Fort Knox, Ky. -- The leaders of tomorrow's Army met with one of the leaders of today's military as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited Fort Knox and Cadets completing their Cadet Summer Training, June 22, 2016.

During his visit, Carter observed Cadet training, held a Q&A session with Cadets, and had lunch with several Cadets attending CST.

Carter started out his Q&A session with the Cadets by sharing some words of wisdom on how Army leaders can stay the world's leaders in the global community.

"It's a competitive world out there, and the only way to stay ahead is to keep challenging yourself, keep pushing yourself, keep getting better. That's the spirit I need for you to have in yourselves, in your leadership and your Army in the future," he said. "You need a spirit where it's never good enough to be the best - it's only good enough to stay the best."

"We need to be constantly challenging ourselves to do that. One of the things that you are taught here is not only that you can be a great leader, but also the sense of responsibility that comes with the sense of being a Soldier in the United States Army -- it's a very, very big responsibility," he added.

Along those lines, one Cadet asked the defense secretary how America can stay competitive with other nations in terms of national defense. Carter said there are several ways to do that -- with a main focus on readiness.

"What we are prioritizing in the Army at the moment is readiness. You always have to balance force size, force structure, end strength, modernization and readiness in any military investment. In today's climate your (military) leadership is prioritizing readiness," he said. "The reason for that, first and foremost, is I never want you to go into combat or any situation where we are counting on you not fully ready. I have tremendous confidence in the people who make up our military."

Readiness requires preparing tomorrow's leaders as best the country can with the tools available, Carter explained.

"I've talked about the force of the future and what it will look like. I created new avenues that you all will have available to give you advanced education and training because in today's world you don't just educate yourself and quit -- in today's world you need to be educating yourself right up until the day you die in order to keep up," he said. "So I need to change the way we do things. The technology allows us to do more and other kinds of educational training, and I want you to have new opportunities."

Carter expands on the topic of the military as a profession, one that adds another dimension that makes military service more attractive, which he says is valuable to retention, but also attractive to other employers.

"We're also doing a lot to change the equipment and environment for our Soldiers. That's a revolution that's going to continue to grow with automation, visualization tools, all of the communications tools available to you -- you have the equipment today that division headquarters had 20 years ago in terms of communication equipment," Carter said. "The key to that is that what you have on your belts today is better that what companies had in the old days. A lot of stuff is changing and we have to be on the cutting edge of that in our society."

Along with the best technology, Carter said it takes the best people to take advantage of that and add to America's history of being a global leader.

"We need to continue to draw from all of our society. I don't want a cross section of the American people -- I want the best -- I want to pick and choose from an all-volunteer force," he said. "I get to pick from everybody and that's good for us, and good for our Army. We need excellence, honor, and the trust of the profession of arms in a changing world."

Another Cadet in the audience asked Carter how he plans to continue to keep the force ready in a time of shrinking defense budgets.

"We have a large defense budget -- I'm grateful to the country, I'm grateful to the tax payers, I think we try to give them an excellent value," he said. "I'm a stickler on how we spend our money because if they (the American people) don't have confidence that we know what we are doing with their money, they aren't going to give us the amount that we need to protect them."

Carter expands on the budget and how the gridlock in Washington impacts the department.

"We try as best we can to manage in that environment, to limit the instability as it effects the force, because our leaders need to have a rough visibility into their budgeting future to build the force the way they need to. And our individual services members need financial stability in their lives so that they'll stick with us."

Carter also thanked the Cadets for volunteering to be the future leaders of the Army, and for being the best of the best.

"I am so proud of you guys, our whole country is proud of you, and you should be proud of yourselves. There is nothing better than contributing to the noblest of missions as a young person in the Army does, and that is protecting our people and leaving a better world - that's what you do," he said. "I say that because you wouldn't be here if you weren't good at what you do. I'm proud of our country because we have the brightest fighting force in the world has ever known and the reason for that is our people... One of my jobs as secretary of defense is to make sure I leave to my successor a force as fine as the one that I came into. That means I need to make sure that the folks in my generation are followed by people who are the best -- that's what you represent."

The U.S. Army Cadet Command is the largest single source of new officers for the Army, commissioning the majority of the Army's new officers each year through the senior ROTC program.