Chuck Hagel will begin Tuesday his last trip to U.S. bases as defense secretary ahead of Senate confirmation hearings expected to start early next month for former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who has been nominated to replace him.
The first stop for Hagel and his wife, Lilibet, will be at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, home to the 509th Bomb Wing and the only U.S. base operating the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
At a Pentagon news conference last Friday, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Whiteman trip “will be the secretary's sixth visit to see the nuclear force” to demonstrate “his commitment to reforming the nuclear enterprise and to keeping our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective.”
Several of Hagel’s previous visits to the nuclear force followed on cheating scandals that led to the firings of nine mid-level Air Force nuclear missile commanders for their lack of oversight of junior officers manning the silos of the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Whiteman is also home to the Air Force Reserve 442nd Fighter Wing, which trains personnel to operate and support the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft. Hagel and the Air Force have been pressing to retire the A-10 but have thus far been unsuccessful against opposition in Congress.
From Whiteman, Hagel will fly Wednesday to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, “one of the bases that make San Diego the largest U.S. military and veteran community in America,” Kirby said.
Miramar is also headquarters for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Hagel was to meet with Marines who have recently returned from Afghanistan and those preparing to deploy to the new Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan
To underline the Defense Department’s commitment to the rebalance of forces to the Pacific, Hagel will also fly out to the new amphibious assault ship America, which is undergoing pre-deployment drills off the West Coast. Kirby also noted that it “will be one of the first ships to deploy with an F-35B squadron.”
Hagel’s final stop on Thursday will be at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he graduated from Army basic training in 1967. He received two Purple Hearts serving as a sergeant in Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division.
At Bliss, Hagel will make his final address to the troops “reflecting on the current state and the health of the force and on what the military and our entire nation must do to uphold our commitments to each other and to those who wear the uniform,” Kirby said.