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Hagel to Visit Submarine, Aviation Bases in South

By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will depart tomorrow for a two-day trip to military bases in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

The trip is intended to ensure that the Defense Department stays focused on the long-term concerns affecting U.S. interests and allies in Asia, Europe and around the world, he said.

“Throughout this trip, the secretary will highlight and see firsthand some of the core capabilities that he prioritized in our budget submission earlier this year to ensure that our force is ready, agile, modern and effective to confront the full range of challenges that we'll face in the future,” Kirby said.

Hagel’s first stop will be at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in southeastern Georgia. The base is home to some of the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic and guided-missile submarines.

“The secretary has made a longstanding personal commitment to the health of our nuclear force and has made it one of his highest priorities to ensure that the United States maintains a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrence force,” the admiral said.

The visit is part of Hagel’s ongoing review of the nuclear enterprise, which included visits to several intercontinental ballistic missile sites earlier this year, Kirby said. At Kings Bay, Hagel will tour the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee and visit a Trident submarine refit facility, and he’ll also speak with submariners, the admiral added.

July 10, the secretary will travel to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which is home to the Air Force’s first full squadron of F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft and is where the next generation of Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-35 pilots and maintainers are being trained.

“The secretary's visit, particularly at this time, sends a strong message to our international partners that the United States remains fully committed to the F-35 program,” the admiral said. The F-35 fleet was grounded July 3 following a fire that occurred in an aircraft still on the runway at Eglin. The incident remains under investigation.

Hagel is confident that the investigation will help the F-35 return to flight, Kirby said, adding that the secretary is looking forward to hearing more firsthand from the personnel at Eglin.

Hagel’s final stop is at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the home of Army aviation. The visit is a chance to highlight the Army’s aviation restructure initiative, the admiral said, and to thank Army aviators for their hard work over 13 years of demanding operations that include airlift, close air support and casualty evacuation.

July 11, the secretary will welcome Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to the Pentagon, Kirby said.

The secretary met most recently with Onodera at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Among the issues the two defense leaders are expected to discuss are Japan's recent announcement on collective self-defense, the current process of reviewing and revising Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, and ongoing efforts to strengthen the joint alliance -- including trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Australia -- as the region confronts an evolving range of security challenges, including threats from North Korea, Kirby said.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)

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