BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Well, good afternoon, everyone. I have a few things to pass along, and then we’ll go ahead and get right to your questions.
As you may recall, in September, 2022, Secretary Austin signed the Taking Care of Our Service members and Their Families memo, which directed specific actions designed to improve and enhance our support to military members and their families in several important areas. From day one, the secretary has been crystal-clear that taking care of our service members and their families is a sacred obligation and a national security imperative. As we conclude 2022, I’d like to provide you with a quick update on progress in a few key areas.
In October, we automatically increased basic allowance for housing rates in 28 housing areas where rent has skyrocketed 20 percent or more, and as I briefed you last week, this automatic increase will expire on December 31st, with the new 2023 BAH rates — B — BAH rates at 12.1 percent average increase — will go into effect January 1st. Also in January, we’ll pay a basic needs allowance to eligible service members, and all service members are on track to receive a 4.6 cost-of-living increase in the new year.
In addition to assisting with helping service members and their families secure affordable basic needs, we’ve also taken action to make military moves easier. For example, in October, we permanently increased temporary lodging expense coverage to give families more flexibility to search for housing. Also in October, we began paying dislocation allowance automatically to all eligible service members regardless of rank to help preempt their out-of-pocket moving expenses. In January, dislocation allowance will be increased for enlisted service members between the grades of E1 to E6 to help offset personal expenses for permanent-change-of-station moves.
In addition to support for our military spouses, we’ve taken action to expound — expand spouse employment. In January, we’re launching a paid private-sector fellowship program for military spouses in a variety of career paths. We know that one third of military spouses must obtain new professional licenses every time they move to a new state, and to ease this burden, we’ve accelerated the development of seven more interstate licensure compacts, and we anticipate state approval starting in 2023. Of considerable importance is the finalization of the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, which is being introduced in state legislatures across the nation in January.
Also, to further strengthen support to families, we’re improving our childcare programs. For example, this past fall, we expanded the Military Child Care In Your Neighborhood-Plus Program to more states, which will increase access to quality civilian childcare providers when on-base childcare is unavailable.
And moving forward, we’ll continue to keep you updated on the status of these important initiatives and others designed to ensure we’re — we’re fulfilling our sacred obligation and taking care of our service members and their families, who do so much to defend our nation.
Separately, today marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Space Force. Over the last 60-plus years, space has become essential not only to joint military operations, but to modern life for Americans and people worldwide. Satellites provide communication, monitor weather, carry television broadcasts, and the timing and navigation services of the GPS constellation operated by Space Force Guardians power global financial networks, enable international commerce, synchronize cell phone networks, to highlight just a few examples.
As the newest branch of the Armed Forces, the U.S. Space Force has been called upon to protect and defend American interests and to ensure our forces, our allies and the world never experience a day without space. Space Force Guardians serve across the globe, working 24/7 to design, acquire, field test, operate and defend the critical space systems that our nation and the world depend upon. We salute the Space Force as it celebrates its third birthday, and extend our appreciation to Guardians everywhere for all they do to defend our nation.
I do have one final announcement to pass along, which I’ll save ’til the end, but in a preview, I’ll go ahead and offer the first question to Barbara Starr from CNN. Barbara?
Barbara Starr: Thank you. This is not a hypothetical question.
This is a question in your wheelhouse.
I want to ask, the world now sees pictures of National Guard down in Texas carrying rifles in front of their bodies in their operations against unarmed migrants on the border. I fully understand that the Texas National Guard is state-activated and under state orders, but nonetheless, the world sees people in U.S. military uniforms carrying weapons against unarmed civilians. I would like to know if the Pentagon thinks this is a good idea. It seems something unusual that they would carry those weapons, and although it’s state-activated, the world still sees U.S. military uniforms. You think it’s a good idea? Do you support them carrying rifles against unarmed migrants?
GEN. RYDER: Well, thanks for that — the question, Barbara. As you highlight, the forces that are on the border that — that we saw featured, believe on a CNN broadcast earlier this morning, those are Texas State National Guard forces, and so of course, I don’t want to speak for them. From a federal standpoint, the DOD does have forces supporting the Customs and Border Protection Agency, but of course, they are in a detection-and-monitoring role, and so not in any type of law-enforcement role.
Certainly, as we look at the situation on the border, the — the DOD will continue to stand ready. We have not received any requests from DHS at this point in time to provide any specific support. We’ll stand ready. I think we certainly all have a vested interest in ensuring that the situation — that remains safe for everyone involved. But beyond that, again, I’d have to refer you to the Texas National Guard.
