Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds a Press Briefing – Department of Defense
DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Hi, everyone. OK, let me just get settled here. Happy Wednesday. Yep. All right. So, good afternoon. I just have a few items to pass on at the top and then I’d be happy to take your questions. So, today Secretary Austin will host or is hosting Australian Minister of Defense Richard Marles and U.K. British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace for a trilateral defense ministers meeting on AUKUS. We will provide a full readout of this meeting later this afternoon. As you know, this is the third day of meetings with the Secretary’s defense counterparts. As you know, the Secretary participated in the Australian Defense ministerial* hosted by the State Department just yesterday.
A few other things to mention at the top here. Recently, the United States Army Pacific kicked off Yama Sakura 83, which is a large joint and bilateral command post exercise co-sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and the Japan Ground Self Defense Force. Approximately 5700 personnel will participate in the 42nd iteration of this exercise that runs through December 12. This year’s exercise will include participants from elements of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force as well as U.S. units from across the Indo Pacific region, from the Army, Air Force and Marines. It will be primarily executed throughout Japan and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. Yama Sakura continues to demonstrate a commitment by both countries to work together as dedicated allies in support of the U.S. Japan security alliance and for continued peace and stability in the Indo Pacific region.
Next, yesterday, and for the first time ever, a U.S. Air Force KC 46, a Pegasus aircraft refueled Finnish Air Force F-18 fighter jets as part of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe — in Europe’s partnership exercise Copper Arrow. Copper Arrow is a U.S. Air Force total force exercise featuring us tanker aircraft designed to enhance readiness and operational relationships with NATO allies and our partners. U.S. base tankers have been supporting Copper Arrow on a rotational basis since 2016. Simultaneously, the refueling aircraft supported a multinational NATO vigilance activity, integrating high-end allied and partner strike capabilities and an exercise over the Baltic states. This NATO activity involved approximately 20 aircraft including fighters, tankers, and NATO aircraft from France, Poland, the United Kingdom, as well as partner nations Finland and Sweden. And for more information on Copper Arrow, please contact U.S. Air Forces in Europe — Air Forces in Africa Public Affairs.
And last item here, on Friday, the Secretary and the vice chairman will travel to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, home of the United States Strategic Command Headquarters to attend the change of command ceremony for U.S. Air Force General Anthony J. Cotton, and U.S. Navy Admiral Charles A. Richard. And then on Saturday, which I’m sure you’ll all be watching the Secretary and the chairman will travel to Philadelphia for the Army Navy game, which I believe Kickoff is at 15:10.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. I’ll go to Tara right here in the room.
Q: Thanks for doing this.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: All right. I have a couple of vaccine questions. So, first, DoD regularly deploys to countries that require a vaccine for entry. If the legislation passes ending duties mandate, what happens to those troops? Will they be kept at home? Or is there any language in this bill that would require you to actually send them even if they’re not vaccinated?
MS. SINGH: Well, that’s a great question. And as you know, this legislation was just introduced late last night. So, right now, it is pending legislation. We don’t comment on pending legislation. In terms of that specific query, you know, again, that’s — that’s a hypothetical. So, I wouldn’t be able to get into that just because we don’t have final — final legislation.
Q: OK. Well, a couple of follow ups.
MS. SINGH: Sure.
Q: Is there a concern in the building that if this bill does pass with the legislature — with this wording, that DoD will be required to reinstate service members it has separated for refusing the vaccine.
MS. SINGH: So, again, this is pending legislation introduced late last night. The Secretary over the weekend was very clear in his comments that he supports continuing and maintaining the vaccine mandate. He fully believes this administration believes that the vaccine has done incredible work in terms of saving lives of not just our service members, but people all across the country. And he believes that the health and readiness of our forces is a priority. So, in terms of in terms of how we view the legislation, we — he has been continuously supportive of keeping the mandate in.
Q: If the buildings still feel strongly about keeping the mandate in are there DoD liaisons right now working with some of these members to try and convince them to change their mind and to keep the vaccine mandate?
