U.S. Defense chief visits Abington alma mater on tour to replenish Pentagon ranks

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter spoke to students at Abington Senior High School about something now bedeviling the Pentagon: trying to recruit enough people to join the military as thousands leave or retire each year.

Carter, a 1972 graduate of Abington, said Monday that high-skilled tech workers often opt for higher-paying jobs in the private sector rather than joining the military.

The Pentagon needs to bring on 250,000 additional workers each year to keep pace with retirement and retention rates, Carter said.

“As the so-called 9/11 generation begins to leave our ranks, the Defense Department must continue to bring in talented Americans from your generation and others,” he said.

Abington was Carter’s first stop on a two-day trip dubbed “force of the future,” which will head to Fort Drum, New York, before a final event at Syracuse University where Carter will meet with veterans and military families.

Carter’s pitch comes as the Pentagon considers loosening recruitment standards concerning age and minor drug offenses to attract more service members.

Carter is also promoting new benefits for high-tech workers who join the military, including better pension plans and allowing military personnel to take mid-career breaks to accommodate school or family needs.

“Like my kids, you’ve grown up using technology as second nature, which has probably helped you learn more than any prior generation about all the opportunities life can offer,” he said.

Carter touted world travel and up to $284,000 through the GI Bill to pay for college tuition as perks of joining the military.

“No one should gloss over the hardships or the dangers of military life,” Carter noted. “But I do want you to understand how fulfilling and rewarding military life can be also.”

Following his remarks, Carter answered a handful of questions from students, one of which involved sexual assault and harassment in the military.

Carter called the phenomenon “particularly offensive in the military because military life is based on honor, and it’s based on trust. We need to be able to trust the people around you because your lives are at stake potentially together. And sexual assault undermines honor and trust.”

Another student asked about the military’s strategy in its fight against the Islamic State group. Carter responded that the United States is assisting in surveillance work and training ground forces in Iraq and Syria, but that the Pentagon will not commit its own troops to fight the group also known as ISIS.

“I think anyone who’s seen the kind of atrocities and so forth they commit knows that the movement has to be defeated,” Carter said. “But it has to be defeated in a lasting way.”

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