Q: I have a question on a different matter. As you know, the B-2 fleet is not flying due to a recent mishap, and the runway at Whiteman remains closed due to now several days of debris on the runway. So the — one of the premier bombers in the United States military is unable to fly and unable to even access the runway. Does — what concerns does it cause you that this premier bomber capability, as we sit here today, is not available to the United States military?
GEN. RYDER: Well, the — the Department of Defense, to include the Air Force, has a variety of capabilities as its — at its disposal, particularly when it comes to our strategic bomber fleet. As you know, we also have the B-52, which is both conventional- and nuclear-capable, which provides a — a redundant capability, broadly speaking, when it comes to — to our strategic forces. And so for any aircraft, certainly, I — I know that our maintainers work very hard to ensure that those aircraft are available and off the ground as soon as — as soon as they can.
In terms of the specifics on the status of the B-2, I’d refer you to the Air Force, but I’m confident that we continue to maintain the bomber capability that we need to deter adversaries, and if necessary, engage in combat.
Q: Is there any kind of priority to try and get the runway cleared and get the plane back flying?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I’d — I’d refer you to the Air Force to talk about the specific status of the runway but I have no doubt that people are working around the clock to ensure that our capabilities are ready to fly and ready to defend the nation. Thank you.
All right, let me go to AP.
Lita: Pat, can you bring us up to date on what steps the department is taking in terms of rescinding the requirement for the vaccine?
And more broadly, the funding bill includes, like, $45 billion for Ukraine. Can you talk a little bit about priorities going forward for support and how that money is going to be used?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. In terms of the pending — potential pending — pending funding for Ukraine, I won’t have any specifics to announce. Clearly, we’ve made a commitment to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, in terms of security assistance. And so we will continue to do that going forward.
As far as COVID goes, again, don’t want to get ahead of pending legislation. The Secretary has been clear that he supports maintaining the mandate and that the health and the readiness of our force remain the top priority. So moving forward, when we — when and if we have something new to announce, we certainly will. Okay?
Janne: Thank you, sir. I have two questions on North Korea. North Korea recently insisted on test — I mean test launching reconnaissance satellite and said they would complete the development of a reconnaissance satellite by early next year. And can you assess that North Korea has the capability to complete their reconnaissance satellite or do you just see it as North Korea deception tactics?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question, Janne. So I — I don’t want to talk about specific intelligence. I will say that this does demonstrate once again the importance that the space domain plays in the current environment.
And, you know, we will continue to work very closely with our allies and our partners in the region to monitor and to ensure that we have the capabilities necessary to deter potential provocative actions from countries like North Korea.
Janne: — regarding the U.S. and South Korea Navy, Special Force, Navy SEALs conduct combined exercise is ongoing. Is this tactic important because the North Korean Kim Jong-un?
GEN. RYDER: So as — as you know, Janne, we conduct a variety of exercises with our South Korean counterparts on a variety of capabilities, all designed to ensure interoperability and also to, again, signal to our partners in the region that we are a reliable ally, but also to potential aggressors in the region that we do maintain the capabilities to deter, and if necessary, respond. Thank you.
Let me go to Phil.
Phil: Is the — is the — department have any concern still that the Turks are — Turkish military is going to mount a ground invasion in northern Syria, in areas where there are partner patrols with the SDF? And — and will — will the department seek any assurances from — from Ankara that — that if such an invasion were to take place, the U.S. would be notified ahead of time?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question, Phil. So we’ve been very clear publicly, in terms of what our position is in regards to a potential new military operation in — in northern Syria with our Turkish allies. And so I won’t — I won’t recover that ground.
At this time, you know, we continue to monitor the situation. As you know, the SDF — the U.S.-SDF partner patrols have resumed. Our focus, again, in that region continues to be on containing ISIS, as evidenced by CENTCOM’s raid that they announced earlier today. And so, again, we’ll stay in close communication with our Turkish allies on — on that front.
And then I’m sorry, the second part of your question?
Phil: Do you think that the — the — that the Turkish military will notify you ahead of time if there were to be such an invasion, so you can get troops — U.S. — American forces out of harm’s way?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don’t — I don’t want to speak for the Turks. Again, we’ll keep the channels of communication open. We regularly communicate at a variety of level — levels with Turkey. And certainly when it comes to the safety and security of our forces, I would — I would hope that we would not find them in a situation that would jeopardize that. Thank you.