MS. SINGH: Yeah, we have our legislative team that continues to work with members on the Hill, members of Congress, in both chambers. That’s, that’s part of their role and responsibilities and engaging with members on the Hill to make sure that they know where the Secretary’s priorities are. And part of these regular conversations are, you know, have been talking about the NDAA. But it’s — I mean, it’s not just our team. I think the Secretary was pretty clear and forceful. And his response over the weekend when he said that he supports continuing the vaccine mandate in the NDAA.
Yeah, I’ll come into the room. Hey.
Q: Thanks, Sabrina.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: I also have a vaccine mandate question. Yesterday, the Secretary said that he had no data that directly I think that’s his word directly connects the vaccine mandate with recruiting. But on Saturday, the Marine Commandant said that the vaccine mandate was affecting recruiting. He said specifically he thought it was disinformation, about the vaccine in certain parts of the country. So, does the Secretary disagree with the Commandant? Was there some nuance to his statement yesterday? And what is the reality? Is the vaccine mandate affecting military recruiting?
MS. SINGH: So, I think what the Commandant was saying was disinformation, specifically around the vaccine, he was not talking about the effectiveness of the vaccine, which we have seen, be incredibly effective in keeping our service members safe, so I just I would ask that you put his — his comments into more — more holistically into what he was saying, which was specific about the vaccine, we have seen misinformation and disinformation out there on social media sites. And the reality is — is that we know the vaccine can save your life. Since — since the beginning of the pandemic, I believe there were 691 DoD personnel that have died from COVID. And that includes personnel, their family members, civilians, contractors, and since April, there have only been two deaths from the — from COVID-19. So, I think it is important to remember that I don’t think they’re at odds here their statements, I think the Commandant was saying that there has been disinformation about the vaccine itself. But we know the vaccine can save your life. And that’s why this building and the Secretary is supportive of maintaining the vaccine mandate.
Q: With all due respect, I think the Commandant said clearly that the mandate was affecting recruiting —
MS. SINGH: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t answer your question.
Q: Yeah, he gave the reason for it, but he’s saying that it is affecting recruiting. And we have the Secretary say yesterday that he’s seen no link with the mandate and recruiting issues. So, which is correct?
MS. SINGH: Well, I think in terms of — well, I think what the Commandant was saying, and I would direct you to, of course, his office for — for further explanation was that disinformation around the vaccine created confusion, which can of course lead to less people wanting to take it, which could lead to less people wanting to maybe enlist, but generally, and I think, also, just to put in context, more of what the Secretary was asked about was what Kevin McCarthy was citing, which we have not seen the data that Kevin McCarthy cited on — on, I think it was Fox that he went on and said that the vaccine has impacted recruitment. Generally speaking, the vaccine mandate appears to have very minimal impact on recruiting and, you know, we’re continuing to look at what we can do, to bring in talent, to bring in people all across the country into our services.
Q: Minimal impact on recruiting?
MS. SINGH: Yes, that is what we have seen so far.
Yeah, I’m gonna go — well, I’ll take Laura, and then I’m gonna go to the phones and come back to the room.
Q: Yeah, just a follow up.
MS. SINGH: Sure.
Q: Because that was gonna be my exact question. He’d be very, very minimal impact. But that’s not the same as no impact. And I believe what the Secretary said was there, we haven’t seen any impact. Can you — can you — can you clarify that if I may be missing something? And then can you quantify what is very minimal impact?
