Hagel Thanks Troops, Families in Alaska
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 On the first stop of a 12-day, around the world trip, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday took time to visit troops at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, thanking them and their families for their service and sacrifice.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits service members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 28, 2014. DOD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
He also brought them greetings from their commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama.
“I was with him before he went up to West Point to give the commencement address,” Hagel told the troops, “and he, too, wanted me to convey his best personal regards and his thanks for what you do up here every day for our security, for our country and for our future. On behalf of the president of the United States, thank you.”
Before taking questions from the service members, the secretary addressed issues that he said are important to the nation and its citizens.
First, he said, the way active-duty service members work with the National Guard and reserves at Elmendorf-Richardson is a model for how such engagement is supposed to work.
“You take that for granted, I suspect, but it’s very important,” Hagel said. “And it is part of not only the integration, the pattern and the structure of our defense operations and our enterprise, but it is also laying a … foundation for the future of our force structure.”
Turning to Obama’s remarks at West Point, the secretary acknowledged that many in the audience had served in Afghanistan, some more than once, and some had served in Iraq.
The nation is particularly grateful for that service, he said, and at West Point President Obama thanked U.S. forces for their service in those wars.
“What the president talked about at West Point was not just our post-2014 role in Afghanistan,” Hagel added, “ … but he framed [it] in a larger context -- what is America's role today in the world?”
Hagel noted that the president also praised the “exceptionalism” of the nation’s people.
“He said it in an important way. He wasn't boastful about it. There are great people all over the world and we respect all cultures, all countries,” Hagel said. “But our country is unique and I think you are all clear testaments to that exceptionalism.”
Obama emphasized that, as the nation works through big challenges over the next few years, building partners' capacity and capability and integrating alliances and relationships is important, the secretary said.
The challenges facing the world today are so complex, the president said, that the nation can’t focus only on fighting terrorist networks, which are not isolated to one country or one city but are connected.
“It's going to take the integration of all our efforts, our policies, our focus, all of our instruments of power, and our partners,” Hagel said.
In his remarks the president began with people, the secretary told the troops.
“Regardless of the sophistication of our weapons, our systems, the uniqueness of any component we have, our Constitution or our laws, if you don't have quality, capable people, people committed to great things and to their country for the right reasons, it won't matter,” Hagel added.
The president also spoke about the transition out of Afghanistan and the greater historical transition taking place worldwide.
“We are defining a new world order. You are doing that up here,” Hagel said. “A good example of that is the Arctic, its strategies and focus and our interests.”
The Arctic is opening, he added, making possible new opportunities for many countries and people and presenting new challenges and dangers for the world.
“That’s but one example of how you fit so importantly into this new framework of America's role in the world, where you are, what you do every day. You are defining much of our strategic operational focus with what you do every day. You probably don't think a lot about that every day because you've got real-life challenges and jobs to do, but you're doing that,” Hagel told the troops.
Hagel said the president discussed such things at West Point. The secretary then told the troops in Alaska that it’s “particularly important for you and your families to get a bigger sense of why you make these big sacrifices.”
It all works together, the secretary added, “just like what I noted on how our National Guard, our reserves, and our active-duty here connect, how you integrate, how you make this work together seamlessly in the interests of our country.”
Hagel reassured the service members that the department would continue to support its people and their families as it navigates its own transition period after more than a decade of war.
“But I want you to know that we are committed to our people first,” he said. “We'll get through this. We've got budget challenges … but we're always going to need … active, agile, ready, modern armies, navies, Air Force, our reserves, our National Guard.”
He told them, “We are shifting, we are changing, we are transitioning. But … we'll work through this and we'll work through this together.”
Hagel described the rest of his trip –- to Singapore for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, to Afghanistan, to Brussels for a NATO defense ministerial, to Romania, to Paris, and then on to Normandy to commemorate with President Obama the allied victory of World War II and the astounding sacrifice and courage manifested on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 -- 70 years ago.
Afterward, Hagel took questions from troops who asked about the future of the infantry as warfare becomes more technologically advanced, the effect on retention boards of service members voluntarily separating from the services, how the department could ensure service members with PTSD that they would be taken care of medically after serving their country, and if there are plans to overhaul the defense acquisition system.
Before asking the troops to line up so he could shake their hands and give them challenge coins from his office, Hagel said, “This was a good opportunity for me to get up here to say hello to you, to thank you. I know sometimes maybe you wonder if anybody's paying attention, but we are. We know how valuable you all are.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)