Chuck Hagel had a number of "firsts" as defense secretary -- he was the first enlisted Vietnam grunt to hold the post -- and his official portrait unveiled Friday at the Pentagon is another.
The painting by his older brother Mike, a well-known artist, shows Hagel with his arms folded across his chest and the Combat Infantry Badge, which he earned with the Army's 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam, floating above him.
At a Pentagon ceremony, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, the current defense secretary, said of Hagel, "He represents what is great about America -- one who has put service to others before self. And from the firefights of Vietnam, then to the halls of Congress, then to the Pentagon and to our field and fleet units, he has stood strong all those years."
Hagel, a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, said the inclusion of the CIB in the portrait was done with a purpose.
"You will see in the portrait there is only one object in the painting -- aside from its mediocre subject -- and that is the Combat Infantry Badge -- the CIB," he said. "As you all know, it is a U.S. Army decoration awarded to those who served in combat. It's a symbol that conveys that part of my service to the country of which I am most proud.
"What I am most proud of is serving our country alongside the quiet heroes that every generation of Americans produces," he added. "Heroes that neither receive nor seek glory or recognition. This uncommon courage and humility is the common denominator of the American people.
"In a volatile and uncertain time in our country and the world, it is this steady, confident and humble strength of character that will guide us through this current uncertainty," Hagel said.
Mattis noted, "Our former secretary served as an Army sergeant wounded in action and rose to the very top of our department."
Hagel grew up with four brothers in Nebraska. He served with his brother Tom in Vietnam, and both saw action in the Mekong Delta.
Hagel served as the 24th defense secretary from 2013 to 2015 before being forced out by President Barack Obama. He was succeeded by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Hagel later echoed his predecessors, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, in complaining of "micromanagement" of the military by the White House.
In Nebraska last week, Hagel expressed concern that controversies swirling about the White House over alleged Russian influence in the election and other issues could erode the trust of the American people in President Donald Trump.
"This is a man who needs to listen and learn," Hagel told The Omaha World-Herald newspaper. "And, unfortunately, he's doing just the opposite. And it's not good for him. It's not good for the country. I hope he will take a different tack soon -- before it's too late, before he loses the credibility and the confidence to govern."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.