Give Hagel a chance as defense secretary

The furor over President Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense is controversial for many reasons. If confirmed, I believe that he will be the only veteran to become secretary without being commissioned as an officer in the active or reserve military. Hagel volunteered for the military at age 21. He is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1968. He served as a sergeant (E-5) in an infantry squad. Hagel was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. While the deputy administrator with the Veterans Administration during the Reagan presidency, Hagel showed support for veterans when he opposed funding cuts to their programs. Ultimately, he resigned over conflicts with the Administrator’s policies. He was pro-military while serving in the Senate.

Many in the Senate are opposed to his nomination due to some of Hagel’s political statements while a U.S. senator. Amongst the most vocal critics are former commissioned officers in the military. These critics are “old school” and served during the era when officers did not fraternize with enlisted personnel. This makes me wonder if part of their opposition is based on a belief that a non-commissioned veteran is not suitable as the secretary of defense. Their belief may be that a general does not take orders from a sergeant. Of course, such a clash does not exist when the secretary had not served in the military.

I cannot forecast what actions Hagel will order as the secretary. However, it would be a different perspective to have a secretary of defense who “walked point” during infantry operations in Vietnam.

William A. Christen