Defense secretary stops over on Oahu before Asia trip
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made a brief visit to Hawaii Thursday on his way to Singapore and Belgium.
It's his first visit since taking office just three months ago.
Secretary Hagel arrived Wednesday and met with Admiral Samuel Locklear and other top brass at U.S. Pacific Command where they discussed regional security issues.
The defense secretary also got a tour of Pearl Harbor from the admiral himself.
Before leaving for his round the world trip Thursday morning, he spoke briefly to military service members at Hickam Air Force base.
"This is a defining time right now. This region of the world is going to have an awful lot to say about how this next world order is built out," said Hagel.
Hagel reassured the 200 military service members the government remains committed to shifting its military focus to the Asia Pacific, but not forgetting about the people who will make it happen.
"Sometimes you feel stuck out here in the Pacific and think no one knows who you are and what you’re doing. But let me assure you, we do. And we’re grateful," said Hagel.
Service members in the audience were allowed to ask the defense secretary questions and many wanted to know why it takes so long to get veterans benefits.
Hagel said he’s been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs on how to make the system better.
"It needs to get fixed. We’ll do more and you have my word for that," said Hagel.
He also reassured service members their retirement benefits will remain intact during these military cutbacks.
"That’s a priority," said Hagel.
Hagel also said as a former co-chair on the president’s intelligence advisory board, he said he has advised the president on increasing the budget for cyber warfare security.
"That means more people, more sophisticated approaches and more interconnects within our inner government," said Hagel.
The highlight of the visit -- service members selected by their supervisors got to shake hands with the defense secretary.
"It’s always a little nerve wracking to meet a stranger, but he’s actually a part of the family so it’s like meeting your cousin," said U.S. Marine Sgt. Nathan Miller.
Service members were also given special secretary of defense coins.
"You whip them out at a moment’s notice to see who has the higher coin, sort of a challenge thing," explained Whitney Price, IT specialist second class with the US Navy. "The only ones to top this is the vice president and president. So drinks are on everyone else I suppose."
Secretary Hagel heads to Singapore where he’ll be the keynote speaker at the Shangri-La Dialogues. He’ll wrap up his weeklong trip in Brussels, Belgium with meetings with NATO officials.
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