Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after a rocky confirmation hearing in January, has been getting increasingly good grades from both politicians and troops. Part of it may be his sergeantly demeanor, but part of it also is his willingness to share what he’s hearing – even if it’s not always what he, or the nation, may want to hear.
Take this exchange Tuesday at Fort Bragg between Hagel and a young first sergeant, which the defense secretary shared with an audience Wednesday at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida:
SecDef: How are you doing?
1st Sergeant: I’m okay.
SecDef: What is it? What’s your problem?
1st Sergeant: I’m ashamed to tell you, Mr. Secretary. I froze up. I couldn’t respond, anxiety in Afghanistan. I was a first sergeant and I just lost my ability to command and my ability and my presence.
SecDef: How many deployments did you have?
1st Sergeant: This is my fifth consecutive combat deployment, Iraq, Afghanistan.
SecDef, to his Florida audience:
Well, why are we surprised? You can’t push human beings to a point where they don’t break. They will break. And we are seeing some breaks. Predictable, no point in making excuses or casting blame. We are where we are. We need to fix it. We need to fix our force structure. We need to be smart in where we apply our forces and apply our power. We need to be wise in that employment. Because 1% of the American people have had to endure all of the sacrifices and make all of the commitments.