Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made a brief appearance in Charlotte on Saturday to address the annual conference of the National Association of Counties at the Charlotte Convention Center.
In a roughly 20-minute speech, Carter touched briefly on Department of Defense technological advances. Those include cybertechnology and the development of hypersonic engines that enable aircraft to fly at five times the speed of sound or more, he said.
But as technologies change and threats to the world change, too, one thing that hasn’t “is how service members return home to a grateful nation and grateful communities,” Carter said.
“Believe me, I knew a time when it was different, and on behalf of the Department of Defense I want to thank you for that,” Carter said to applause from the packed ballroom.
Still, he said he’s concerned the job of the military in keeping the nation safe “is not being adequately appreciated, or being taken for granted, and that’s frustrating to me sometimes.
“Security is like oxygen, and if you have it, you don’t pay any attention to it,” he said. “If you don’t have it, it’s all you can think about.”
The more than 2.6 million service members who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan don’t consider themselves heroes, he said, “but are proud to have protected the country.”
The conference, which continues through Monday, has about 2,500 attendees.
Carter’s appearance came a day after he visited Fort Bragg. On Thursday, officials announced the Army cut 840positions at the post.
The worldwide reduction of 40,000 soldiers in two years due to budget cuts mean bases in Georgia, Texas and Alaska will lose thousands of troops.
The military, he said at Fort Bragg, will continue to be able to defend against multiple threats around the world despite the reductions that are bringing the Army to its lowest manpower level since before World War II.
Further troop cuts of 30,000 are possible this year if Congress enacts budget constraints known as sequestration.
The Associated Press contributed.