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United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

Portrait of Hagel.

Chuck Hagel

24th Secretary of Defense

During his tenure, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led the Defense Department through a period of historic transition by investing in an agile, innovative and ready force to defend the nation and face rising challenges around the world. He bolstered alliances in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and oversaw the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. He also set in motion numerous comprehensive reforms to prepare the department for challenges in the decades to come. Full Biography

"It's been the greatest privilege of my life ... to lead and, most important, ... to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families. I am immensely proud of what we've accomplished during this time."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
Nov. 24, 2014

Hagel Bids Farewell to Defense Department Workforce

Photo of Chuck Hagel saluting at Arlington National Cemetery.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said farewell to the military and civilian men and women of the Defense Department's workforce, noting it's been "a tremendous privilege" to serve as the nation's top defense official.
Full Message

"A special note to our men and women in uniform: of all the many opportunities my life has given me,
I am most proud of having once been a soldier."
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Feb. 13, 2015

Hagel Led Change, Maintained Mission Focus

Chuck Hagel speaking with the American Flag in the background.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led the Defense Department through fundamental changes during his tenure of almost two years. Since being sworn in on Feb. 27, 2013, Hagel shepherded internal reforms and defended against new and rapidly evolving external threats. He welcomed same-sex couples into the ranks and continued the work to open combat arms jobs to women. He oversaw the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, enhanced the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and deployed U.S. personnel to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to help the U.S. Agency for International Development fight Ebola at its source in West Africa. Story

Major Components of Hagel's Leadership

During his tenure, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel focused both externally on international relations and operations, as well as internally on helping the Defense Department evolve to meet the challenges of the future.

Hagel set about the task of helping the military adapt to new strategic challenges after 13 years of war -- a transition that required geopolitical vision, fiscal prudence, careful leadership and personal compassion.

"What our budget proposal and defense strategy makes clear is that even as we shrink our military's size, we must not simply return to garrison," Hagel said in May 2014. "We must continue strengthening the capabilities of our allies, forming new alliances and bolstering old ones, and investing in collective security arrangements." Some of the strategic issues he tackled include:

  • Prioritizing the Rebalance to Asia

    Hagel ensured that DoD invested in the Asia-Pacific region by aligning budgets, posture and engagement. During six trips there, he achieved breakthrough agreements with the Philippines and Australia. He led efforts to modernize U.S. alliances with Japan and Korea at a time of threats from North Korea, and organized a first-ever meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. He also reached historic agreements on confidence-building measures with China.

  • Shepherding the Transition in Afghanistan

    Hagel guided military planning throughout a tough period of negotiation with the Afghan government on a bilateral security agreement. He worked to ensure that U.S. troops have the authorities and capabilities to address terror threats to the United States, help support the Afghans and maintain an enduring presence to facilitate a responsible transition.

  • Enhancing Partnerships in the Middle East

    Hagel brought together Gulf countries in April 2014 for the first U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council defense meeting in over five years. This meeting was critical to get GCC nations to work better together and eventually conduct strikes in Syria to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. At the NATO Summit in Wales, he helped organize the first coalition-building session that led to over 60 nations pursuing ISIL. He also sustained and stabilized the U.S.-Egypt relationship during Egypt's transition in 2013.

  • Deepening the Strategic Relationship With India

    Understanding the importance of a rising and democratic India to the future security and prosperity of Asia, Hagel encouraged deeper strategic and defense cooperation, including through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative and expanded military-to-military cooperation.

  • Countering ISIL

    Hagel led the development of a U.S. military strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. He was a strong advocate for humanitarian intervention to prevent the slaughter of thousands of innocent Yazidis, Iraqis and Kurds. He also fashioned a multinational effort to resupply Kurdish forces in the north, and pushed for the ready and steady flow of strike and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, assets to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command.

  • Unwavering Support for Israel

    Hagel reaffirmed and strengthened the U.S.-Israel security relationship during a period marked by a changing and tumultuous security environment in the Middle East, which has helped to ensure that the U.S.-Israel military-to-military relationship is the strongest it has ever been.

