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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Troop Event with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea

Press Conference

Location: Unknown

MODERATOR: Hey, on behalf of the 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, and 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, I'd like to welcome the honorable Mr. Chuck Hagel to speak here with us. Sir?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Sergeant major, thank you. I asked Sergeant Major Bradshaw to introduce me. I thought it was only appropriate that a sergeant major introduce an old sergeant. It never happened to me before, so I appreciated as always sergeant major's direct comments. Here he is. Listen, damn it. He asked me coming up here how he should introduce me, what he should say, and I said I've never, ever told a sergeant major what to say. And I'm not going to start now.

So I appreciate the sergeant major's leadership and what he means to this organization and what he's done for our country. I want to also thank General Vandal, General Champoux, for their leadership. Thank you. Also, for the demonstration that I just saw, which was impressive, and I appreciated very much being able to take part in that and see what you're doing.

To all of you, thank you. Thank you for what you're doing. To our friends and partners from the Republic of Korea, thank you for your partnership, your friendship. We count on you. We are committed to this relationship. We'll continue to be partners for many, many, many years.

I'm here to, first, celebrate and acknowledge the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Korea mutual defense treaty, to also help preside over, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, the ceremonies which will acknowledge the outgoing commander of troops here in South Korea, General J.D. Thurman, who you all know, and welcome and help get underway the new commanding general, General Scaparrotti.

I'm also here to spend some time with the South Korean defense minister and the leaders of South Korea in talking about what we do next, how we go forward with this relationship.

Also, I am well aware of the Armed Forces Day and how important that is to your country. The South Korean soldiers are particularly important in this celebration. And we want to help celebrate this special day. It's a day that also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge this partnership, this special partnership.

Thank you, also, for allowing me to wear the 2nd ID jacket. I know I'm not worthy, but nonetheless, I am the secretary of defense, so you don't have any damn choice. And -- (Laughter.) So, thank you. I shall wear it proudly, and I'll wear it more than just here to show off the 2nd ID. I'll wear it in other locations, as well.

You have a big responsibility, and you know that. You all recognize, realize that you are the only forward-deployed division we have in the United States Army in the world. You are part of a force that has probably done as much to maintain security and stability in this region of the world as any one thing over the last 60 years. That's a big responsibility.

That responsibility doesn't cease. It doesn't ease. And it is one of constant vigilance. And I know that's a big burden. But I suspect that each of you wouldn't want it any other way or you wouldn't be here.

So I want to acknowledge, we in Washington, starting with the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the Congress of the United States, the people of the United States, recognize what you do. I know sometimes you're out here alone and wonder if anybody's paying attention and really does understand or appreciate what you do, we do. And thank you.

We appreciate, too, as I noted, our partnership with our friends in the Republic of Korea. My first experience with the Army of the Republic of Korea was when I served in Vietnam in 1968, and I was assigned to work with the Republic of Korea [ROK] Rangers for one month after the Tet Offensive. And I found the ROK to be as smart, as fearless, as courageous, as adaptive soldiers as I've ever -- ever served with, and I really mean that. And I have -- I've never seen anything since to change my opinion.

So the United States is fortunate to have partners like we have in the South Korean army. And we acknowledge that, and we appreciate that.

Now, let me just -- we've got some time. And I wanted to also, as I try to do every time I'm out around the world and in the United States, always spend some time with our troops and have an opportunity to thank them, but also maybe we could take a couple of questions to see what's on your mind, okay?

Q: Sir, with your prior service in the military, I was wondering, how did it help you to gain your position today?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I can assure you, when I was a young infantry squad leader in Vietnam in 1968, I was not thinking of such lofty positions as secretary of defense. That was about as far from my thoughts and ambitions as any one thing.

But I would say this, in answer to your question. What you are learning, what you are doing is going to be invaluable to you, regardless of what you ever do in your life. If you stay in the service, which most of you will -- maybe all of you will -- it will continue to guide you in a purposeful way that few professions have. And I suspect if -- if you define our lives, each of our lives down to the end state, can we each honestly say that we had a purpose in our lives and you had a job with some purpose, so at least it was purposeful to you? That probably did as much for me, even though I was only in the Army for two years, as any one thing.

It certainly gave me exposure to the realities of war, the suffering of war, the sacrifices made in war, not just by our soldiers, the men and women who have to fight it, but their families. And I don't think without that -- that experience I had in the Army and in Vietnam in particular I would have the same kind of appreciation as secretary of defense for some of these sacrifices.

It doesn't mean you have to serve in service or in combat to be a good secretary of defense or anything else. It doesn't mean that at all. But it's helped me. It's given me things that I would have never understood I would have in my life. And the older you get, the more you reflect on that, and the more you appreciate that. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir.

Q: (Inaudible), Blackfoot Troop, 4-7 Cav. My question to you is, sir, with the current financial crisis, how do you think it's going to keep programs -- military programs like (inaudible) assistance in the next future?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, it's an important question, sergeant. And it's one that I take very seriously. I have been involved all my life in helping veterans and helping families of veterans and helping families of veterans in many, many jobs I've had and pursuits outside of my professional career.

