Sailors learned Tuesday from the deputy secretary of defense that the future of the country’s military will go through Naval Air Station Fallon after operations wind down after 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan.
Ashton Carter visited Hill Air Force Base (Utah) in the morning before flying to Fallon where he first met with leaders at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. Carter said the country and the Pentagon have focused on Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, and he remains positive of what U.S. and coalition forces are doing overseas.
“I can tell you from a military point of view we are doing spectacular,” Carter said, adding that the Afghan security forces are becoming more proficient and fighting well alongside NATO forces.
He said a much better picture of Afghanistan is coming from the military than what the media has reported.
Carter, though, said complications could occur next year as the U.S. and other countries withdraw more troops depending on the Karzai government’s negotiations for a post-war force in Afghanistan and if the U.S. decides to pull out.
With the declining involvement in Afghanistan, Carter said other challenges will define the United States’ military future.
He said the future will be “written in Fallon.”
“We in the Department (of Defense) are trying to help you in the Navy and Navy aviation make that transition,” Carter said without elaborating on specifics.
Carter commended the sailors for their hard work at NAS Fallon.
“Even though you are in a remote geography, you are not remote in our minds,” he said. “We know what you do. Thank you for what you are doing for us.”
Carter then praised the men and women who serve at Fallon and called the air station and NSAWC the country’s premier training facility. He said Fallon is the only place where live ordnance is used and where pilots can fly whenever they want.
Future funding for the military, however, weighed more on Carter’s thoughts as he spoke about internal financial restraints to the military.
“We have turbulence caused by sequestration and the shutdown,” he said. “I came from Washington D.C., and there is nothing good to report about it. My point of view (and that of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) is we are doing our very best to manage as responsibly as we can through an irresponsible situation.”
Carter then focused his concerns to the civilian employees. He said civilians have been treated unfairly with pay and job freezes and furloughs.
“I frequently say to our civilians, ‘I don’t know why you put up with this,’” he said. “But you put up with this because of the mission. I don’t know and can’t tell you when this turbulence will end.”
Carter said both Pentagon and Fallon’s naval leaders are trying to do the correct thing considering the circumstances that he called “ridiculous.”
“All I can ask of you is patience and remembering when you get up in the morning … you are part of something larger than ourselves and that makes it all worthwhile,” Carter added.
Capt. Leif Steinbaugh, commander of NAS Fallon, said it was a privilege for the air station to host Carter.
“He’s been wanting to come out here for awhile,” Steinbaugh said. “He wanted to come out to thank the sailors for the hard work they do and to give them an update.”
Carter, who plans to retire in a month, has been traveling to military installations to meet servicemen and women.
IS2 Royce Hairston, who enlisted in the Navy more than four years ago, said Carter’s remarks confirms what he has previously heard. Hariston said he was glad Carter traveled to Fallon to give local sailors recognition for what they do and also to discuss the future.
Lt. Dave Hadaway said Carter’s frankness impressed him.
“It was very nice for him to come here since we are out in the middle of nowhere,” Hadaway said. “He was brutally honest with his opinions. It was interesting to hear his perspective from his position and not for him to mince his words.”
After attending a reception for Sailors of the Quarter, Carter headed to Las Vegas where he met with airmen and women at Nellis Air Force Base.