  • Reassuring Europe and Confronting Russia

    Hagel called for Europe to optimize and increase defense spending before the illegal annexation of Crimea. Throughout the Ukraine crisis, he confronted the Russian defense minister with specific information while providing key reassurance to Ukrainian leaders. He made critical visits to the region, including Poland and Georgia, and directed measures to bolster U.S. reassurance to NATO allies by adding more exercises, naval presence operations and support to the Baltic Air Policing mission.

  • Pioneering Arctic Security and Leading on Climate Change

    Hagel signed out the first ever comprehensive DoD plan to adapt to climate change and crafted an innovative regional strategy for the Arctic, ensuring the Pentagon would continue to develop the resources and expertise needed to deal with the national security implications of these emerging challenges.

Hagel led by example rather than by fiat. He was a change agent at the Pentagon, launching a series of aggressive reform initiatives across department to, as he put it, "ensure that our military's foundation is reliable, agile, accountable, and worthy of the men and women who serve in it." Examples include:

  • Strategic Choices

    In early 2013 when confronted with the specter of sequestration, Hagel ordered a "Strategic Choices and Management Review," which drove each of the services to prepare a sequestration-level budget. This review and these budgets represented the first sober and fact-based approach to understanding the devastating consequences that sequestration would have on our national defense and led to hard choices such as drawing down the Army and retiring aging platforms like the A-10.

  • Defense Innovation Initiative

    Hagel directed an ambitious effort to identify and invest in innovative ways to sustain and advance America's military dominance for the 21st century -- a third "offset" strategy.

  • Nuclear Enterprise

    Hagel ordered top-to-bottom change in the nuclear enterprise, including changing oversight and training. He increased funding by 10 percent to keep the arsenal safe, secure and effective.

  • Military Health System

    Hagel spearheaded real changes to the military medical health system, directing unified standards for medical care, developing a performance management system and establishing a mechanism for patients to provide ongoing input to constantly improve care.

  • Modernizing Health Records

    Hagel moved aggressively to modernize service member health records information to improve tracking and better facilitate transfer to the Veterans Administration. He approved a series of actions to accelerate interoperability with the VA, including upgrades to online tools for beneficiaries and initial installation of a common DoD-VA communications network infrastructure. He also surged DoD personnel to VA facilities to help deal with the VA backlog.

  • Support for Vietnam-Era Veterans and PTSD

    Concerned that fellow veterans of the Vietnam War received fair treatment, Hagel ordered DoD to consider post-traumatic stress disorder as a factor for decades-old discharges that prevented veterans from receiving mental health care.

  • POW/MIA Accounting

    Hagel directed the consolidation of three DoD entities concerned with personnel accounting responsibilities into one organization. This will help the department increase the number of missing service personnel it accounts for annually, while ensuring families receive timely and accurate information.

  • Sexual Assault in the Military

    Hagel chaired weekly meetings to keep a heavy focus on fixing the problem of sexual assault in the military. He ordered more than 30 initiatives that have already made a real difference to men and women across the force.

  • Military Justice System

    To ensure accountability around sexual assault and other crimes, Hagel directed a comprehensive review of the military justice system, the first one of its kind in decades.

  • Military Awards and Decorations

    Hagel ordered a yearlong review of military decorations and awards policies following 13 years of war to take into account evolution of our capabilities and combat operations.

  • Staff Efficiencies

    To streamline bureaucracy and increase efficiency, Hagel cut his own staff by 20 percent and ordered the same for all other headquarters staff.

  • Integrating Women

    Hagel maintained momentum on authorizing women in combat roles to include integrating more than 50,000 positions. He notified the U.S. Congress of intent to integrate 20,000 more with the goal of opening up nearly 237,000 positions by 2016.

  • Equality

    Hagel pushed forward on initiatives to permit more benefits for same-sex military couples. He ordered the National Guard to ensure that nine states that had previously refused to do so provide full benefits, including identification cards, to same-sex couples.

  • Cyber Support for the Warfighter

    Hagel ensured that the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command remained a joint entity to provide the warfighter with critical intelligence capabilities during a period of heightened scrutiny of the NSA following leaks by Edward Snowden, a former contract employee.

  • Acquisition Reform

    Hagel launched "Better Buying Power 3.0," an initiative designed to develop and implement best practices to strengthen DoD's buying power, improve industry productivity, and provide an affordable, value-added military capability to the warfighter within the constraints of a declining defense budget.

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