I, in fact, helped write the new G.I. Bill, which passed in 2008. Jim Webb, the former combat -- Marine combat veteran in Vietnam, former secretary of the Navy, was the leader, and I was the lead co-sponsor with him in the Senate and helped him write it.

So I put a very high priority on maintaining these educational benefits for our troops and their families. And as you know, one of the changes that we made -- and it was intentional -- was to expand the benefits to families, which had never been done before. And we thought that was important for many reasons.

I will do everything I can as secretary of defense within my power, within the limits of our budget, if we ever get a budget, that we will be funded to maintain and preserve those educational benefits. And as I said, I put that up right on the top as high priority.

Just an aside on this, when I became secretary of defense, one of the first things I did the first week is I established a monthly luncheon with the lower enlisted representatives from each service. And they come in and have lunch with me once a month. The enlisted leaders of each service, they select one individual, individuals not now serving in the Pentagon, but serving in different commands outside of the Pentagon in Washington.

And we spend an hour together having lunch, just me and those enlisted men and women from each of the services and no one else in the room. And we go around the room, and I ask them questions. They ask me questions. We have a very honest exchange, and I've told them that's the only way I can help you. I need to know what's on your minds and what you think.

And one of the questions I almost always ask each is, why did you join the service? What was it that motivated you? And why do you -- if you do -- intend to stay in the service? It's not an easy life. And almost always part of the answer from each one of them, regardless of the services, is to enhance their own personal lives through educational benefits, through training, and recognizing -- and they say it in different ways -- that you can't be a good professional unless your personal life is in order. You can fake it for a long time, but it won't work.

And I'm always impressed with those answers. And I'd just add that to your question, because it does fold into the priorities, and I'm -- I'm even more recommitted to that every month when I meet with these junior enlisted and they tell me that's one of the reasons they came into the service, their colleagues come into the service and stay in the service. And that's a huge investment for America all the way around, a smart, wise investment for America.

Thank you.

Q: Yes, sir, thank you.


Q: Sir, Staff Sergeant (inaudible) from 4-7 Cav. My question would be, with the current U.S. drawdown, what would be the final number?

SEC. HAGEL: Now, you sound like a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] reporter. (Laughter.) All these reporters up here are interested in that question.

I don't know. And the reason I don't know is because the president has not made a decision because we still have not signed and agreed to a bilateral security agreement with the Afghanistan government. And everybody understands that bilateral security agreement would be then the framework that would allow us and our ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partners to go forward and make the decisions that would be required in our involvement and our ISAF partners' involvement post-2014 in Afghanistan.

The president has been very clear on that. I think the Congress has been quite clear on it. I've been quite clear on it. And so we're working with President Karzai and his government daily to get that bilateral security agreement completed and signed, and once we do that, then we can -- we can go forward and will go forward -- and the president then will have an ability to make some decisions.

That's critically important for the reasons that you all know, for example, jurisdiction of our troops that would stay there after December of 2014, jurisdiction of authorities of law. We had that in every relationship with every country we've ever kept our troops. Expectations and agreements and -- a lot of -- a lot of important pieces to the relationship that comes after December 2014, as well will then have withdrawn all of our combat capabilities from Afghanistan.

So we'll continue to work on that agreement. I hope we'll have that agreement by the end of October, because we just can't move without it. And no president could and would ever authorize any -- any American troops anywhere unless we had a very clear agreement, nor would the Congress allow it. Thank you.


Q: Sir, I will be your last question. First Sergeant -- (inaudible) -- 4-7 Cav. We are very well aware of what's happening in the States right now. The question on everyone's mind -- and mine especially -- is, who is your college football team?

SEC. HAGEL: (Laughter.) Well, I can see why you're a first sergeant. (Laughter.) Well, born and raised in Nebraska, I don't have any choice. And I'm sorry if that offends you. But where are you from?

Q: I'm from Ohio, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Ah. Ohio State?

Q: Roger.

SEC. HAGEL: Where's Lippert? Mark Lippert, my chief of staff, who is the assistant secretary for Asia and the Pacific, is back there hiding somewhere. He probably put you up to this. He's an Ohio State man through and through.

I -- I acknowledge you have a fairly decent team, yeah, this year. Fortunately for you, you don't have to play us this year.

Q: Roger, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: I think it's the other way around, actually, but -- I think we -- the Huskers are in another building here. But I'm a strong Nebraska Cornhusker fan. Thanks again. Thank you.

All right. Just the way you planned it, sergeant major. Thank you.

Guys, thank you very much. And please tell your families how much appreciate their work. How many of you are married and have your spouses here and have families here? Raise your hand. Those married and have spouses? Okay. And it's working well for your families and families are doing well? They like it here? Okay.

All right, so I guess the next thing is, we're going to get -- we're going to get a picture?

MODERATOR: Yes (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Okay. And we'll take a picture, and you don't have to get your picture taken with me -- (inaudible) -- but, again, thank you very much. Thanks for giving me some time this morning. Take care of yourselves. We're proud of you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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