to adopt some compensation reform.  We simply have to.  Because at the rate we’re going, it becomes unsustainable.  And while it — some tough decisions may be a little hard to swallow now, it will be a whole heck of a lot harder to swallow if — you know, if we don’t do anything and 10, 15, 20 years from now, the budget simply crashes under the weight of — of compensation issues.

So he clearly wants to get his hands around this.  And he thinks now’s the time to act, to start to make some changes.  He’s also made it clear — and you specifically talked about COLA minus one — first of all, he was very grateful that the fix was put — was implemented in the NDAA to remove the COLA minus one application to those veterans with disabilities and to survivors.  

And on the rest of the — the compensation issues in the act — and COLA minus one specifically, he looks forward to working with the Congress as — as we — as we continue to discuss and debate this.  Senator Levin has made it clear he wants to have hearings on — on the compensation issues in the bipartisan budget deal.  And he wants to be a participant in that.  He wants to have an active role in having that discussion.  So he hasn’t taken a specific issue on COLA minus one right now, but he’s willing to have those discussions and to have that debate, and let’s see where we are at the end of it.

On commissaries, no commissaries have been closed.  And I’m not going to get ahead of any provisions which may or may not be in the fiscal year ’15 budget submission, which clearly hasn’t been submitted yet.  But, again, I think he’s been very clear that we — he doesn’t want to close doors.  We need to be looking at all manner of pay and benefits as we move forward.  And I wouldn’t speculate with respect to commissaries specifically.

I got time for one — one more.


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, Louie in the back.  I haven’t got you.

Q:  Can we go back to the non-request from the Russians for the counter-IEDs, then?  Did it ever advance internally to actually review this casual conversation to see could — could the U.S. potentially provide some of this counter-IED technology for the Olympics?  Or is there some kind of aid that could have been provided to them?  Did it ever advance far — or at any point did it advance at all within the U.S. military?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m not aware of anything more specifically that’s been done with this conversation that General Dempsey had with his counterpart.  I’d refer you to the Joint Staff and General Dempsey’s staff.  They might know more than I do.  I’m not aware of any specific spadework that was done on that — on that particular conversation.

Okay, thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.