Opening his address today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention with a tribute to Korean War veterans, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called on the nation's 22 million veterans to become partners in helping the Defense Department work through "historic transition and change."
Every major conflict in U.S. history has been followed by a period of "realignment and redefinition," with "enormous ramifications and consequences for our entire defense enterprise," the secretary noted at the convention, being held in Louisville, Ky.
As the Defense Department undergoes the latest realignments and reshapes the military for the future, Hagel called on veterans "who helped build our military into the strongest, most capable and most respected on Earth" to help ensure it remains that way.
"All of us at the Pentagon, and across this administration, value your perspective and devotion to our military men and women," he told the group. "We will need your help and partnership as we manage through a period of historic transition and change.
"As I look out across this audience, I see thousands of veterans whose lives have been committed to helping our service members, their families and our veterans succeed, and to ensuring this country honors their legacy with policies that are worthy of their sacrifices," Hagel continued. "All of you, and the roughly 22 million veterans across this nation, have an important role to play in the debate over our country's future national security priorities."
Hagel pointed out that veterans of past wars depended on their elected representatives to ask the right questions and establish the proper policies before sending them into conflict. "You all have fought and put your lives on the line for this country," he said. "You did so with the expectation that you would be given the equipment, training and support you needed to succeed."
The secretary noted that many of the veterans, particularly those of the Korean War, have seen firsthand the human toll of sending a hollow force to war.
"Not one American should ever be ordered into battle without our leaders being as sure as they can be that their decision is worthy of the sacrifices that will be made by our sons and our daughters," he said.
The secretary began his address leading a thunderous applause for veterans of the Korean War whose service led to the armistice agreement signed 60 years ago this week. Hagel noted that he will join President Barack Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki for a July 27 ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial here to commemorate the formal signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953.
The armistice agreement ended the fighting in a three-year conflict between North Korea and China and South Korea and United Nations forces led by the United States.
"The upcoming observance is a chance for the country to fully express its profound gratitude for your service and sacrifice," Hagel told the veterans. "The Korean War veterans here today, and all across the country, should know that your fellow citizens are proud of what you accomplished, and what your generation has contributed to our security and prosperity."