Let me go to the phone here real quick. Ryo from Nikkei?
Ryo: Hi, thank you for taking my question. The Japanese government officially announced its intention to purchase Tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S. and the Secretary welcomes Japan’s new National Security Strategy last week, which intends to significantly reinforce its defense capabilities. I’m wondering if the Pentagon would support Japan’s purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles moving forward? Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo. So as you know, as a matter of policy, we’re not going to comment on potential defense sales or transfers until they’ve been formally notified to Congress, to which, at this time, to my knowledge, has not occurred.
As you highlight, we do applaud Japan’s National Security Strategy and its commitment to modernization, which just strengthens the alliance and the cooperation between our two countries and really serves to help ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. Thank you.
Come back to the room. Ma’am?
Brandi: Thank you, sir. Brandi Vincent from Defense Scoop. At a briefing last week, senior DOD officials confirmed a shift in terminology for DOD and UAPs, from Unidentified Aerial Phenomena to Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, to account for objects that aren’t just in the air but submerged and transition between mediums as well.
NASA announced that it’s working on its own study of UAPs, that it’s still calling Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Does this sort of shift and now lack of common language for the term “UAP” between DOD and NASA seem to potentially cause problems in the near term? And if so, how are the agencies working to get ahead of that?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So the short answer is no, I don’t — I don’t think it causes any problems. For better or for worse, I’ve been a part of the Department of Defense for quite a while and I’ve seen, on a lot of different initiatives and efforts, where — where terminology may change.
I think the important thing is, looking at the bigger picture, ensuring that we’re all working towards common objectives through interagency dialogues and — and discussions, which I would fully expect will happen in this case going forward.
We have a very close working relationship with the — in the Department of Defense with NASA and I have no reason to think that that will change anytime soon. Thank you.
Let me go back to the phone here. Howard Altman?
Q: Thanks. I got a question on — can you talk about the information operational value of President Zelenskyy’s visit to Bakhmut today? And then can you give us a battlefield assessment on the battle for Bakhmut? Thanks.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Howard. I — I won’t speak for President Zelenskyy. I think, broadly speaking, we continue to see his leadership be a key aspect to Ukraine’s success in their fight. But I’ll — I’ll let him talk to his own rational for where he goes and why.
As far as Bakhmut goes, we continue to see intense fighting in the region of Bakhmut with Russian forces making very incremental gains and we’re talking feet and — and, you know, again, the fighting has been intense for a while there.
So our focus from a DOD standpoint is to continue to communicate with Ukraine our allies and our partners to insure the Ukrainians have the security assistance they need to be successful on the battlefield. Thank you.
Will: Britain’s defense manager said today that Russia is planning to or maybe already has supplied advanced military components to Iran in exchange for drones. Do you have — do you have a confirmation on that or any comment on that accusation being made?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I’ve seen the press reports on that, Will, but I don’t have anything to provide. Thank you. Jim.
Jim: General, the — you know at the beginning of this in February then spokesman Kirby said that he really expected the Russians to learn as they went along. And yet the results from the Russian military don’t seem to — seem that they have learned anything. Is that — is that the feeling in this building too? Are they — are they learning how to handle the logistics of it. Are they getting better or are they going to be more of a problem for the Ukrainians going forward?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, you know — again, I don’t want to speak for the Russian Ministry of Defense in terms of what they may or may not be learning. Clearly, I think, in any type of conflict there’s always a risk in underestimating your adversary.
And the fact is is that I think that any military to include the Russian military will continue to learn and evolve on the battlefield. And that is why it’s so important that we continue to work closely with Ukraine and the international community to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to enable them to defend their country as we — especially as we head here into the winter months. Thank you.
Tom: Thanks, General, and happy holidays. The Pentagon, the military has had a successful robust program in helping relocate service animals, the dogs who fight in the war zones with our soldiers to shelters and private individuals and adoption agencies. Is this a general Pentagon policy and will it extend to other animals being used by the military in different capacities?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, and we can get back to you, Tom, in terms of the specific policy when it comes to service animals within the DOD to your point. I think that one of the — the key evolutions and lessons that we’ve learned over the course of 20 years of war is how best to take care of our veterans and our service members who require that kind of support and care. And so that — that’s always a good (thing too ?).
Q: Just to be clear, sir, and I’m sorry to interrupt you. But it’s not just the dogs that help veterans who are alive; it’s also the dog — the other animals that help better (find) disease. So if you can include your response to cover that area I’d be grateful.
