“The hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee and my personal meeting with Senator Chuck Hagel provided valuable opportunities to discuss many of the challenges facing the next Secretary of Defense. I questioned his past statements and current policy positions, in addition to specific issues affecting Indiana.
First, we discussed Hoosiers’ strong tradition of service in the Armed Forces. Indiana’s National Guard, comprised of more than 14,000 men and women, is the 4th largest contingent in the nation. Twenty-five members of the Indiana National Guard have been killed in action since September 11, 2001, and 138 serving soldiers and airmen have received the Purple Heart. As our military evolves to meet both the strategic and budgetary challenges facing our nation, it is critical that the National Guard adapt to meet its important mission both at home and abroad. In the hearing, Senator Hagel, an Army veteran himself, noted how effective the Guard has served over the last 12 years and his commitment to a strong National Guard.
We also discussed our important relationship with Israel and the complex situation we face in the Middle East, notably the threat of Iran and the conflict in Syria. I appreciated Senator Hagel’s candor while addressing his record and past statements on Israel, and I have made clear my strong position that his leadership is vital to maintaining our alliance with Israel and building a more secure and democratic environment in the Middle East.
Next, I expressed my interest in caring for our military personnel when they return home. Of principal importance is addressing the grave problem of suicides amongst active military and veteran populations. In 2012, we lost more American servicemen and women to suicide than those lost in the war in Afghanistan. This is unacceptable. Further, our servicemen and women need proper assistance to transition to civilian life, including employment opportunities and the timely receipt of the benefits they earned serving our nation. Senator Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam War infantryman, is uniquely qualified to make sure we take care of our men and women in uniform, during and after their service.
I also made clear that it is vital that the Secretary of Defense create an environment where generals are comfortable to express the unvarnished truth about their experiences in the field. During the hearing, Senator Hagel assured me that he values the best, most honest advice from the generals, who are some of our nation’s most capable leaders.
Finally, I questioned Senator Hagel about the national security threat of Pakistan. I questioned the $2.5 billion in American security assistance provided annually to Pakistan, specifically whether that is well-spent given our fiscal situation and the many challenges in Afghanistan that originate from Pakistan. Senator Hagel acknowledged our country’s complicated relationship with Pakistan and suggested we need to continue to work on this relationship given the importance of that region to our national security interests.
While I do not agree with Senator Hagel on every issue, I am supporting Senator Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense because I believe he is qualified and capable to take on these challenges. Senator Hagel is supported by members of both parties, and it is not insignificant that Senator Hagel, by volunteering for combat service, has distinctive experience as it relates to the responsibilities of this job.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to press Senator Hagel on these and other issues essential to our national security.”