U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stopped by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Wednesday at the outset of a 12-day tour abroad. Hagel talked with army and air force personnel about the changes ahead as the U.S. transitions out of 13 years of war.
Hagel brought tidings from the military’s commander in chief, President Obama, and the message that times are changing.
“What is the role of America in today’s world?” Hagel asked. “With the kind of challenges we face — it’s complicated, more complicated than we’ve ever seen.
“We’ve got budget challenges. But this is not unusual in our history. When you come out of wars, you do transition, and you do restructure, and reposition, and reposture.”
As the U.S. removes itself from Afghanistan other parts of the world are emerging as priorities — including the Arctic, Hagel said.
“The Arctic is opening. It will continue to open. That is going to make possible many new opportunities for many countries and many people. It’s going to present also new challenges. And new dangers,” Hagel said.
After Hagel’s speech, those in attendance were invited to tell the defense secretary what was on their minds.
A staff sergeant asked Hagel about care for veterans transitioning to civilian life.
“In recent events we lost a veteran paratrooper from the 501st (Infantry Regiment) family. He suffered from PTSD and he tried to seek help at the VA hospital. My question is what the DOD and the Dept. Vet. Affairs is going to do to mitigate cases like his and others — and what is going to happen to be able to ensure that service members that transition out of the military to make sure that if they’re suffering from PTSD that they’ll be taken care of after serving their country.”
“Preparing that active duty member for the next phase of his or her life is a big responsibility we have. We focus on that. It’s not perfect. We can do better. We will do better,” Hagel replied.
Airman first class Samantha Place said Hagel’s speech helped reassure her that the military is hardly redundant even as the country transitions out of war.
“When Secretary of Defense talked about reduction of force I kind of perked up a bit because I want to make this a career. It’s kind of frightening. But it’s comforting to know that the White House is here. They do care about us. And they are here for us. Just like we’re here for them.”
Hagel is headed onward to Singapore, Afghanistan and several destinations in Europe.