Secretary of Defense visits Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to Soldiers with Combined Team Bastogne, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), March 9, 2013, at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan (March 10, 2013) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), March 9, at Forward Operating Base Fenty, here.

Hagel and his team landed at Forward Operating Base Fenty in a U.S. Air Force C-130 and were given a briefing by the command team of 1st Brigade Combat Team, or BCT, about the status of operations in Kunar and Nangarhar Provinces in Afghanistan.

After the briefing, Hagel made his way to the entrance of the forward operating base where he addressed Combined Team Bastogne Soldiers.

The first order of business for Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, was to present the Purple Heart to two Soldiers from 1st BCT. This was Hagel's first opportunity to present awards to Soldiers since becoming the Secretary of Defense.

When Hagel began speaking to the Soldiers, he first thanked the Soldiers for everything they do, but he also told the Soldiers to thank their families for their sacrifice and support.

"It is, as you know, an immense responsibility for each of you to be part of something so important, at an important time for this country, for the United States of America," said Hagel. "I am much honored to serve as Secretary of Defense. It, of course, is a personal privilege, but more than that, it is an opportunity to serve with America's finest men and women who render as selfless a service as I know."

Following his opening remarks, Hagel opened the discussion up to questions. The first question was in regards to Soldiers transitioning to the civilian workforce when they leave the military.

"There is no higher priority that I have than to assist our men and women as they transition out into a different life whenever that transition comes," Hagel said. "And that includes employment opportunities, that includes benefits, that includes all the commitments that our nation makes to each of you when you agree to make a commitment to our country."

Hagel went on to say, "We have, as you know, many ongoing programs in place. We need to implement new programs; we will. I will do everything I possibly can to assure those commitments are fulfilled at every level and every program."

Several Soldiers had questions about the effect of sequestration on military operations.

Hagel addressed the issue of sequestration by saying, "I think you all are aware of what's going on in Washington (D.C.) with sequestration and essentially what that means is what is happening to the Department of Defense as one of the federal agencies in Washington."

"We are required to take a cut in our budget. We are managing that; we are dealing with it. We will continue to manage with those realities," said Hagel.

"Further complicating that is a continuing resolution that is funding our departments. That resolution comes due March 27. If many of you have been following this, the House of Representatives passed legislation here this week," said Hagel.

Hagel went on to say that the nation's financial landscape effects everything, including all of the DOD programs.

"What I'm committed to do, our leaders are committed to do; I've met with the chiefs of each service and the secretaries of each service a number of times, is to assure that our men and women in uniform are not affected on any of the pay benefits, our readiness continues to stay as active and alert and essential at any time," said Hagel.

Hagel explained the gravity of sequestration.

"It's a problem, it's serious," he said. "If it continues, it will make our jobs more difficult; our jobs are more difficult now, but if it continues it will be more and more difficult for us to do what we are required to do, and that is to assure the security of America around the world."

Reassuringly, Hagel concluded his comments on sequestration by telling Soldiers that, "We will manage it, we will work through it and we will continue to work with the Congress on ways to make sure that that certainty of security is there and will continue to be there."

Following his discussion with Bastogne Soldiers, Hagel presented DOD coins to the Soldiers in attendance, before taking questions from the media.

Page last updated Sun March 10th, 2013 at 00:00