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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: Every country thinks it has the best military

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Chuck Hagel,Japan

When a colonel at Yakota Air Base in Japan asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to identify his biggest challenge, Hagel replied with a politically-correct word salad that didn't exactly answer the question.

"I think, as everyone in this room who has responsibilities for leadership, and you all do, at different levels, you know in the end, that's all that matters, is how you leave. Is the institution better and stronger than you found it, and that's why we have built the greatest Department of Defense, I think, in history," Hagel replied. "And I know every country feels the same way about their institutions."

"So when you ask the question about what is my biggest challenge, I see my job as — yes, a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities," he continued. "Challenges come with the territory. You all know that. I don't know of anyone's life that's without challenges, regardless of their professional career, but it's how you respond to challenges, that's the history of our world. When you really isolate down on the responsibilities of the secretary of defense, first, the responsibilities are large in scope, but there is but one responsibility, and that's the security of the United States of America, and assuring our citizens of that security. "

He had more to say about history. "I think this is a defining time in our world," Hagel told the colonel. "I think history is going to be very clear on that, when history is written of this time. You all are making that history. You are part of that history. You are defining the future of the world. And I don't know how any of us could ask for more of an opportunity in our lifetimes than to be doing something so important than what we all have an opportunity to do."

It took Hagel 275 words to say that his biggest challenge as defense secretary is protecting America, and then he went on for another 300 words without adding any specifics. It's almost as if he thought he was talking to a reporter, not a senior U.S. military officer.

Here's the full question and answer:

Col. Mark Van Wert: Sir, welcome. Col. Mark Van Wert here, and just a question, what do you see as your biggest challenge right now as the secretary of defense?

Hagel: Well, first, as you all know, having an opportunity to serve our country is (inaudible), is quite a privilege. And that's the way I look at this. And I know you all feel the same way or you wouldn't be doing this, or you wouldn't be here.

When President Obama asked me to do this job, I appreciated the opportunity to be part of his government, and take on some responsibilities to the American people, and maybe even help make some contributions, and make our Defense Department stronger. I think, as everyone in this room who has responsibilities for leadership, and you all do, at different levels, you know in the end, that's all that matters, is how you leave. Is the institution better and stronger than you found it, and that's why we have built the greatest Department of Defense, I think, in history.

And I know every country feels the same way about their institutions. So when you ask the question about what is my biggest challenge, I see my job as yes, a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities. Challenges come with the territory. You all know that. I don't know of anyone's life that's without challenges, regardless of their professional career, but it's how you respond to challenges, that's the history of our world.

When you really isolate down on the responsibilities of the secretary of defense first, the responsibilities are large in scope, but there is but one responsibility, and that's the security of the United States of America, and assuring our citizens of that security. Just like any leader of any nation, it's the same.

So as I try to do my job every day, as -- like you do, as well as you can, you're dealing with many things and many challenges every day, from different directions, in all parts of the world, institutionally, and so there's not just one or two, but many challenges, and you have to frame it all up in how you divide your time everyday and how you focus every day.

But one thing that leaders must learn early, all of you know this, and I don't know of an institution in the world that does it better than the military, and that is you have to rely on each other. And I could not do my job if I didn't have the kind of people, the men and women, who are represented here in this hangar. It's too big. All of our jobs are too big. And you've got to rely on each other, and that's the greatest privilege for me, and I think you all feel the same way in doing what you're doing.

So I try to do the best I can every day, recognizing the challenges and the threats, but also the opportunities, because there are opportunities, how we can do things better, how we can partner closer.

I think this is a defining time in our world. I think history is going to be very clear on that, when history is written of this time. You all are making that history. You are part of that history. You are defining the future of the world.

And I don't know how any of us could ask for more of an opportunity in our lifetimes than to be doing something so important than what we all have an opportunity to do.

So thank you for the question.

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