Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III thanked members of Blue Star Families for their service and sacrifice and that of their men and women in uniform. 

“Global uncertainty is the theme of this gathering. Yet, in times of challenge, the world looks to America,” he said speaking yesterday at a virtual town hall event. 

The nonprofit group aims to support the immediate family of active-duty service members. 

The U.S. military is the “most powerful and innovative fighting force in the world,” he said. “It’s not just because of our brave troops around the world. It’s also because of our outstanding military families. You serve right alongside your loved ones. 

“And you bear all the stress and strain of the homefront, especially in challenging times. So we are forever grateful,” Austin said. 

Taking care of its people is a top priority for the Defense Department, Austin said. He noted that service members received a 4.6% pay raise this year—the largest in two decades. The department is also working to make child care more affordable and moves easier and help military spouses pursue their own careers. 

“I’m proud of what we’ve done, but we’re going to keep pushing to do more because we are determined to do right by our troops—and by all of you,” Austin said. 

Following the secretary’s remarks, senior defense and national security officials took questions from the family members. 

“American security and prosperity at home oftentimes begins overseas.” said Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia. 

A large part of that is providing aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Russian aggression, she said. 

U.S. forces stationed on NATO’s eastern flank are there to support allies should they face Russian aggression in the future, Cooper said. 

“If we don’t enable the Ukrainians to stop Russia and defend against aggression, we will face this threat in a much more direct and much more costly way,” she added. 

Daniel Shapiro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said the goal of the Defense Department is to try to build a more peaceful, prosperous and more integrated Middle East in order to help the lives of those who live there and, thereby,  to make the U.S. homeland more secure.  

The principles of partnership, deterrence, diplomacy and promoting our values in the Middle East are vitally important, he said.  

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, spoke of the challenges in the Middle East, Ukraine and China and the importance of U.S. allies and partners. 

Addressing  troop deployments around the globe, Kirby said, “With all the turbulence overseas, you can’t address it if you’re not over there, if there’s not a presence, if you’re not willing to have skin in the game,” he said. 

A large part of U.S. readiness is ensuring troops and their families have what they need, he added. 

Jason Israel, director for defense policy at the National Security Council, said these are dangerous times, but it’s paramount that everything must be done to defend U.S. troops and allies. 

The best thing that Congress can do now for national security is to provide appropriation and the supplemental funding package, he said. 

“We are really pushing every day to try to work with Congress to find a solution to the impasse,” he said.

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