ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Aug. 27, 2013 – In the short time he had between meetings with national leaders and a news conference in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sat down yesterday with members of the Indonesian armed forces and talked about being a soldier.
After meeting earlier this week with officials in Malaysia and Indonesia, Hagel will continue his current trip with stop-offs in Brunei and the Philippines. This is Hagel’s second official visit to the Asia-Pacific region since taking office.
In Jakarta, Hagel sat at a table at the Defense Ministry alongside Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who had invited him to share some of his Army experiences. The secretary told the elite Indonesian soldiers sitting attentively in the audience that he fought as a relatively new soldier alongside his brother in a nearby Southeast Asian country 45 years ago.
“Well, I'm not in the same class or category with these soldiers,” Hagel said. “I did spend two years of my life in the United States Army. I fought in Vietnam in 1968, so I have some appreciation for war and for battle and what your challenges are, and [for] your training.”
A professional soldier -- one who is well trained, well led and well equipped -- is the pride of any country, the former Army sergeant said, praising the Indonesian soldiers’ professionalism.
“I know some of you have graduated and attended some of our military institutions in the United States. And we're very proud of you. We're proud of our graduates,” he said.
Hagel noted that the United States and Indonesia have many such exchanges through military exercises, training and education. People-to-people exchanges, “regardless of your profession, but in particular the military-to-military exchange, is a very solid bridge-building mechanism for countries,” he added.
Yusgiantoro invited questions from the audience, and a captain rose from his chair, describing himself as chief of operations at the 17th Airborne Infantry Brigade of the Indonesian Army Strategic Reserve Command, called Kostrad. His name, he said, is Agus Yudhoyono.
Everyone in the room recognized his last name. Just that morning, Hagel had met with the captain’s father, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The captain, who said it was an honor to have Hagel in Jakarta, had earned a master of public administration degree in 2010 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Then, in 2011, he completed a six-month advanced officers' course, called the Maneuver Captain's Career Course, at Fort Benning, Ga., as part of the State Department’s International Military Education and Training program. IMET awards grants for training and education to students from allied and friendly nations.
“During the six months of rigorous training, I had the opportunity to enrich my military knowledge and experience through engagement with my fellow American officers who had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Yudhoyono said.
The captain said he engaged with Americans, learned about local traditions and cultures, and found the experience personally and professionally rewarding.
For Hagel, the captain had recommendations for enhancing cooperation between the two militaries by enhancing the education and training portions of the IMET program.
“As for education, it will be very important for us if we can have a greater opportunity to send officers for post-graduate-level education,” Yudhoyono said. “It is critical to produce our very own soldier-scholars, because we want to develop our institution into a more professional, world-class military, including to produce brilliant strategic thinkers and defense practitioners.”
Military courses also are valuable, he added, “to help officers learn to develop doctrines, tactics and procedures so we can be a more developed and a more joint fighting force.”
In terms of training, the captain said, joint exercises conducted in Indonesia and also in the United States at advanced training facilities could help the Indonesians gain experience they might not otherwise have access to.
The secretary thanked Yudhoyono for his articulate summation and added his own words about the IMET program.
“I have always believed -- and I … know President [Barack] Obama and all of the leadership of the Pentagon and the American armed forces believe strongly -- that the IMET program is one of the smartest, best investments the United States can make in relationships around the world, and in particular, for the future. And I think you and many of your colleagues are very clear examples of that,” he said.
The consequences of training and education can hardly be quantified, Hagel added, but they are important.
“[All] of you are role models. … And that comes through a lot of things,” the secretary said. “It comes through education, through training, through the professionalization of your services. IMET does that as well as any one program I think the United States has, so you can be assured that program is going to continue, and we'll continue to enhance it.”
Later, during a joint news conference with Yusgiantoro, Hagel said he fully supports a proposal by the minister to establish a military alumni association for Indonesians who have trained in the United States and participated in joint exercises, and for Americans who have trained in Indonesian schools.
“There are thousands of officers who qualify,” Hagel said, “and this is a great opportunity to continue those people-to-people ties that deeply bind our two nations and militaries.”