Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told troops in Hawaii this morning that the policy to “rebalance” forces to the Pacific recognizes that “opportunities in the world are centered in the Pacific area,” and stressed that the U.S. intends to partner heavily with other nations.
Unlike the post-World War II period, “we don’t hold all the cards this time — and by the way that’s good,” Hagel told about 200 service members at Hangar 19 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“When we accept that the world will prosper. Your role in that is pretty important.”
Hagel stressed that the rebalance “doesn’t mean we are abandoning our resources from somewhere else or are retreating.”
Hagel, dressed casually in a gray T-shirt and khaki pants, had a folksy manner, asking the troops to offer up any trick plays the Nebraska Cornhusker football team could use in his home state. His appearance began about 7:45 a.m. He took questions from service members.
Asked by one if budget cutbacks will mean changes to retirement and other benefits for service members, Hagel said, “We are going to be seeing budgets that are less and less. We have to look at personnel costs because that represents the biggest part. (But) you take care of your people. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your equipent is if you can’t get good people and keep good people and train good people”
He said the Defense Department has asked Congress for increases on how much service members pay on items such as prescription drug co-pays and TriCare health care fees, but “not very much.”
Hagel was making his first visit to Hawaii since taking office in February, defense officials say, as part of a round-the-globe trip that includes stops in Singapore and Brussels.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who was chosen by President Barack Obama to succeed Leon Panetta as defense secretary, arrived Wednesday in Honolulu, where he headed to Camp Smith and was briefed by Adm. Samuel Locklear on U.S. Pacific Command operations, said Carl Woog, assistant press secretary for the Department of Defense.
Hagel had dinner Wednesday with Locklear at the Halekulani Hotel
In July 1968, Hagel, serving as a sergeant in the Army, and his brother, Tom, spent a week’s leave in Waikiki during their tours of duty in Vietnam, and Hagel family members reunited during that trip at the Halekulani, Woog said.
According to defense officials, Hagel then will make stops in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual summit attended by defense ministers and top military officials from around the world, and in Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers.