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Published:January 28th, 2015 13:16 EST

Chuck Hagel Led Change, Maintained Mission Focus

By SOP newswire3

By Karen Parrish
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led the Defense Department through fundamental changes during his tenure of almost two years.


Since being sworn in on Feb. 27, 2013, Hagel shepherded internal reforms and defended against new and rapidly evolving external threats. He welcomed same-sex couples into the ranks and continued the work to open combat arms jobs to women. He oversaw the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, enhanced the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and deployed U.S. personnel to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to help the U.S. Agency for International Development fight Ebola at its source in West Africa.

Hagel is a Vietnam combat veteran who earned two Purple Heart medals during his voluntary enlistment, in which he reached the rank of sergeant. As secretary, he notably sought out the voices of service members, whether in his monthly lunch meetings with junior enlisted soldiers or during question-and-answer sessions following troop talks.

Speaking to soldiers in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, a month after taking office early in 2013, the new secretary outlined the challenges ahead.

We are seeing a world in great transition just like the transition underway here in Afghanistan. That presents great possibilities for all of us, " Hagel said. Yes, dangers; yes, uncertainty; yes, complicated challenges, but I think the way we always look at challenges is that we see through those challenges, define the opportunity to help make a better world. And if there is one thing that defines your service, your sacrifices, it is to help make a better world. "

"A Soldier`s Heart`

From military installations across the United States and around the world to Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Afghanistan, Hagel in his travels consistently engaged the uniformed men and women he led.

He told reporters accompanying him on a recent trip that all who have served in uniform share a bond. It isn`t just today, " and it isn`t just me, " he said. It`s anyone who`s ever been to war -- anyone who`s ever watched the suffering and literally been in trenches and jungles and foxholes and mountaintops with men and women who look after each other and save each other`s lives. "

Among officers, too, Hagel earned a reputation as an approachable leader. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey wrote about the secretary during a recent Facebook town hall he conducted with troops.

I have been proud to serve under the leadership of Secretary Hagel, " the chairman wrote. He led the military at a particularly difficult period, and he brought a soldier`s heart to work every day. "

Strengthening Alliances

Dempsey also wrote that following Hagel`s stewardship, he expected our military relationships with allies and partners will remain as strong as ever. "

As secretary, Hagel nurtured those relationships, traveling to more than 30 separate nations and maintaining the strategic tightrope-walk of increased focus on the Asia-Pacific while monitoring the tumultuous Middle East. He traveled to South Korea and Japan, Indonesia and Australia, the Philippines and Singapore, but also went twice to Israel and three times to Saudi Arabia.

During remarks in Singapore in June 2013, Hagel recounted his personal experiences in Asia: first as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam, later as a businessman and cofounder of a cellular telephone company traveling in China, and later still as a U.S. senator.

What I took away from all these experiences was a firm belief that the arc of the 21st century would be shaped by events here in Asia, " Hagel said at the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual Asian security conference. America has been a Pacific power for more than two centuries. Our ties to this region -- economic, cultural and security -- are unbreakable and broadly supported by Americans of both political parties. However, these long-standing, bi-partisan ties needed to be renewed and reinvigorated. They need this after a decade of war in the Middle East and Central Asia. "

New Agreements, Greater Cooperation in Asia-Pacific

Hagel`s tenure as defense secretary also saw new agreements and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. A new U.S. "Australia force posture agreement signed last year calls for rotational deployment of U.S. Marines in Darwin and American airmen in northern Australia. At the signing ceremony in the Australian capital of Syndey, Hagel said the pact will broaden and deepen the alliance`s contributions to regional security and advance America`s ongoing strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

Another agreement signed last summer with the Philippine government provides a new rotational opportunity and the ability for U.S. forces to use some Philippine bases. The more that we can help build the capacities and capabilities of our partners all over the world, that gives them more of an opportunity not just to defend themselves and their interests, but [also to focus] on mutual interests, " Hagel said.

Hagel`s time in office also saw an increase in cooperation with Japan and South Korea, not only in response to threats posed by North Korea, but also in terms of maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and other areas.

Expanding Missions

However, Hagel would find that by the end of 2014, the Middle East would hold a new threat: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists. In remarks to Congress in November 2014 about U.S.-led efforts against the group, the secretary noted, We are three months into a multiyear effort. "

Hagel said ISIL continues to represent a serious threat to American interests [and] our allies in the Middle East " [with] influence over a broad swath of territory in Western and Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria. "

Hagel outlined the United States` whole-of-government strategy against ISIL, highlighting the complex nature of Defense Department missions in the 21st century.