MS. SINGH: I cannot quantify what is very minimal impact. I mean, I think one of the — what we know is one of the largest impacts that we saw on recruitment was certainly the pandemic, not being able to be out, not being able to talk about what the services are doing, not being able to travel, being engaged with people on the ground, that certainly had an impact on recruitment. And then not to mention economic factors. There’s more competitiveness for jobs out there. You know, everyone is searching for — for talent, every — it’s not just us, that’s, you know, having trouble in terms of bringing good talent. There are companies out there that want great talent, too, and we’re competing against them. And that’s just the reality that we have to remember is like, it’s not just DoD in this vacuum looking for talent. There’s a lot of other people also out there that we are competing against. So, in terms of the vaccine mandate, and terms of the vaccine we’ve seen very minimal impact on recruitment challenges. I think some of this goes back to what you were asking earlier just on the disinformation and the confusion. Certainly, early on, I was fortunate enough to be, you know, sort of in some of the conversations about the vaccine and why it’s important to take the vaccine and, you know, there was a lot of hesitancy. But we have to remember to that 99 percent of active-duty personnel have at least one dose of the vaccine and 98 percent of active duty are fully vaccinated. And that’s a really important stat. I mean, we’re talking about such a small percentage here that are not vaccinated.
MS. SINGH: Did you have a follow up or can I go to the phones?
Q: No, I think —
MS. SINGH: OK, great. I’m gonna go to the phones. Yep. Idrees, Reuters.
Q: Hey, Sabrina. Two quick questions. Firstly, has Secretary Austin spoken with Kevin McCarthy directly about the COVID vaccine mandate and the impact repealing it would have and has he spoken with President Biden, since the legislation moved forward yesterday? And just more broadly, what impact take aside legislation which hasn’t passed? What impact would a repealing of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate have on the military?
MS. SINGH: OK, hopefully, I remember all your questions. So, in terms of conversations with the President, I have nothing to read out. The Secretary is in constant communication with the President and his team about all things, not just the COVID-19 vaccine or the NDAA. But — but other items as well. And so, you know, I’ll let those conversations remain private and have nothing to read out on — on that. In terms of, did the Secretary speak to Congressman — or Leader Kevin McCarthy this weekend? I think Kevin McCarthy said that they spoke this weekend. And so, I will, I will leave it at that and their — their conversation. But the Secretary, his team, our legislative — legislative team is routinely engaged with the Hill, not just when it comes to the NDAA, but on other issues as well. So, the conversations always remain — remain fluid and — and open.
In terms of I’m sorry, your last question. Can you repeat that for me?
Q: Yeah, just legislation aside; what impact would repealing the COVID 19 vaccine mandate have on the military? Can you just quickly describe you said Biden and Austin are in constant communication? What is that like once a day twice a day? Can you give us sort of sense of?
MS. SINGH: Well, I’m certainly I’m not going to characterize in terms of how many times they speak. But you know, they are, they were they are remained in communication about a number of things. Whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s the NDAA, or other items, I’m not going to get into more specifics than that. But in terms of what impact, it would have on the force, I mean, the Secretary’s priority that he’s laid out from the very beginning is taking care of the health and wellbeing of our servicemen and women all across the country in the world are a top priority of his. And so, we know the vaccine can inoculate you against getting COVID-19 — or at least protect you, if you do contract COVID-19, your symptoms won’t be nearly as bad. And so, he fully supports maintaining the vaccine mandate, he believes that this is something that keeps our forces healthy, that keeps our forces safe. And again, I mean, I think you’ve heard me at the top say that we had 691 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. And then since April, we’ve only had two, I think that shows pretty powerfully the impact that this vaccine can have in terms of saving lives.
I’m gonna go to another question on the phone, and then I’ll come back in the room. Heather, USNI.
Q: Hi, sorry to hit you with another vaccine question. But in terms of the troops that are considered unvaccinated, if they are reinstated, or the ones that have not been separated? Are they considered deployable if they don’t have this vaccine, even if there isn’t a mandate for them to get it anymore?
MS. SINGH: Right now, our policy hasn’t changed. So, right now, the vaccine, the mandate of the vaccine is still in place. You know, again, not going to comment on any pending legislation that could change anything one way or the other. And just not going to get ahead of the congressional process as it plays out.
MS. SINGH: Great. I’ll come back to the room. Yeah. And then I’ll come back, sir.
