Hagel Wraps up Asia-Pacific Trip, Visits Troops
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
FLEET ACTIVITIES YOKOSUKA, Japan, Oct. 4, 2013 “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I’m very proud of what you’re doing. The president of the United States is proud of what you’re doing. America is proud of what you’re doing.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks with troops aboard the USS Stethem, in port on Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Oct. 4, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel opened his last troop talk on his latest overseas trip, which ends today, with those words.
Hagel stood on the deck of the USS Stethem, a ballistic missile defense destroyer, facing some 250 blue-camouflaged sailors arrayed in ranks. The wind whipped and the rain spattered in Tokyo Harbor as Hagel spoke to the troops and they responded with their questions.
“I’m here in Japan for a couple of days, came over from South Korea before that – talk to troops, meetings; I think we’ve made some progress with our bilateral partners and friends,” the secretary told the troops.
Whether it’s on a forward operating base in Afghanistan, a live-fire training range near the Korean peninsula’s demilitarized zone, or on the deck of a ship off Japan, Hagel takes on a rhythm and flow when talking to U.S. forces that makes him seem fully at home.
Today, he shared with the sailors many of the same messages he’s emphasized this week with military, diplomatic and political leaders in South Korea and Japan.
As the world’s battle space shifts from green fields or blue oceans and skies to the invisible, featureless domains of cyber and space, Hagel said, the nightmare realms of nuclear and chemical weapons, the United States and its allies must pool technology, manpower and will to keep the world peaceful and free from coercion.
“You play a big role in that,” he told the sailors.
The 50,000 men and women who make up U.S. forces in Japan anchor peace and stability in the region, Hagel said. Their families serve a vital role as well, he added.
“Tell your families that we appreciate what they’re doing,” the secretary said. “These are challenging times – you all understand that better than almost anyone … out here where it matters most.”
In the future, today’s troops will look back on this era and realize they helped shape history in a defining time, Hagel said.
“You represent the best America has, and I know, at times, you wonder if anybody’s paying attention,” said the secretary, who served his own two years in the military fighting in Vietnam. “We are paying attention.”
Hagel told the troops that from their position, a global bus stop or two from China, North Korea and Russia, Washington must display that “we are having some difficulty governing ourselves.”
That is part of the business of democracy, he said.
“You know that the president is totally committed to you,” the secretary said. “As you know, he signed a bill into law that exempts our military from the shutdown.”
America wants and needs its service members “to stay on the job,” he said. “And you’re going to be paid for it – I know that’s not an insignificant factor.”
Again reiterating a theme consistent during his engagements this week, the secretary told the sailors, “We will get through this in Washington.”
“It’s difficult, it’s messy, and you all are aware of that,” Hagel said. “But our country is too good, too strong – our people are too good, and too strong. We’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it.”
The secretary took a few questions from troops, during which he explained that he is working to ensure their overseas support systems, including schools, will remain available to them as the government shutdown winds on.
The situation is complicated, Hagel said, and right now the lawyers are digging to learn how much of the civilian component of the Defense Department could possibly be called back to work.
To one question - “With the government shutdown, will there be any effect on 7th Fleet operations?” – the secretary gave a simple, but effective answer.
“No,” he said.