Chuck Hagel, whom President Barack Obama nominated to be his next defense secretary, has drawn complaints from a handful of Republican senators ahead of his confirmation hearings next week. Critics have reproved the former Nebraska senator for his comments on Israel, Iran, gay rights and nuclear disarmament.
But politics aside, how would those directly affected by a Hagel appointment feel? Yahoo News asked military veterans if they'd approve of a Secretary Hagel and, importantly, what they think he can do to improve the armed forces. Here are some excerpts from responses they wrote on Wednesday.
Care for prior-enlisted service members needs to be a priority: I served in the U.S. Navy for eight years. Twice, I deployed to Iraq and was honorably discharged as a second class petty officer (E-5). I'm currently the public affairs officer for multiple VFW organizations.
Should Chuck Hagel be selected as the secretary of defense, one area I'd like to see addressed deals with veterans' affairs. The treatment of non-retired, prior-enlisted military members concerns me greatly.
I speak to members of this group on a regular basis and the general consensus is they're forgotten.
These members face numerous issues, such as difficulty acquiring earned benefits, remaining untreated for symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and struggling to simply "get by" upon their discharge.
Within six months of my discharge, I found myself attempting to donate plasma merely to eat. I was unable to because the clinics were already full. I spoke with a clinic employee who said that at least half of the individuals he sees claim to be veterans.
Is that what these patriots who chose to serve must resort to? Giving a piece of themselves in order to survive?
-- William Lopez
It's time for a new just war policy: I've served in the military twice in my life. The first time was under Ronald Reagan from 1984 to 1987. I joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1997 and attended Officer Candidate School. In July 2004, I received activation orders and spent all of 2005 at Al Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq. I returned home a captain.
Upon returning home, I resigned my commission. I felt then, as I do now, that the Iraq War was unjust and unnecessary.
If former Sen. Chuck Hagel is confirmed as secretary of defense, I'd like to see America's defense policy reflect a commitment to justifiable war principles. That doesn't mean we'd drag our feet in defending ourselves when necessary. Nor does it mean that we'd forgo necessary precautions on national security issues.
It does mean that we'd take seriously our responsibility as a world leader to let justice, not pride, be our guide.
This policy should be reflected in our national priorities. A leaner military would be more adaptive to the present war on terror. The behemoth created to fight the Cold War is outdated. Many overseas bases are no longer necessary and should be shut down.
-- Allen Taylor
Hagel should cut military waste, but wisely: After serving six years in the Army as a sergeant, I became very familiar with useful and wasteful programs that the government pays for. I also saw a lack of work for soldiers, mainly because their jobs were being replaced by civilian counterparts.
Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of soldiers doing their jobs, working extremely hard and not getting paid what they are worth. On the other hand, there are soldiers not working and getting paid to do nothing.
My concern is that Hagel's priorities will emulate, however, the president's vision for our military. Our country is in debt, and we need budget cuts, but reducing the force isn't the answer.
Still, I hope Hagel, assuming he's confirmed, will examine the military from top to bottom and realize that there are issues that need to be fixed. The answer doesn't lie in keeping qualified candidates from joining the military; it lies in solving the problem of employing the soldiers who get paid to do nothing, in getting rid of people who are not up to standard, in jettisoning those who mooch off the military.
-- Melissa Medina
Could Chuck Hagel help military evolve on gay rights?: If Chuck Hagel becomes the next defense secretary, I would like to know if his views on gay rights have evolved to the point where he'd allow military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in the military for active-duty soldiers.
As an Army veteran who completed two tours of duty in South Korea (1981 to 1985 on active duty) and earned the rank of E-4 (specialist fourth class), I witnessed too many of my gay and bisexual comrades being discharged in droves under former military bans against gays. Will Hagel aggressively advocate a military policy that will allow and recognize same-sex marriages?
If Hagel implements such a policy, this will be one barometer that will allow us to gauge how far we have evolved on gay rights.
Just like the integration of blacks into the military during WWI and WWII advocated civil rights for black Americans, Hagel can set the precedent for historic gay rights in the military, which may have some significant impact on same-sex marriages for civilians.
-- Kervin Fondren
For the dirt on Hagel, listen to veterans, not politicians: With so much petty politics and hidden agendas fueling the D.C. rumor mill, I don't take much credit in what I hear or read. Being an old Army infantry sergeant who served in the early '80s with the prestigious Big Red One First Infantry Division, and with the Eighth Infantry Pathfinders in Germany, I don't want to hear what other senators and paid lobbyists have to say about Hagel's merit. Rather, I want to hear what other old military dogs have to say about Hagel.
I read that Colin Powell has endorsed Hagel, which was all I needed to give my approval as well.
That aside, if Hagel is confirmed, here's what I'd like to see him spearhead in the Department of Defense: The military should develop extensive drone and robot deployment, production and research. Being an old infantry "beetle head," I know the last thing a soldier wants to hear is your superior picking out names to storm the machine guns over the hill so the rest of the survivors know what they're up against. Sending in a robot or a drone to dodge those bullets instead (and finding out what and who are on the other side first) sounds much more prudent to me. And to the moms, dads, husbands, wives and children back home.
-- Brian Armstrong
Weighing Chuck Hagel's service against his Middle East views: Being an enlisted Vietnam veteran and infantryman gives him a great perspective in dealing with the enlisted force's high rates of deployment. Many are on their fourth or fifth deployments, a great stress on military families.
In my three years in the Marine Corps Reserves and 25 years of active-duty Air Force (1982 to 2008), the best officers were almost always prior enlisted service members. I retired as a senior master sergeant and served as a unit first sergeant for the last decade of my career, and I found this to be true time and time again. Were it not for Hagel's radical political stances, this could be true if he becomes the defense secretary.
But his record doesn't always hold up. In 1998, I believe he advocated terrorism by the Palestinians against Israel when he said, "The Israeli government essentially continues to play games... Desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away. And that's where the Palestinians are today."
Our new defense secretary should not be a man often on the fringes of our national foreign policy debate.
-- Tony Barnes
Defense budget doubled since 9/11 and to what effect?: After Chuck Hagel survived Vietnam, he said if he were ever in a position to do so, he would do whatever he could to "avoid needless, senseless war."
I want him to do just that -- and more.
Those who remember nightly body counts understand that this war on terror must be a global effort, not an American effort. President Carter called America a force for freedom in the world. However, we need to make sure tax dollars go toward supporting global efforts to manage threats of nuclear terror, not toward corporate or individual greed.
A conservative like Hagel will provide much-needed influence to our bloated defense budget, which we've doubled since 9/11. Doubled, and to what effect?
As an airman stationed stateside, I met many servicewomen and men who bragged about "doing time" until they retired -- until they could become "double dippers." I'd like Hagel to change that. Why should we pay fat retirements to those who have not retired?
Yes, those called to active duty -- and their families -- sacrifice. Hagel will make sure we take excellent care of them upon their return. He probably can't stop double dippers, but he can do something about the private defense industry bleeding our coffers.
-- June Beck