Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel named Coast Guard Foundation Hedrick Fellow
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel provided his perspective on leadership to Coast Guard Academy cadets on Thursday, advising them to have peripheral vision and to be honest with themselves so they can be honest with others.
"You've got to be focused on your job ahead, but you've got to be aware of what's going on around you, and the best leaders are the leaders who have peripheral vision," Hagel said. He also advised cadets to be aware of what's going on politically without being a part of it, and encouraged them to speak to organizations like chambers of commerce, rotary clubs and schools.
"You can say things to the people, and you've got the credibility, and that's really important," said Hagel, who had previously noted that "even as polarized and divided as this country is, probably not truly since the Civil War, they still love the military. They still respect the military."
Hagel gave the 26th Coast Guard Foundation Hedrick Fellow Address in Leamy Hall at the Coast Guard Academy on Thursday, engaging in conversation onstage with first-class cadets Nate Jackson and Samantha Bolin. The fellowship is a speaker series that "honors distinguished citizens shaping the course of our nation."
Hagel enlisted in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War and was awarded two Purple Hearts. He served as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration during the Reagan Administration, and then represented Nebraska as a U.S. senator from 1997 to 2009.
He said that Washington doesn't govern anymore because we're so politically divided, whereas in his 12 years in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats actually worked together.
"We actually liked each other. How terrible," he said sardonically. "Today, are you kidding me? I never introduced a piece of legislation that I did not have a Democratic co-sponsor."
While Hagel is a Republican — though he said to applause, "I don't know what the hell that means these days" — he served as secretary of defense under Democratic former President Barack Obama.
"I never viewed the Defense Department or national security as a partisan issue. I never saw it as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, and so it was not unusual, for me, to see the world that way, and I think President Obama saw it that way as well," he said. "I mean, I had differences with the president, and I challenged the president on different things, and some of his people. But that too is the responsibility of a high government official."
Looking toward the future, Hagel said he doesn't want his grandchildren "to inherit the world where America is not the leader, because that vacuum will be filled by somebody. If we walk away, China will fill that vacuum. Russia's not strong enough. I'm not comfortable with China leading the world."
For the selection of Hagel for the fellowship, Richard Zuczek, dean of the School of Science, Mathematics, and the Humanities at the Coast Guard Academy, said faculty and cadets in the government department came up with a list of people who "embody and represent a lifetime of public service," and a smaller committee reviews the list, with the preference of naming people who are out of government when they're selected.
Past fellows include former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr.; former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; and former Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor and Warren Burger.
The fellowship is named for Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Hedrick of Wichita, Kan., who wanted the Coast Guard Academy to bring influential Americans to New London to interact with cadets.