GEN. RYDER: Okay. Sure thing. All right, let me go to the phone. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.
Jeff: Thank you. Defense Secretary Austin was on the Hill yesterday. He spoke with Senate Majority Leaders Schumer as well as Senator McConnell. Can you give us any read out about what he discussed and what prompted his trip there?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Jeff.
So, I’m not going to get into the private conversations of the secretary with members of Congress. As you know, he regularly engages with the members on the Hill on a variety of national defense topics and we will continue to ensure that we’re doing what we can to maintain a robust and ongoing dialogue with members of Congress. Thank you.
Dan: Thanks, sir. The omnibus credit that’s under discussion and appears to be moving on the Hill, includes an extension of the Special Immigrant for Afghans, but it does not include the more extensive Afghan Adjustment Act that had been under discussion and advocated by a number of people, including the administration. Going forward, is the Pentagon advocating broader measures to take of Afghan partners that have assisted the U.S. military?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Dan. So while I can’t talk about pending legislation, I will say that we in the DOD do support efforts to ensure that we’re taking care of our Afghan allies who supported us when we were in Afghanistan. And so, as we have more to talk about on the front we certainly will. Thank you.
Sir? And then we’ll go to Courtney.
Uknown: Just one on Ukraine. Earlier a senior State Department official said that Russians were conflicted on a Ukraine winter offensive. Does the Pentagon share that assessment?
GEN. RYDER: That Russians are conflicted on a —
Unknown: Any views on about whether to launch (inaudible).
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don’t have any comment on that. I’d refer you to the Russian MOD for the questions on that.
Unknown: And secondly, did you say anything about attacks or raids in the last 48 hours that you mentioned earlier that CENTCOM carried out, CENTCOM forces? Was this — can you just explain or let us know if this was coordinated or did you guys inform Turkey ahead of time about these operations?
GEN. RYDER: So, Central Command can provide you with a higher level of detail. As I understand it, per CENTCOM’s release, U.S. forces alongside our local partner force, the SDF, conducted three helicopter raids into Eastern Syria, which resulted in the detention of six ISIS operatives. Again, CENTCOM can give you a little bit more granular, tactical-level detail on that. Thank you.
Courtney: One more time to be able to say I’d like to follow up on Barbara’s question, but actually would like to follow up on it. I understand that these are National Guard soldiers that are down in Texas. But, it does beg the question because we’ve heard so much for the past several years about the concerns from this Pentagon with uniformed civilians about the politicization of the military.
So, given the fact that most people don’t look at a uniformed service member and say, oh that’s clearly a state National Guard, clearly on state duty, it’s not a federal thing. Does the Pentagon leaders, as you and speaking for them, have concerns about the optics of the fact that there are uniformed service members, as Barbara said, carrying weapons in what is a very politicized mission along the border in Texas?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, so as a DOD spokesperson I can speak for the Department of Defense and our federal forces. And so, the particular forces that you’re talking about are serving under the state authorities for the state and governor. So again, I’d refer you to the state of Texas to talk about the actions of their forces.
Certainly, from a Department of Defense standpoint, we want to, like I said, ensure that safety and security is paramount in that area. But again, I — I’m not in a position to speak for the state of Texas.
Courtney: And then just one on the NDAA. I mean, all indications are that the president is going to sign it, right? I know you don’t want to talk about pending legislation, but I’m wondering if you can give us any sense of, once it is signed, how we’re going to hear the next steps for the — the — revoking the vaccine mandate. For instance, like, should we expect to hear from an OSD level? Is this something from the secretary, from P&R? Is it going to get kicked immediately down to the services? Like, can you give us sort of the way forward? It — I’m sure as the planning organization’s place, it’s already got that laid out in some flow chart that’s on a PowerPoint somewhere, so can you share some of that with us?
GEN. RYDER: It’s not on PowerPoint. Now — no, I — I appreciate the — the question, Courtney. We’ll certainly keep you updated as — as we move forward. I — I don’t have anything specific to announce today in regards to what actions we will take other than to say that as always, we will comply with the law when it’s the law. So we’ll keep you informed, and we certainly understand the great interest in this particular topic not only among the public and the media, but also among our service members. So we will be sure to provide information as quickly as possible on that — in that regard.
Q: Well —
GEN. RYDER: Thank you.
