By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media ActivityJanuary 4, 2018
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said he's impressed by service members' high morale and the steadfastness of the force in light of its involvement in more than a decade of war.
The secretary spoke to Pentagon reporters on Friday.
"We have reenlistment rates that are good. We have enlistment rates that are going well," he said. "Considering all that has gone on in this long war, we have high morale."
Mattis spoke of seeing an aide from 2004 now based in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was an artillery lieutenant and is now a lieutenant colonel Cobra helicopter pilot. He was terribly wounded in Iraq. "He tells me his wife is with him all the way, which is always a concern -- the families and all they have put up with over these years," he said. "I am a bit surprised by the [high] morale and steadfastness of the force."
He is also impressed by the young people joining the force. "Drill instructors … told me the average physical fitness test score for recruits … is 270 average," he said. "We haven't raised the standard, but we are getting in people who are more physically fit. And, by the way, the percentage of people in the top mental groups has gone up as well."
Rifle qualification scores are higher as well as other standards, he said.
"The standards they are meeting is something we couldn't have dreamed of 15 years ago," Mattis said. "That is a bit of a surprise this long into a war."
The secretary said he is getting questions from service members about their perception of civilians' apparent lack of "essential friendliness toward one another in America."
He said this topic came up in casual conversation with service members wondering why Americans can't pull together like Americans in the military do. "An Army Special Forces major told me it's really different outside the military," Mattis said.
"Is it some kind of alienation in the Western, post-industrial societies?" he posited.
Mattis said he didn't know "if people are more isolated today or reinforced by what they select to listen to on TV rather than [being] challenged."
He added, "I don't know, but in the military it was welcome to be back around people casually greeting each other. There's little regard about race, gender, it's casual. It's not a big deal."
Meanwhile, he said, readiness levels and measurements are up, and this runs from the number of troops in Army brigades to increased production of specific munitions.
He said the continuing resolution has not expanded the problems the department faces because of the extra money received last year, but this will bite soon. "We've got to get a budget by January or there will be an impasse," he said.