Secretary of Defense Carter at UT: “Be Part of Something Larger Than Yourself”

SD tours the Rehabilitation and Neuromuscular Robotics Lab.

Ashton Carter has a scholarly air—not necessarily what one might expect out of the person in charge of the United States military. Perhaps due to his long stint in academia before being named Secretary of Defense, the former Harvard University professor seemed at ease speaking with ROTC cadets and UT students this Thursday. The moderated discussion was hosted by the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and held in the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. It was part of Carter’s Austin visit, which also included speaking with administrators about sexual assault prevention protocols, meeting with local tech startups, and visiting with UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven.

UT President Greg Fenves opened for Carter, listing his various accomplishments. The Secretary of Defense gave a short speech addressing his visits with the robotics department and former head of the special forces Bill McRaven. Carter emphasized the importance of building a “force of the future,” and America’s strength as an “incubator of ideas.”

“We in the Pentagon are needing to think outside of our ‘five-sided box,’ Carter said. “About the kinds of solutions and the kinds of careers and the kinds of challenges and the kinds of opportunities that will make the very best, as represented in this room, continue to join our great institution.”

He encouraged non-military students to consider working with the military as part of integrating private sector technology for “top-caliber work.” As he gave the call to service for “being part of something larger than yourself,” the Pennsylvania native threw in a “y’all” at the end of his speech.

The moderated question-and-answer portion of the meeting spanned topics from cyber-warfare to the Middle East, and Carter engaged with two pre-selected LBJ School students as well as two others from the audience. Throughout the discussion, Carter talked about the multiple, complex threats that America faces. 

“Not just ISIL, which we will defeat, but also North Korea, which is, among other things, firing ballistic missiles; Russia, which is annexing Crimea; China, attempting to change the calculus in the South China sea; and Iran, attempting to exert a line of influence,” he said.

Although many civilians are unaware of the situation, Carter said, rising powers in the East like China play an important role in America’s future, as the Asia-Pacific holds over half the world’s population.

“Even though [those countries] are not in the newspapers, part of my job is to make sure they’re not in newspapers,” Carter said.

When LBJ School student Anna Masterfield questioned Carter about how history factors into foreign-policy making, Carter discussed the ways history gets rewritten by conquerors.

“A lot of the ways that we remember history isn’t always the way it is,” Carter said. “That’s why we should all be informed in our policy-making.” 

He also addressed the Islamic State’s attack in Brussels, highlighting how young people can make a difference in America’s future.

“We need more talented and dedicated people like you—men and women who are committed to making creative and lasting contributions to our national defense,” Carter said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, visits the Rehabilitation and Neuromuscular Robotics Lab at UT-Austin on March 31, 2016. Department of Defense photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen.


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