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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel En Route Guatemala

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
April 25, 2014

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Okay, go ahead.

Q: (off mic) just wanted to ask you about what you thought the significance of the project that was being done out there in that village for the Army and for the U.S.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you all heard me say before that some of the most significant opportunities the United States has to reach out to people and affect their lives in very positive ways is through our military. And I think what we saw today was a good demonstration of that, really changing people's lives, helping these people through these clinics.

And you saw some of what they do and how they impact people's lives, building a school. They're teaching these people in these countries who have very little, have not had much attention over the years, to be able to bring a sophistication of our assets and technology to these countries and help them in very meaningful ways, not in theory or not in policy, not speeches, but really affect their lives.

I mean, when can do something about their teeth and health and help educate their kids, that's lasting. That's a long, long time. And those young people will never forget it. That influences generations of people in their attitudes toward America, what we believe. I know that's not the military's most prescribed role, but the history of American military has always been that we've reached out whether it was World War II or World War I, you can go back a long way and it have an effect on people.

So, again, today what we saw was a clear demonstration of ways that that's happening. And, by the way, it isn't just Guatemala. We're doing this in different countries.

Q: (off mic) strategic interests overall, as well?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it boosts our strategic interests, first, by helping develop relationships that are positive about who we are and about what we believe and about our cooperative approach to these big issues. Yes, we have interests, and we're not bashful about expressing those. All nations do have interests. And they will always respond as we do, in our own self-interest.

But it's not exclusive from other nations. And the more we can build platforms of cooperation and understanding, it helps us in our strategic interests around the world, whether that's through commerce and trade and through this humanitarian assistance that we talked about, as you know, in Hawaii. And particularly in this hemisphere, it's important we're close, because of the proximity and they are our neighbors, and that gives us some logistical reach that , iin most countries, most areas of the world it's more difficult. We should take advantage of those.

So short term, long term, it is in our interests. But I think, too, we do it because it's the right thing to do. And, you know, we make mistakes, we overplay our hand, and we get ourselves in trouble. But overall, I think our record, when you stack it up with the other sovereign nations of the world, is pretty good about trying to do the right thing most of the time.

Q: (off mic) like narcotrafficking and the other problems that we have in these areas, does this help influence?

SEC. HAGEL: Yes, it does, because, first, it impacts directly on our ability to deal with that inflow of illicit drugs and international cartels of crime. But it also is part of the capacity-building that I talk a lot about. It's helping them build their own capacity.

What you saw on the runway today, for example, the ministers taking me through examples of all their assets and what they've done, the United States has been the principal sponsor and the principal training institution and all that, as well as assisting them through our different FMF programs and other programs where we cooperate. So it's clearly in our best interests.

And as we work toward cooperating where we could cooperate, because it's in both our interests, and we can continue to help them build their own capacity, as building the goodwill of the people in these areas, that's a huge positive for us as we deal with these big issues that impact us and impact our entire hemisphere.

Q: Did you ask about the accident, and, you know, how it happened, and whether they're taking some precautions now?

SEC. HAGEL: I did ask about it. We had a long conversation, the colonel and I did, the commanding officer in the car, and you know the background on what happened and so on.

Q: (off mic) branch fell on them, but how or --

SEC. HAGEL: Yeah, well, my understanding was they were bringing different supplies in and there was reverberation of a helicopter. They're investigating right now. I mean, so we don't know. As you noticed, it was cordoned off. And they're leading everything as it was and until they can go in and find out exactly what happened, and we won't know.

But, you know, you're dealing in pretty rough terrain and old trees, and so you try to minimize those accidents in every way you can. But these things happen. But that doesn't mean that we're not going to know. First of all, we need to clearly, understand through this investigation what did happen. Was it preventable? Could have we done it differently? How should we have done it differently? So all the questions that we'll ask.

But I expressed our condolences and the president's condolences, as the president of Guatemala did to the families and the people and all those involved. As you know, our military attaché was one of the people injured, a colonel, Army colonel. And I don't know if you saw it, but he was a colonel with a big bandage on his head. Also, one of the young people there had a broken ankle, I think. He was still out there. He didn't want to go home.

Q: (off mic) small group like that, have something like that happen (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it's always, especially when you're not expecting it, when something like that happens, and it is, but these are professionals. They go on with their mission. Everybody's stunned by it and saddened by it, but they keep going, and that's why we have the best people in the business and in our military. They keep going.

Q: (off mic) about your meeting with the president?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it was a very good meeting. I mean, there were a number of meetings, because we flew out in a helicopter together, so we spent a lot of time, we had an interpreter in there, and he understands English very well, in fact, speaks it pretty well, as you may have noted.

And we were able to actually spend a lot of time in the helicopter back and forth talking, walking, and we addressed all the big issues. We talked about cooperation. You know, their system, I think most of, if not all the Latin American countries have just one term for their presidents. And so it's interesting, their approach to governance, because they only have one shot. They aren't coming back, unless, you know, they take a break, and then there's someone like Ortega (off mic), but their approach to solving problems. This guy's very impressive. He has a reputation for really reaching out to the people.

And he, and I asked him, how many times do you get outside of Guatemala City? Now, he said, every Friday and Saturday, he goes somewhere in the country. And that's just part of his deal. But he's impressive. He's really upped the game on human rights down there. The effort that you heard a little bit about, saw some of it on the tarmac on dealing with some of these big issues is incorporated into the reality of you've got to respect human rights.

You know, that country had a lot of trouble. And through some very courageous, visionary leadership, they have really pulled themselves up. Now, there are still issues. But they're on the right path. They're going to be okay, if they just keep finding the leaders that they've been able to find. And their ministers are impressive and good.

And so I really did appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with him. And I'll give the president my observations when I see him next week, President Obama.

STAFF: Thanks, guys.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF Thank you very much.
 

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