Q: Just a follow on Idrees question.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: So, is it DoD supposition that repealing the mandate would negatively impact the readiness of the force?
MS. SINGH: Repealing — certainly I think, what is important is the what is important to the readiness of the force is — is getting the vaccine so yes, it would impact the readiness of the force, you’re more prone to getting COVID-19. Again, we’ve seen that the impacts of COVID we had millions of people die here in this country because of either not having access to the vaccine, or not taking the vaccine. And we certainly know that the vaccine will save your life.
MS. SINGH: Yeah. Hi, nice to see you.
Q: It’s good to see you. The NDAA blocks the Pentagon from proceeding with plans to cancel certain programs and retire certain weapon systems, for instance. It requires DoD to maintain 31 amphibious ships, provide funding for third Arlberg beyond what the administration sought. There’s also prohibition on retiring the B 83 megaton gravity bomb, 25 million to continue the (inaudible). Both those weapons were opposed in the National Defense Strategy. So, can you detail some of the impacts that maintaining those requirements would have?
MS. SINGH: Looks like you read all 4,000 pages last night? No, I’m not gonna get into that any further. Again, this is pending legislation. Things — we saw just yesterday, things were pulled out added back into the bill. Not going to get ahead of that. I think the Secretary, you’ve heard the chairman speak to this. We have the best, most capable warfighting force there is on — on the earth, and we will maintain our readiness for whatever — whatever is needed.
Q: I mean, it — does the Pentagon standby statement in the in the National Defense Strategy? And if Congress — Congress is going a different direction from what’s outlined in that strategy, what happens?
MS. SINGH: Well, look, I mean, Congress is part of this democratic process is Congress working and — and figuring out what makes sense and what they can pass, we have been able to outline in our NDS what we believe makes sense. But again, this is not final legislation, things could change at the last minute, we just don’t know. And we’re continuing to work through this.
MS. SINGH: Barbara.
Q: So, you made it really clear that the Secretary’s best military advice is that the mandate should be maintained, that he’s very clear on that. So, what is his reaction to the White House and the President raising the prospect of being agreeable to rescinding the mandate?
MS. SINGH: Well, the President agreed with the Secretary and supports keeping the mandate. So, I don’t see daylight there.
Q: Isn’t Secretary McCarthy suggesting he believes he has White House support for passing an NDAA with a mandate rescission?
MS. SINGH: Well, I have to correct you on its Leader McCarthy. But I think —
Q: Pardon me.
MS. SINGH: No, that’s OK. That’s OK.
Q: My sincere apologies.
MS. SINGH: That’s alright. Leader McCarthy did I think speak out about this? I think the White House issued a statement after his comments were made on Sunday. I would direct you to the White House for further comment on that.
Yeah, sorry. Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll come back to you. Yes. Yeah. No, go ahead. OK. Go ahead. You go first.
Q: Thanks. Pat Tucker, Defense One, good to see you. So, yesterday, three strikes within Russian territory, likely, according to a wide consensus among analysts Ukrainian, one strike just 122 miles southeast of Moscow, another one almost 500 miles in country. We know that Ukraine MOD and the U.S. Defense Department coordinate a lot on operations on the ground. Was you — the Defense Department aware that those trades were going to take place beforehand? Was that part of the coordination? And if not, is that the sort of thing — increased strikes deep within Russian territory — is that the sort of thing that affairs department would like to be more aware of before they happen in the future?
MS. SINGH: Well, I wouldn’t say that we are in constant communication or contact about strikes that are going to take place. We certainly work with our Ukrainian counterparts. But one of the things that we do is we’re providing the weapons, the systems that they need, they are making the decisions on the ground, in terms of targeting in terms of when they conduct an operation. What we are providing is the security assistance. So, no, we were not necessarily informed or aware of any strike happening within Russia. We’ve seen the reports, but I have nothing further to add to that I would direct you to the Ukrainian military for further comment.