Our comprehensive strategy is focused on supporting inclusive governance, sustaining a broad-based regional and global coalition and strengthening local forces on the ground, " the secretary said. It also includes undercutting ISIL`s flow of resources, countering ISIL`s messaging, constricting the flow of foreign fighters, providing humanitarian assistance and [maintaining] our intensive regional and global diplomatic effort. "

Even as U.S. Central Command spearheaded coalition airstrikes against ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria, a humanitarian mission straight out of horror fiction appeared on Hagel`s watch with an outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa.

In support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, DoD has deployed some 2,500 men and women in uniform to Monrovia, Liberia, as part of Operation United Assistance, the fight against Ebola. In November, Hagel spoke to troops at Kentucky`s Fort Campbell, which saw hundreds of soldiers depart for Liberia, and described the deadly disease as being as serious a global threat as terrorism.

The challenges and threats that face our country in the world today are not just from Islamic fundamentalists or from terrorists but from health diseases and pandemic health threats that threaten the world, " he said. Ebola is part of that overall scope of threats. "

Nuclear Enterprise Reviews

Following revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale in the nation`s nuclear forces, Hagel ordered comprehensive internal and external reviews of the Air Force`s ground- and air-based nuclear deterrent and the Navy`s submarine-based systems. Reviewers visited all domestic operational nuclear bases and many of their key support facilities, and they interviewed hundreds of officers, enlisted personnel, civilian employees and contractors. Hagel also visited several installations that are part of the nuclear enterprise to get firsthand accounts.

The reviews led to establishment of a Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group that brings together the entire senior leadership of DoD`s nuclear enterprise -- at the Pentagon, at U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Global Strike Command. Noting that previous reviews lacked clear follow-up mechanisms, he directed analysts in DoD`s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to track the status and progress of the actions taken following the reviews and the impact on the health of our nuclear force.

Our nuclear enterprise is foundational to America`s national security, " he said in announcing the results of the reviews and the actions the department was taking. And the resources and attention we commit to the nuclear force must reflect that. We need our best people in this enterprise. "

Military Health System Review

Hagel also ordered a review of DOD`s Military Health System that focused on access to care, quality of care, and patient safety. The review found pockets of excellence, he said " significant excellence, which we`re very proud of " -- and extraordinary doctors, nurses, and staff who are deeply dedicated to the patients they serve. "

The bottom-line finding, the secretary said in announcing the review`s results and the actions he ordered after receiving the findings, is that the Military Health Care System provides health care that is comparable in access, quality, and safety to average private-sector health care.

But we cannot accept average, " he added. "We cannot accept average when it comes to caring for our men and women in uniform and their families. We can do better. We all agree we can do better. "

Combating Sexual Assault

Another threat that garnered great attention during Hagel`s term was sexual assault in the military. In a recent briefing to reporters, the secretary addressed the issue and the department`s response.

Hagel said while the rate of assault has declined and reporting has increased, We still have a long way to go. "

Sexual assault threatens the lives and well-being of both women and men in uniform, he said, and destroys the bonds of trust and confidence which [are] at the heart of our military. "

Hagel said under his leadership, the department has taken aggressive action to stop sexual assault.

I made this " one of my highest priorities as secretary of defense. " I`ve directed over 28 new initiatives over the last [18 months] to strengthen how we prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military; how we support the survivors of this despicable crime; how we screen, educate and train our people; and how we hold accountable not only offenders, but also DoD as an institution, and all of our leaders, " he said.

Winding Down Afghanistan

Hagel`s time as secretary also saw the end of the nation`s longest conflict, the war in Afghanistan. Speaking from there, the secretary described the follow-on mission that will succeed the NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command mission that officially ended Dec. 8.

Referring to the coalition nations and their ongoing assistance role in Afghanistan over the next two years, Hagel said, This is a transition with our closest 50 partners " [as] we continue to help the Afghans build their capacity, build out that capability, build their institutions, train, assist and advise. "

Summing Up

Hagel spoke about his tenure as defense secretary at the White House after his resignation was announced, and Afghanistan led the list.

We have prepared ourselves " our allies, and Afghan national security forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan, " Hagel said. We`ve bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, while successfully responding to crises around the world. And we`ve launched important reforms that " will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in decades to come. "

He added, I believe we have set not only this department, the Department of Defense, but the nation on a stronger course toward security, stability, and prosperity. If I didn`t believe that, I would not have done this job.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia