Exclusive - Deborah Lee James & Eric Fanning Extended Interview

November 10, 2016 - Deborah Lee James & Eric Fanning 11/10/2016 Views: 24,586

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Army Secretary Eric Fanning talk about transitioning to the Trump administration and explain how diversity improves the military. (8:17)

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Please welcome Deborah Lee Jamesand Eric Fanning.

(applause and cheering)

Thank you very much.Thank you.

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you. -Thank you.

-It's great to be here.-It is wonderful to be here,

for you and for us, especiallyjust before Veteran's Day,

which we'll chat about shortly.

But for those who don't know--I mean, there are many positions

within the U.S. government,

there are many positionswithin the military.

What exactly is the roleof a secretary?

Well, a secretary isthe civilian lead

of a military service.

So, in our country, of course,we have the principle

of civilian controlof the military.

So the way to think about it is,Eric and are the civilian CEOs

of the Air Forceand of the Army.

And our job is to workon people issues,

and to work on training issues,and equipping,

both for today and tomorrowso that our military is ready

to do the jobsthat we call upon them to do.

You're basically planningfor the future.

You're always thinking aboutwhat the military needs

to look for in bothof your respective divisions.

You are also really special

in that you arereally the torchbearers,

pioneers in your fields.

Only the second womanto be in the power,

leading a divisionof the military,

and the first openly-gay person

who is leading in the military.

A question to you.

When "don't ask, don't tell"came into effect,

what did that meanfor you personally,

and what did that meanfor the military?

Well, Debbie and I were actuallyboth in the Pentagon

when "don't ask, don't tell"was created.

We go all the way back to 1991,

working togetherin various jobs.

It was a difficult periodfor me personally.

I felt like I was the onlygay person in the Pentagon,

and actually ended upleaving government service,

moving to New York City

and doing somethingentirely different.

Um, but Debbie got me back inWashington D.C. at a think tank

we ended up both working at,

and I was lucky enoughto be in the Pentagon

when "don't ask, don't tell"was repealed.

It's a very different time now,and it was a very exciting thing

that this presidentwas able to do.

It's interesting that you say,"president was able to do."

The president has,as the Commander-in-Chief,

a lot of swaywhen it comes to the military

and the vision that the militaryof the United States has.

So when transitioningfrom one president to another,

do your jobs change?

Does the visionof the military change?

How... how big canthe differences really be?

Well, the president, of course,is the commander-in-chief

of the armed forces, um,

so Eric and I are appointeesof President Obama.

-Mm-hmm. -So we serve atthe pleasure of the president.

So, yes, we will be tendering,um, our resignation,

but until that time,we continue to serve.

-There's work to be done.-Uh-huh.

Um, we have stilla strong agenda

that we are advancing.

And until the very last day,we're gonna continue to do that.

In addition,the orderly transition

is crucially important.

It's importantacross the government,

but most especiallyfor the military.

We have men and womenin harm's way

all around the worldas we speak.

And so, we're going to beworking on that transition

to make sure that it's orderlyand done properly.

When you...when you say the president

obviously has a large roleto play within this,

I mean, Donald Trumphas said before

he is the best at military.

That's a direct quote,by the way.

Um...

(laughter)

(laughter)

I feel like we're allin the Twilight Zone.

(laughter)

What is your jobin relating to a president?

What are you doing in serviceof the president?

Well, our direct reportis the Secretary of Defense,

who of course reportsto the president,

but we have both hadthe opportunity

to be directlywith President Obama.

-Yes. -I, for example,had the opportunity

to brief himon our nuclear enterprise

and several other issuesthat are impactful

to the Air Force,really impactful to the nation.

So, um, we, again, serve atthe pleasure of the president,

and there will be those who willtake our jobs into the future

and carry us into the future.

When you... when you lookat a few things that are said,

because... many civiliansmay know this--

I know I don't know the...the real answer to this--

and that is,Donald Trump once said, um...

he would give an order to killthe families of terrorists,

and the Army would haveto execute that.

And, you know, he was then told,no, you know,

the militarywould deny your request,

because that is unlawful.

And he said no, I will tell themto do it and they will.

Um, if something like thatwere to happen,

at what point does the militaryact beyond the president?

At what point does the militarydeny the request

of the commander in chief?

We all, all of us,in or out of uniform,

take an oath to theConstitution.

And the military takes thatincredibly seriously.

Most people conflatewhat the military does

with who the military is.

The military's an incrediblyprofessional, well-trained,

lethal, um, instrument of powerfor the United States,

but civilians decidewhat it does

within the constraintsof the law.

And we certainly havea number of lawyers

that are swirling around usat the Pentagon,

uh, who make sure that we don'tcross those lines.

If you, uh, if you look atyourselves in these positions,

I know it'sa deeply personal question,

but there is a possibility nowthat America could be facing

a time where their presidentdoes not believe

that women or peoplewho are transgender

should be servingin the military.

Uh, I'm not saying for youto disagree with it or not,

but if you were to implore him,

or even tell us why it's soimportant to have that,

what would you say?

I would explain that it'sreally, really important

that as we go into the future,we have to continue

to recruit and retainthe very best young people

that America has to offer,

who are willing to comeinto the military.

We, of course, are anall-volunteer force,

and we're in a war for talent,

just like every corporationacross America.

And so you wantthe widest pool of people

to be able to choose from.

I would also point out that,in my opinion,

having diverse backgrounds,

different waysof approaching problems,

the wayyou've grown up differently,

this is having, uh...innovation springs

from that kind of diversityof thought.

So I would say, if you wantthe best armed forces

that Americacould possibly have,

uh, going into the future,

make sure that you havea diverse armed forces

-going future.-(cheering and applause)

That is, uh...

I guess, uh,that-that says it the best.

Veterans Day coming up tomorrow.

Some people just see it as areason to have a furniture sale.

Uh... Others, I guess,

truly see itas what it is meant to be,

But, as the military,

what is Veterans Day?What does it mean to you?

And what do you feel it shouldmean to the American public?

Well, it... to me,it's a couple of things.

One, it's-it's a...it's a particular day,

um, to think about somethingwe should do every day,

which is be thankfulfor the service of men and women

who-who make this incrediblecommitment to step up

and-and defend our country.

But it's an opportunityfor all the rest of us then

to remember the commitmentwe make to them.

Um, we ask soldiers,sailors, airmen, marines

to do incredible things.

Uh, and every day that I've beendoing this, over 25 years,

I continue to be amazed at-atwhat that they... what they do.

And we owe them a lotfor doing that on our behalf.

Thank you very much.Happy Veterans Day for tomorrow.

-Thank you. -Thank you so much.Thank you for being here.