Q: OK, and just a quick follow up. The U.S. has been reluctant to give them attacking us missiles that can range to Moscow to fear of escalating the conflict. Now that they’ve shown that they’re willing to basically range to Moscow does that change at all the calculation or the — or the discussion around providing them with longer range fires.
MS. SINGH: We’re gonna keep providing them what they need to protect their territory to defend their citizens on the battlefield. I mean, part of what we are doing with our security assistance is making sure that they have what they need in this unprovoked fight, or unprovoked war that Russia launched against Ukraine and all We can do is ensure that they have the tools that they need. Of course, we don’t want to see an escalation. We’re not looking for an escalation. We’re not seeking a war with Russia. But we are going to enable Ukraine to protect itself.
Q: OK, so this doesn’t really change the calculus at all the fact that they’re now striking deep within Russian territory?
MS. SINGH: I have no reason to believe that — in terms of calculus, I mean, again, security assistance packages are going to continue to come. Congress, you know, we’re going to continue to work with Congress to request more funding for — for when we need it, and presidential drawdown authorities are going to be continued to be used. So, that I expect to continue pretty regularly. Sorry, yes. I didn’t mean to confuse everyone there.
Q: Not a problem. Is there any plan to require a COVID booster shot? And if not, why is there a medical consensus inside of the department that it’s not medically needed?
MS. SINGH: Well, I don’t have any — our policy hasn’t changed. I mean, part of it is, you know, the vaccine mandate and the whatever.
Q: But there’s no booster requirement, correct?
MS. SINGH: I would have to just check our policy. I don’t believe so. I think it’s just the two shots. And maybe, I mean, there might be further guidance coming out from the CDC later, but I’m not aware of the booster being part of that, as far as I know. But you know what, let me just — just to make sure, let me just take that question and get back to you on that.
Yeah, I’m gonna come back to you. I’m just gonna go. Yes, over here. Hey, Ryo?
Q: Hi. Yesterday, the Secretary said after the meeting with both Korean counterparts, the U.S. and Australia, I’ll be to invite Japan to — to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia, too. Could you tell us a little bit more about the specifics on what the U.S. — U.S. and Australia have really to do with Japan and Australia?
MS. SINGH: And I think part of your question was asking also what Australia and Japan are doing together, which I would direct you to their, to their governments for further comment. I mean, part of what you saw yesterday was increasing cooperation, and trilateral engagement in the region. And that, of course, includes one of our longest allies, Japan. And so, we, you know, Australia, and I believe Japan are going to have a two plus two meeting in Tokyo soon. And when they have that, maybe we’ll have more to share with you on that. But we just look forward to continuing to build on that cooperation. And I mean, today, I know you didn’t ask, it’s not specific to Australia. But the exercise that I announced today is taking place in Japan, just furthering our bilateral relationship there. Yeah, of course.
MS. SINGH: Yes. In the back. Oh, and then sorry, Tara, I’ll come back to you.
Q: (Inaudible) from (inaudible) news. Thank you. So, it’s for up to all the questions. So, the Secretary Austin’s remark that they will invite Japan to integrate into U.S. posture, force posture initiative. So, it doesn’t mean inviting Japan to rotational presence in Australia necessarily?
MS. SINGH: Are talking about expanded force posture? Is that what you’re?
Q: So, so it’s about the same Secretary Austin’s remark. So, he says yeah, he will invite Japan to integrate into the — yeah, force posture initiative. So, is it more about inviting Japan to more joint exercises? Or is it about Japan’s participation in rotational presence in Australia?
MS. SINGH: So, this is about building on the trilateral relationship that exists between Australia and Japan? As part of I think what you’re referring to this — that the Secretary spoke to yesterday at the State Department, was that the U.S. will increase its rotational presence in — in capabilities in Australia, across air, land, and maritime domains. But I think next year’s rotation will build on the rotations that the department has already carried out this year in Australia.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: Just to follow up, the Chinese foreign minister responded to the Secretary Austin’s remarks yesterday saying that the U.S. is going to increase its footprint rotations in Australia. Chinese Foreign Ministry says it’s a United States keeps creating small circles of — with some of its allies, such actions will only undermine regional peace and stability. What’s your reaction to that?
