Saturday, December 22, 2012

Let's ALL Get Behind Former Army Sergeant and Two Time Purple Heart Recipient Chuck Hagel to Be the Next Secretary of Defense!

Those questioning Former Army Sergeant Chuck Hagel’s credentials to serve as Secretary of Defense should ponder Shakespeare’s famous St. Crispin's Day Speech delivered by Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt to see if there might be a subconscious reason for their bias.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us
upon Saint Crispin's Day.

Question:  What do Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard), Texas Senator John Cornyn, Bret Stevens (Wall Street Journal), Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Abe Foxman (Director, Anti-Defamation League) all have in common other than trashing former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel in an effort to derail his potential nomination as Secretary of Defense?

Answer: unlike Chuck Hagel, none of them have ever donned a uniform let alone shed a drop of blood or even a bead of sweat, in defense of this nation!

Sergeant Hagel was leading troops in combat as a 9th Infantry Division Infantry Squad Leader in Vietnam (67-68) and earning the Combat Infantryman Badge, two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry among other decorations, before many of his critics were even born although some like Foxman, Kristol and several others were certainly of an age where they were eligible to serve with Sergeant Hagel if they had had the guts.

There are still enough metal shards from a Viet Cong mine embedded in Hagel’s chest that he sets off metal detectors in airports and the scars on the left side of his face from another mine explosion a month later can scare young children.  His younger brother Tom was assigned to his squad and the first time Chuck was struck by shrapnel it was his brother Tom that stopped the bleeding and saved his life. During that second mine attack a month later, the roles were reversed and Chuck rescued Tom who was knocked unconscious in the explosion. Seems heroism runs in his family and his father was even a WWII Vet.  Once confirmed, Chuck Hagel will be the first Secretary of Defense with a Purple Heart since Elliot L. Richardson during the Nixon administration.

“Stopping a war is a hell of a lot harder than starting it, and Chuck understands that,” said Bob Kerrey, another former Nebraska senator and Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient. “Sometimes it provokes cries from the right that he’s soft. But it’s just that he’s experienced it, and it animates him.”  Hagel once told a Library of Congress Veterans History Project interviewer in 2002: “thinking to myself, you know, if I ever get out of all of this, I am going to do everything I can to assure that war is the last resort that we, a nation, a people, calls upon to settle a dispute. The horror of it, the pain of it, the suffering of it. People just don’t understand it unless they’ve been through it.”

An independent thinker, Hagel was often uncomfortable at Republican caucus meetings especially when Vice President Dick Cheney attended, as Cheney would give “him the hairy eyeball” but hostility from the White House or party leadership never muted Hagel as his Vietnam experience gave him the boldness to speak independently.  It’s hard to intimidate a combat veteran by threatening to withdraw a committee assignment.  About the only way a Draft Dodger like Cheney could have hurt Hagel was to give him a paper cut while handing him the meeting agenda!

Another example of Hagel’s independence is President Reagan appointed him deputy Veterans Administration administrator in 1982, but he resigned over a disagreement with his boss, VA Administrator Robert P. Nimmo.  He opposed Nimmo cutting the funding for VA programs and his referring to veterans groups as "greedy," and to Agent Orange as not much worse than a "little teenage acne."

Among his defenders and supporters, most of whom are also former military and often combat vets, is IN Senator (and former Navy Lieutenant) Richard G. Lugar, a foreign policy mentor to Hagel who is leaving the Senate.  Lugar calls Hagel “an excellent candidate” and predicts “most senators who served with Chuck would be favorable to his nomination.”

Two top former Republican defense officials also support Hagel.  Former Bush 43 Deputy Secretary of State (and 3 tour Vietnam Vet and former Navy Lieutenant Commander) Richard Armitage, says of Hegal “I happen to know the guy. He’s not owned by anybody, he happens to think for himself, and this apparently causes some fear in some cases. He’s got an unerring bullshit sensor, he’s got real stones, and he doesn’t mind telling you what his opinion is, which will stand him in very good stead in the Pentagon if the president nominates him.”

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, a former Ford and Bush 41 National Security Adviser calls Hagel “one of the most well-respected and thoughtful voices on both foreign and domestic policy. At an uncertain time in America – with a significant debt burden, a polarized Congress, and a host of challenges facing the international community, I am confident Senator Hagel will provide a vibrant, no-nonsense voice of logic and leadership to the United States.”

Even Washington Post liberal columnist Dana Milbank defended Hagel in his 18 December column calling Hagel’s pro-Israel legislative record one which reflects “an infantry sergeant who isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan… indicative of a decorated military man who, unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.”

Nobody can ever predict how well a Defense Secretary nominee will perform, case in point Les Aspin, or if Hagel will be a good manager during this pivotal time in Pentagon history. With the US Afghanistan combat role ending and budgets shrinking, refereeing the infighting among the services for resources is going to require all the finesse of an NFL Official.  Hagel brings some obvious strengths to the job.  As a Republican and genuine military hero, he provides the “street cred” for executing the Afghanistan withdrawal that only a combat veteran can bring and the withdrawal will succeed only if our military leaves an Afghanistan that can hold together.

Hagel’s military record is surely one big plus.  Rhode Island Senator (and former Army Major) Jack Reed says of Hagel “He’s a guy who knows how to talk to the troops and has walked in their boots. He’s blunt, direct and impatient with pettifogging. In these traits, he’s similar to the current secretary, Leon Panetta, and his predecessor, Bob Gates. And like both of them, Hagel has a temper.”

