By Claudette Roulo
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel departs Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, after visiting service members there. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
During a visit yesterday to Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Afghanistan’s Laghman province, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters he’s always felt a special bond with the troops.
“It isn’t just today, … and it isn’t just me,” he said. “It’s anyone who’s ever been to war — anyone who’s ever watched the suffering and literally been in trenches and jungles and foxholes and mountaintops with men and women who look after each other and save each other’s lives.”
Hagel — who has submitted his resignation and has agreed to continue serving until his successor is confirmed — said he has enjoyed his time as defense secretary, noting that it provided him an opportunity to get out and talk to service members — not just because he had an obligation to do so, but because he wanted to.
‘I’ve Had This Opportunity, This Great Privilege’
“Do I connect with them?” the defense secretary asked. “I do. I’m proud of that. … I’ve had this opportunity, this great privilege, the last two years to see them up close in unique ways that most people never have.”
He acknowledged that his bond with the troops packs an added emotional punch to what likely will be his last trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary.
“But I don’t think about that. I really don’t,” he added. “I don’t stand up here and talk to these guys and think ‘Oh, this will be my last time with them.’ That’s not what goes through my mind. … I think about these guys. And you know, … we’ll always concentrate on these guys. It started long before me.”