MS. SINGH: I don’t think exercises with other countries like what whether I mean, I don’t know if he mentioned any specifics, but we conduct bilateral, trilateral exercises all the time with other countries, as does China. I certainly don’t think we are undermining the security in any way. As we laid out in the NDS, we see China’s our pacing challenge here. But we’re not looking to see conflict with China. We’re seeking competition. And we can do that strategically. We can do that safely. And we can do that with our partners and allies in the region and all around the world.
MS. SINGH: Yeah, go ahead. Follow up. Yeah.
Q: Like Secretary Austin was talking about rotational forces. Are you talking about they’re going to be dangerous for exercises or when we say rotational, we mean that they will be there for a period of time?
MS. SINGH: Well, to the Secretary has comments, I mean, I have nothing further to add. Rotational would mean that they continue to rotate. But we have a presence, an enduring presence in the region. So, is there something more specific that you’re asking or?
Q: Secretary Austin specifically said that the United States is going to increase its rotational forces in Australia?
MS. SINGH: Yep. And that’s what I just —
Q: Are we talking about exercises or are we talking about rotational forces, like, currently, we have in Poland, in Eastern Europe or in Middle East?
MS. SINGH: No, as part of our expanded force posture there, which what he was — force posture cooperation there, he was talking about just increasing the rotational presence of us capabilities in Australia, that doesn’t preclude that we wouldn’t be able to build on more exercises there, per se. But right now, it’s just it’s, it’s just that just increasing our rotational presence.
I’m just gonna go to the phones and then I’ll come back to the room right here. Courtney Kube.
Q: Hi. So, what I’m wondering is on the — the idea of people signing up or not, because of the COVID vaccine. DoD does these surveys where they asked about propensity to serve and ability and willingness and — and whether people are actually eligible to serve. And I’m wondering if any of those have ever actually asked the question whether people are not going to sign up or enlist or because of the COVID vaccine because I found it interesting that yesterday, Secretary Austin specifically said they have no hard data. There’s clearly anecdotal evidence that people are unhappy with the vaccine mandate, all you have to do is look at social media and media reports. So, what I’m curious is, has DoD actually ever asked if people are not signing up because of the COVID vaccine?
MS. SINGH: I would have to take that question, Courtney. I’m sorry. I don’t know the answer to that in terms of if it’s been asked on a particular survey, either in a service or department wide.
Q: And then just one follow up. I wonder if I know that the legislation isn’t, isn’t signed yet. The President hasn’t signed it yet. But I’m wondering if you can tell us even generally, if Secretary Austin or General Milley or the Chiefs or anyone are doing any kind of outreach to try to change this to try to I don’t know what that would look like, frankly, because the language is already out there, but if there’s any sort of last-minute last-ditch efforts to try to change this repeal, or if everyone has pretty much accepted the fact that this is this is where it’s going?
MS. SINGH: Well, I think in terms of outreach, yes, I mean, he’s been very, very outspoken when he what he said on — on Sunday, which he supports continuing or maintaining the vaccine mandate. I think that’s a pretty clear message to members of Congress, who are who are about to go through and vote on the NDAA. I think that is a clear point of outreach to the Hill and pretty direct on where he stands and his position.
I’m gonna take one more from the phones and then I’ll come back in the room. Sangmin Lee Radio, Free Asia.
Q: Yes, Jake Sullivan, the White House National Security Adviser, were in China last month that if North Korea keep going down this road, which may continue to make provocation, it could have simply been further enhanced American military and security presence in the region, after the North Korea continued to make a provocation, including launching new ICBM. So, my question is that now are you considering the further enhanced American military presence in — in East Asia to pressure China to use their influence on North Korea?
