Questions from service members, civilian employees and family members about the U.S. military's budget, resources and services highlighted an hour-long town hall event with the Secretary of Defense Monday afternoon at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The Fort Bragg visit was Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's first stop on a multi-day tour of military bases in the southeastern United States. The stop gave him the opportunity to speak with a variety of Soldiers stationed across Fort Bragg, from U.S. Army Forces Command leaders to Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Reserve units on post.

Hagel addressed the crowd of about 200 individuals with ties to Fort Bragg in a large holding area, used to prepare paratroopers to conduct airborne operations, on Pope Field. With a large American flag in the background, Hagel spoke with the crowd for over an hour, praising them for their hard work and support, and encouraging them to ask questions during a question-and-answer session.

"We're living at a time when we're truly defining a future for our country and helping others define their futures around the world," Hagel said during his remarks. "What you do every day is far more than put a uniform on … it is certainly bigger than just ourselves, it is building a better world." Hagel also made a point to recognize civilian employees, who do not wear uniforms, but work just as hard in service to the U.S. military, he said.

The U.S. military's work -- the defense of the United States -- requires partnerships and relationships with each other and the nation's allies, Hagel said, due to the size and complexity of the problems the military is working to solve. Hagel also talked about balancing and prioritizing these responsibilities while also managing a reduction in budget and resources.

"This is not the first time this has happened in the county, but this time is probably more dramatic," Hagel said. "[Sequestration] is forcing us to take deeper, steeper and more abrupt reductions than we've ever had to."

The 11-day furlough implemented for most of the DOD's civilian employees came up several times during Hagel's remarks and audience members' questions. Hagel said that a furlough for civilian employees, originally planned to run for 22 days, was the last budget-control measure he wanted to implement.

"I know it's painful, but I could not take down the [military's] readiness line any further than we already did," he said. "We'll get through this. In all of your careers in this room, I suspect this is the most difficult time of your careers. I accept that, I understand that."

Questions from members of the audience covered a wide variety of topics but followed the same common theme: the effect of budget and resource reduction, particularly sequestration, on the military's readiness and ability to take care of its service members. One military spouse and civilian employee in the audience asked about the furlough's effect on military schools; DOD teachers were given an exemption which reduced their furlough days from 11 to five, Hagel said. Another civilian employee asked about the possibility of different services managing furloughs based on their own budgets' availability; Hagel said it was his decision that all services would come into, and out of, this period of reduced budgets together.

Hagel opened the event by pinning the Purple Heart on the collar of Spc. Trevor Hoover, a Fort Bragg Soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Hagel said it's sometimes conflicting to congratulate someone on earning the purple heart, but emphasized how proud he was of Hoover's work in service to the nation.

Hagel also recognized the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Sgt. Evan Lewandowski, and his wife, Melissa, and their three young children in his opening remarks. The Lewandowski family was named the Fort Bragg "Family of the Year" in December 2012, and Hagel emphasized the role of service members' families in maintaining the military's strength.

"Families are the core," Hagel said during his remarks. "We must protect our people in every way we can. Every way I can protect that baseline part of our institution, I will."

Page last updated Mon July 15th, 2013 at 00:00