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Hagel talks war, women in combat, and Darwin

Aug. 18, 2014 - 01:10PM   |  
Secretary of Defense Visits Camp Pendleton
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Marines during a town hall meeting at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Aug. 12. Hagel discussed the decision to place another 130 advisers in Iraq and the agreement for Marines in Australia. (Lance Cpl. John Baker/Marine Corps)
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CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ended a worldwide tour with a stop at the Corps’ largest West Coast base to talk to Marines.

Hagel’s 30-minute address on Aug. 12 focused mostly on the crisis in Iraq, but he also touched on other issues the Corps faces, including women in combat and the increased emphasis on the Pacific.

Here’s a roundup of Hagel’s talk:

No ground war in Iraq. Iraq, its people and government are under threat from the jihadist group Islamic State. The government is undergoing a political transition, but the U.S. isn’t going to send ground forces to patrol the country, Hagel said.

“As the president has made very clear, we’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat-mission dimensions that we once were in, in Iraq,” he said. “Very specifically, this is not a combat boots-on-the-ground operation.”

Afghanistan is in transition. The U.S. is continuing to support an audit of the results of a recent election and is supporting the formation of a new government once the next president enters office. Military-wise, Afghanistan has made “tremendous progress” developing itself, and its security forces have gained strength because of assistance from the U.S. military, Hagel said.

“They’ve still got challenges, still problems, still threats, absolutely,” he said. “But overall, they have assumed all the combat missions and most every mission in Afghanistan. That’s significant.”

Standards won’t change for women in combat. The Marine Corps is on track to open up combat positions to women, and all of the services want to make sure the change occurs without problems. But as the jobs open, standards won’t change just to allow women to enter combat-arms jobs.

“But there are ways that we can explore, and we are, and adjust to making sure that we continue to move forward and assure that these occupations that have been closed to women get opened up and get opened up on the timelines that are now in process,” he said.

The Pacific pivot is on track. Responding to a question about whether events in Russia, Iraq and Africa have made it tough to rebalance the military in the Asia-Pacific region, Hagel said the country’s commitment to the region hasn’t slipped.

He rattled off a quick list of milestones in the Pacific, including forward-deploying littoral combat ships to Singapore, rotational deployments in the Philippines, and new and more equipment in Japan and South Korea. By any measure, the U.S. has increased its presence in the Pacific, he said.

Through the rebalance, the military won’t back down from other trouble spots, he said.

“Great powers can’t pick and choose which challenges and threats they’re going to deal with. There is no power on Earth like the United States of America,” he said.

Australia loves Marines Throughout his tour of Darwin, Hagel said people kept telling him, “[We] love the Marines. [We] want more Marines.”

They’ve been a big hit around Darwin, particularly the Marines who spend time with students from local high schools, he said.

“And the teachers loved it, because what the Marines were saying to these young people about duty and honor and all the things that you all live by every day,” he said. “Teachers don’t mind you doing that, as you know.”

The praises serve as a reminder to Marines that their impact goes beyond their mission, he said.

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