Hagel will handle the tough, no-nonsense-boss part of the job with no problem but he’s more blunt than nuanced and nobody ever called him a defense intellectual so it remains to be seen how he is at steering Pentagon procurement decisions in this age of technology and officiating as the Joint Chiefs mud wrestle over budgets.  Fortunately, to help him Hagel will have as the Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter who has a wealth of experience at Defense including having served as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD AT&L), the official responsible for procurement decisions.  Hagel will have no problem saying NO to the Chiefs and their logrolling allies on Capitol Hill and with Carter as his Deputy and chief operating officer to help, I’m confident he’ll skillfully manage the complex spending and strategy decisions.

The most formidable obstacle to his getting the job, that I’m comfortable he’ll successfully negotiate, is the array of neoconservative journalists who are ganging up against him and trying to smear him as an anti-Semite despite his votes for the Iran Nonproliferation Act, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. He even co-sponsored resolutions opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and praising Israel’s efforts “in the face of terrorism, hostility and belligerence by many of her neighbors.” He also co-sponsored legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”

The Right-wing neocon columnist arrayed against him include the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and they all have that one thing in common I previously mentioned, unlike Chuck Hagel, none of these chicken hawks have ever donned a uniform let alone shed any blood or even sweat, in defense of this nation! 

As an old infantry sergeant with two Purple Hearts, Hagel isn’t afraid or opposed to war (he voted for the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts) but he also knows the horrors of it so would only resort to war as the last and unavoidable option, unlike his Chicken Hawk neocon critics who “hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day.”


  1. Dear Sir,
    It is a shame that no one has posted a response to your excellent article backing Chuck Hagel for Sec Dev. I would also like to throw fellow former Marine Jim Webb in the mix. Both these men, like Bob Kerrey whom you mention in your post, are cut from the same cloth, and are both Vietnam Combat Vets. Like Chuck Hagel, Jim Webb resigned as Navy Secretary under Pres. Reagan to protest cuts to the Navy. We need men (or women) of both physical and moral courage as SecDev. I also believe neither Chuck Hagel or Jim Webb would be BSd by either military brass or the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, or the sycophants on capitol hill. Your comments re Cheney had me in stitches. If I had been of age during the Vietnam War, I would have volunteered to serve there (even though I probably would have opposed the war privately), because I could not bear the thought of getting a draft deferral and someone else going in my place. My maternal grandfather, John V. Gallardo, US Army CIB, Purpleheart, KIA 43rd "Winged Victory Division" ID, Mar 14th, 1945, Luzon, PI, tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor, was rejected because he was married, got drafted at age 26,w/ 2 kids in '44 (after we had run out of single young men under 26 to draft), was a major influence on my volunteering for the Marines as an 18 year old, while a first semester freshman in college for OCS. Like my father before me, (enlisted USN 54-59), I knew i would serve in the military from an early age.
    Semer Fidelis,
    Former Captain, USMC, Lance Gallardo

  2. Sorry, "SecDef." Also my military service in the Marine Corps was also greatly influenced by reading Jim Webbs, Vietnam Classic, "Fields of Fire." I also want to share an anedote about Bob Kerrey whom I had the privilege to meet and (work on his campaign for Senate in Nebraska in 1988. Sen Kerrey had his SEAL Buddies (most of whom were republicans), running around the state in a Van we called Seals on/in Wheels? telling personal stories about Bob Kerrey. I met one of these heroes and heard I fascinating story - during BUDS training during the height of the Vietnam War, two of Bob's classmates/shipmates died during training (drowned) and the Navy Seal instructor's wanted to push on with training without giving these men a memorial service. Bob Kerrey stood up and denounced this, and said these men were my shipmates, and we should not continue to train without a brief service to honor their memory. His remaining classmates thought he would get "bilged" out of the Navy Seals training for speaking out against his instructors. They responded to his moral courage, and admitted he was right, had the service, and Bob Kerrey graduated from BUDs, and went on to do great things in his AO in Vietnam. I still get goosebumps when I read his MOH citation. The VC in his AO (those still alive) came to fear him and his team of "green faces" and it was no accident that he became the Navy Officer and SEAL that went on to win the MOH. He "marked" himself at BUDS training for his moral courage and selflessness that would later take him up a cliff to assault the enemy and be the last man evacuated after their successful destruction of the VC encampment:
    "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a SEAL team leader during action against enemy aggressor (Viet Cong) forces. Acting in response to reliable intelligence, Lt. (j.g.) Kerrey led his SEAL team on a mission to capture important members of the enemy's area political cadre known to be located on an island in the bay of Nha Trang. In order to surprise the enemy, he and his team scaled a 350-foot sheer cliff to place themselves above the ledge on which the enemy was located. Splitting his team in 2 elements and coordinating both, Lt. (jg.) Kerrey led his men in the treacherous downward descent to the enemy's camp. Just as they neared the end of their descent, intense enemy fire was directed at them, and Lt. (jg.) Kerrey received massive injuries from a grenade that exploded at his feet and threw him backward onto the jagged rocks. Although bleeding profusely and suffering great pain, he displayed outstanding courage and presence of mind in immediately directing his element's fire into the heart of the enemy camp. Utilizing his radio, Lt. (jg.) Kerrey called in the second element's fire support, which caught the confused Viet Cong in a devastating crossfire. After successfully suppressing the enemy's fire, and although immobilized by his multiple wounds, he continued to maintain calm, superlative control as he ordered his team to secure and defend an extraction site. Lt. (jg.) Kerrey resolutely directed his men, despite his near unconscious state, until he was eventually evacuated by helicopter. The havoc brought to the enemy by this very successful mission cannot be over-estimated. The enemy soldiers who were captured provided critical intelligence to the allied effort. Lt. (jg.) Kerrey's courageous and inspiring leadership, valiant fighting spirit, and tenacious devotion to duty in the face of almost overwhelming opposition sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service."