Defense Secretary Hagel, the First ‘Enlisted Secretary,’ Doing Just Fine in Afghanistan (Updated)

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, flies over Kabul, Afghanistan with his Senior Military Advisor, Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, March 10, 2013. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

UPDATE:

After a dinner meeting with President Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Secretary of Defense Hagel offered his view of the meeting and reflected on his two days of visits and meetings in the war zone.

He called his meeting with Karzai — whom he has known for “many years” and with whom Hagel has “always had a good relationship” — a “good exchange,” and one that featured “clear, direct conversation.”

He thanked and commended Ambassador Cunningham, General Dunford and their teams and especially all Americans in war zones: “What they have to deal with everyday and the sacrifices they make is pretty remarkable, that quality of individual, and Americans are very, very fortunate to have that in our career, foreign service and military.”

Read Secretary Hagel’s full remarks and also questions and answers on comments made by President Karzai that the “Taliban suicide attacks on Saturday were aimed at intimidation that would prolong the presence of international troops in Afghanistan,” here.

Or, as Joan Soley at BBC News in Kabul says:

What do you say over dinner to a man who accused your government of nefarious dealings with the Taliban on live television earlier that day?

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Original Post:

The man who some said would not be able to stand up to the generals because he was “just a sergeant” — just a “grunt” — during the Vietnam War is now being saluted by those generals in Afghanistan and has met with that country’s Defense Minister, other Ministers and is doing quite well, thank you very much.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, U.S. Army Col. Joseph McGee and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Eppler in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 10, 2013.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also met today with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in Kabul (below). (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Of course, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also met, talked and laughed with the troops. Below: Hagel with American troops during his visit to the Kabul Military Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 10, 2013.

The man whose combat experience in Vietnam was declared non-relevant by some – dismissed and pooh-poohed by others — was in a meeting in the war zone when a deadly explosion occurred nearby.

Later in the day, when questioned about the explosion and after expressing his sympathy to the families of the victims, Secretary of Defense Hagel remarked, “I was in a briefing – but we’re in a war zone. I’ve been in a war. So you shouldn’t be surprised when a bomb goes off.”

The Vietnam War veteran also said that such “spectacular” attacks make no difference to U.S. or ISAF strategy in Afghanistan.

The former “grunt” who served honorably and heroically in combat in Vietnam and who was awarded two Purple Hearts, traveled to Jalalabad and visited Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty. There, the Defense Secretary pinned Purple Hearts on two soldiers who had suffered traumatic brain injuries during a predawn attack on Dec. 2 on their FOB.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presenting Purple Hearts to Sgt. Jeremyah Williams (right) and Pfc. Harry Hikes IV (left). Each suffered a traumatic brain injury during a Dec. 2 predawn attack on the base

While in Jalalabad, the Soldier Secretary — whose military service some said “could be a handicap” — met, shook hands, embraced and laughed with the troops, as he had done elsewhere.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel embraces and laughs with a U.S. soldier in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013. The soldier is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team.

Hagel told the troops of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division’s “Bastogne” 1st Brigade Combat Team :

It is true, I was in the United States Army in 1968 in Vietnam. I was with the 9th Infantry Division. I wasn’t smart enough to be in 101st, but worked with 101st on two different occasions and have many friends who served with the Screaming Eagles for many years, some even led this much decorated and distinguished division and I always have appreciated this service that this division has given to our country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to U.S. troops in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013. The troops are assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team.

But Hagel also thanked each one of them for their service and for what they are doing for “our country and for the people of Afghanistan” and told them how honored he is to serve as secretary of defense:

It, of course, is a personal privilege but more than that, it is an opportunity to serve with America’s finest men and women who render as selfless service as I know. And to be part of your team is indeed a great privilege and I want you to know how proud I am to be part of your team and working with you.

And I want you to also know that I will always do my best for you, for your families, our country. I will always put our men and women in uniform first and do everything I can to ensure your safety or success and everything that you’re entitled to.

This is called “empathy with the troops,” a quality enhanced by having been one of the troopsnot a negative attribute . It is also called “leadership.”

On his first trip as the 24th defense secretary to visit U.S. troops, NATO leaders and Afghan counterparts, the new Secretary of Defense, a former “grunt,” is doing just fine.

All photos and captions: DOD

  

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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