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Interview: Secretary Chuck Hagel

Going back to the building, I wondered if there is anything that ever made you think, “Boy, they don’t build them like that anymore!”
The building, well yes. The reinforcement and how that was built, and the reasons it was built that way, and all the rest is pretty unique. We just don’t build those kinds of buildings anymore. But it was a one-of-a-kind when it was built.

I would just marvel at the whole thing. Just the privilege to be there in that job was for me just an incredible experience. I have never lost that feeling.

Secretary Panetta said that was the biggest office he ever had in his public life.
Well, it’s mammoth. It’s like a gymnasium. I remember when President [Barack] Obama was over, he needed to use the restrooms. I said, “Well come in and duck in my office and use the restroom.” I guess he’d never been in the secretary of defense’s office. And he came out of there and he said, “Hagel, we’ve got to trade offices here. Your office is bigger than mine. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” And he’s laughing and thought it was funny. But, it’s a mammoth office. But the institution itself is tremendous. I think every secretary of defense – you keep a lot of the same pieces of furniture. You know the desk and the credenza behind the secretary’s desk, those are all historic pieces of furniture. And there’s something reassuring about that, I think, as secretary of defense.

Speaking of the building, every morning when I would get to the Pentagon, I’d walk up those steps. I’d get to the steps and I’d turn around and I’d look back across the water and down that magnificent mall there in front of the Pentagon where the flags are, and then across the river and you can see the Capitol. I would just marvel at the whole thing. Just the privilege to be there in that job was for me just an incredible experience. I have never lost that feeling. Every morning I would turn around, I would look out my window, often when I was thinking about something or on the phone talking to [President Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi from Egypt or talking to … my counterpart from Russia, the minister of defense, and all the time I’d be talking I’d be standing in that window looking at the Capitol, looking down. I mean, there was just some inspiration you’d draw from that, or at least I did. I think it’s all part of the building, the mystique of the building. It was for me.

Hagel meets with officials

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, Dec. 9, 2013. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Is there any particular aspect of the building that the general public might not be aware of, or would find interesting or inspirational?
I think there are so many parts of that building that are tremendously interesting and historic and inspirational. I’ve told people many, many times when they come to the Capitol and the Smithsonian and all these marvelous institutions and buildings we have, the Library of Congress, that the Pentagon I rate right up there as really a museum in many ways. It really is. And there are so many parts of it that are inspirational. But for me, to have the privilege in that office to be there and look across that water every day at the Capitol, and know what that building represented and know all the great people who have served this country, and look at the Congress of the United States where I served as well – for me that was about as inspirational as it could get. But the building itself and so many parts of it are very inspirational for people. I wish America could see that, all Americans could see that building and take a couple of hours just to tour – two hours’ worth, at least those corridors of the wars.

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