Christine: Following up on Barbara and Courtney, Courtney’s questions, has the governor of Texas requested assistance building shelters, different shelters or anything like that for the flood of migration individuals who are at the border at this time?
GEN. RYDER: So — so I can’t speak for the governor of Texas. I can tell you that we, the Department of Defense, have not received any requests from the Department of Homeland Security in terms of Southwest-border-related support, no new requests. So to my knowledge, no, the state of Texas has not requested support from the DOD, which as I understand it, would come through Department of Homeland Security. But we stand by to support, and will consider requests, you know, when and if they’re received. Thank you.
Christine: And one other thing. Apparently, there are — there’s an action to try to track down some of the smugglers who are sort of promoting this crowd, this tragedy at the border, and I wonder if DOD is supporting any of that.
GEN. RYDER: I’m not aware of any efforts in that regard. Thank you.
Unknown: In case you get a request from the DHS regarding the border, what type of role, what type of actions would the Pentagon take?
GEN. RYDER: Well, really, I’m not going to speculate about the kinds of things we might get asked about. We certainly have a continuing and ongoing dialogue with the DHS and other agencies within the U.S. government on a variety of topics, but I won’t speculate on the kinds of things they might ask about. Thank you.
Unknown: Thanks. Back to Ukraine for a bit, do you have an assessment if the visit of Russian delegation yesterday to Belarus, to Minsk, have a military purpose, and if it increases the likelihood of direct Belarussian soldier military incursion into Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. We’re certainly aware of President Putin’s visit. As you know, Belarus and Russia have a — a standing relationship, so that in and of itself is not unusual. I don’t want to get into intelligence, but at this time, we don’t have any information that would suggest that there is any type of imminent or pending cross-border activities from Belarus into Ukraine. But certainly, we’ll continue to keep a close eye on that. Thank you.
Got time for just a couple more. Sir?
Unknown: Thank you, General. Recently in Iraq, there are Iraqi forces have been attacked by ISIS, especially in the Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. How much you have concerns about these attacks, these attacks? Are you — have engaged with your counterparts in Iraq to — to see how they — you can support them or help them to defeat ISIS in their country?
GEN. RYDER: Well, as you know, we have a long-standing relationship Iraq — with Iraq when it comes to countering ISIS. This again is why it’s so important that we continue to work together in that region to — to confront the threat that ISIS presents. I don’t have any specifics to provide. I would refer you to CENTCOM in terms of any on-the-ground discussions as it relates to ISIS-K, but as you know, we continue to have an advise/assist mission with Iraq to train their forces in counterterrorism capabilities to confront this threat. Thank you.
We’ve got time for one more. Ma’am?
Brandi: I wanted to follow up on Barbara’s other question on the B-2 fleet. There are ongoing conflict, potential conflicts, Russia and Ukraine, Taiwan-China, North Korea. Does the grounding make the U.S. vulnerable in any way?
GEN. RYDER: No. No, and it’s important to remember that these aircraft, whether it’s B-2s, B-52s, F-22s, F-35s, these are — are high-tech, advanced aircraft that are operating at very high levels, you know, of performance. And not to minimize the situation anytime there’s a stand-down, but things are going to break, and we’re going to fix them. We’re going to get them back in the air. But as I mentioned, we have plenty of redundancy and resiliency built into our combat capabilities across the Department of Defense, and so on any given day at any given time, there is going to be aircraft, ships, forces on the ground available to confront any threat that we may have wherever it may pop up, so no vulnerabilities at this time. Thank you.
Okay, so before we conclude here, I just have one last, final thing to say. I’d like to take this opportunity to say farewell to our media colleague, Miss Barbara Starr. Barbara has reported for CNN for over 20 years, and has been a fixture in the Pentagon Press Corps, and today marks her final day with CNN after a storied and fully-impressive — excuse me — truly impressive career.
So Barbara, on behalf of Secretary of Defense Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley and the entire Department of Defense, I would like to extend a special congratulations and thank you for your many years of timely, insightful and important reporting on our nation’s most pressing defense issues. And as someone who has worked with you for many of those last 20 years and someone who has had to take your late-night phone calls and emails and answer your tough, but fair questions, I can say from personal experience that the U.S. public and audiences worldwide have been well served by your in-depth reporting from the Pentagon, your journalistic integrity and your determination to tell the stories of service members worldwide, and to ensure the government and DOD remain transparent and accountable to the taxpayers and the American public they serve. Congratulations again, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Barbara: Thank you very kindly.