WASHINGTON (July 3, 2013) -- Sexual assault issues are corrected within the fabric of an institution, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told troops Friday, "and you're the fabric. And I know you feel the same way."

Hagel visited several military installations in Colorado last week. He said in a response to a Soldier's question at a Fort Carson town hall meeting that sexual assault is a scourge on the Defense Department.

Sexual assault is a crime, he said, and U.S. service members have to stop it within their institutions.

"We don't break the law, but we certainly don't assault our own people," Hagel said. "There's no excuse for this. Our standards are higher than that."

Prioritizing sexual assault as an issue, focusing on prevention, establishing accountability and administering effective training is all part of the solution, Hagel said.

"Every one of you -- me, top, bottom, bottom-up -- has the responsibility here," he said. "It isn't going to get fixed just by directive or a training session or a new law being passed. It gets fixed within the fabric of the institution."

"This is the time to be creative. This is the time to use this opportunity to make those choices," Hagel added.

"And we have to prepare the institution," Hagel continued. "The next set of (privates first class) behind you, you need to help prepare them so they inherit a structure, a system that is going to give them the ability to deal with those new threats that none of us can figure out today."

Later, in response to a Soldier's question about options for voluntary separation, Hagel said such approaches will be considered as force structure changes advance.

Bringing creative ideas forward during change, he added, "is part of the unwinding and the unfolding of bringing that force structure down. Do it smartly. Do it wisely. Do it in ways that make sense."
The secretary also thanked Fort Carson troops who have worked to fight fires that have blackened more than 75,000 acres in southwest Colorado since June 11.

"Your work has been spectacular, and it has gained recognition and thanks from every corner," Hagel said. "And I know the people of Colorado are grateful, the people of our country are grateful, and we're very proud in the Department of Defense for what you've done, what you continue to do."

He said while firefighting and disaster relief aren't in a Soldier's job description, "it is really who you are and who we are as Americans, and I think who we are as part of the security team that defends this country in every way."

Hagel also discussed the upcoming civilian employee furloughs, under which civilian defense workers are braced for up to 11 days of unpaid leave from July through September.

The secretary said while defense leaders made every effort to reduce or eliminate furloughs, "in the end, I could not cut any more into readiness. And we've already cut into readiness. You know that we are standing down 16 Air Force squadrons. We're not sailing a lot of ships. No new training in the Army, and there are other consequences."

Hagel pledged to reduce the effects on the workforce as much as possible, and said he has no higher priority as secretary than maintaining programs that support troops and Families.