MS. SINGH: I think the Secretary spoke to this we would certainly welcome China engaging with the DPRK to reduce tensions. Every time — every time the DPRK launches a new missile or conducts any type of test that further destabilizes the region. That’s not something we want to see. We are committed to the full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And so, we would welcome China engaging with North Korea on this issue.
Great. I’m gonna come back to the room. I’m gonna come here and then I’ll — yeah.
Q: Thank you. On the Ukrainian drone strikes from Russia. Can you rule out that those are U.S. weapons being used?
MS. SINGH: We just — I would say that I wouldn’t be able to speak to that. I would refer you to the Ukrainians to speak to anything about any of their operations.
MS. SINGH: Yeah. Great.
Q: I just wanted to ask a clarifier on Heather’s question. So, under the current policy right now if — current policy, not the legislation.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: If a service member is not vaccinated and say they’re going through the religious exemptions process, can they be deployed? Are they considered non-deployable?
MS. SINGH: I believe they’re considered non deployable because they do not fall under the department’s — the current policy, which is the vaccine mandate.
Q: OK, thanks.
MS. SINGH: Great.
MS. SINGH: Yes. You had a question in the back.
Q: Yes, thank you. Lithuania has been a member of NATO since 2004. And the Prime Minister today was at the White House, met with Vice President Harris. Vice President Harris, you know, in the reports that came out, reassured Lithuania that the U.S. will stand with them. Is there any thought about troop changes or U.S. presence within the NATO contingency forces there?
MS. SINGH: Yeah, no, nothing to announce today. If anything changes, I’ll certainly let you know.
Q: Thank you.
MS. SINGH: Great. I’ll take two more. And then I got to — got to wrap. Yeah.
Q: John Kirby, your predecessor said the Republicans in Congress have obviously decided they’d read a fight against the health and wellbeing of those troops, rather than protecting them. Does the Pentagon feel the same way?
MS. SINGH: Well, I certainly I mean, I think the — the repeal of the vaccine mandate is coming from —
Q: Are you saying it’s a Republican issue? It’s a partisan issue, which is what he — he seems to be saying?
MS. SINGH: Well, I would let Mr. Kirby’s words stand for themselves. He certainly had this podium before me, I will just direct it back to him. But I think our words have been very clear from here. We certainly have seen, I mean — seeing that the vaccine works, it will save your life. We have unfortunately seen this has become a partisan issue, which is unfortunate, because it shouldn’t be. And so, I will just, you know, say that I think — the Secretary continues to support upholding the COVID 19 vaccine mandate. And we hope that — that — that is included in the NDAA.
MS. SINGH: Great, yes. And one last question back here.
Q: OK, thank you for taking my question.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: So, my question is about arm stockpile. And I know you have been asked about this many times before. But there are more reports about that suggesting that U.S. is running low on some weapons and ammunition to transfer to Ukraine. So, can you talk a little bit about the level of stockpile? And is there any serious concern? And I was wondering if it affects the readiness in other regions, such as East Asia?
MS. SINGH: And you said, I’m sorry, the last question was readiness on?
Q: The regions —
MS. SINGH: OK.
Q: — East Asia?
MS. SINGH: Thank you. In terms of our stockpiles, the Secretary, the chairman, have been very clear that with every security assistance package that we put together and package for Ukraine, we’re always assessing our readiness. We are not going to drop below certain levels. We’re gonna maintain a level of our own readiness where we feel comfortable where we feel secure. And that will include, you know, our stockpiles as well. I think what you’re getting to in terms of readiness in East Asia, you know, again, we feel confident that we are able to continue to supply Ukraine with the security assistance it needs, while remaining focused on other areas in the Indo-Pacific, and certainly remaining focused on China, which has certainly been extensively laid out on why we are so focused on China in the National Defense Strategy, and I point you to that.
Thanks all, I have to hop to a meeting. But thank you, Happy Wednesday, and we’ll see you later this week or next week.
*Editor’s Note: Australia – U.S. Ministerial Consultations