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Hagel: U.S. Military Must Prepare for Challenges

By Nick Simeone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2015 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in what was expected to be his last major address to the troops before leaving office, told an Army audience today the world is at a defining moment, with events charging ahead with a new immediacy, creating less margin for error for U.S. leaders and he urged the military to “prepare this institution in ways that we’ve never had to.”

In an address at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy on Fort Bliss, Texas, Hagel described the cascade of events that have occurred on his watch -- from threats associated with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the emergence of the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant in the Middle East, Ebola’s spread in West Africa and other challenges to national security -- as being unprecedented in modern times, a trend that he said will continue to place demands on military leaders.

“We are living at a very defining time in the world,” Hagel said. “We have not seen disruptions in the world order like we are seeing today since World War II.”

While only the people of the affected countries can ultimately solve such problems, Hagel said, the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria along with sectarian violence in the Middle East in general will require solid judgment on the part of U.S. leaders, who will have “very little margin of error.”

Key Requirements for Leadership

“The world will be presented more and more with those kinds of issues where responsible leadership will always end up having to rely on responsible judgment,” said Hagel, who added that not every problem will come with immediate answers.

“These next few years will define a world order,” full of ups and downs and inconsistencies, he said.

“That means we have to prepare this institution in ways we’ve never had to prepare it and much of that will fall on you in your command positions,” Hagel said. He emphasized that he believes qualities such as responsibility and good judgment will continue to be the key requirements for leadership in the Defense Department of the future.

“You can’t teach that. It’s an accumulation of experiences of knowledge, of commitment,” the secretary said.

Budget Uncertainty

Despite the threats, Hagel, in response to a question from the audience, called budget uncertainty the biggest challenge the military faces over the next decade, given the looming return of spending cuts ordered by the budget sequester that are set to take effect next year requiring the department to find billions in additional cuts.

“I don’t think the demands on the Department of Defense will be less over the next few years,” Hagel said. “I think they’ll be more.”

Hagel, the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Defense Department, fondly recalled his days training in the Army at Fort Bliss nearly 50 years ago.

“I might say enlightening, when you are referenced not by your name, but by other superlatives in those days,” said Hagel, recalling the time he spent enduring the wrath of drill sergeants before he deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

As he looked back on his nearly two years as defense secretary, Hagel described his biggest challenge in leading “the largest enterprise in the world” as deciding how to manage the demands placed on his time and making sure that “every minute of that time counts” in a job that he called all-consuming.

“You’ve got one bottom line – responsibility,” he said. “That’s the security of this country, and you live with that every day.”

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneDoDNews) 

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