Former Senator and Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel being question by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Getty, AP images)
As I walked through the Senate doors and entered the hearing room, I weaved my way through excited interns, an eager press, ardent supporters and protestors to take a seat at one of the most significant cabinet confirmations of our time. The Hagel confirmation hearings made Thursday a very important day in American history for the job of Secretary of Defense is more meaningful than ever in not only protecting America's security and vital interests in the world, but also making decisions that will either nullify or secure our progress in Afghanistan.
As Senator Levin stated, the biggest undertaking of the next Secretary will be to negotiate the winding down of the Afghan war. While I sat during a grueling, nearly eight hour grilling of Senator Chuck Hagel, many things flooded through my mind. Above all else though, this war weighed heavy on my heart. Would the decisions that this man makes be worthy of the "dead Americans" in Iraq and Afghanistan who gave their last full measure of devotion to our country?
In Afghanistan, where 66,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed, Hagel insinuated that he wasn't sure how many troops should remain in the country after our commitment expires in 2014. “If I am confirmed, I will need to better understand all the dimensions of this.” Hagel stated.
"The key to this transition is ensuring the readiness and ability of Afghan security forces to take over the defense of their own country," Senator Levin stated. “I have always believed that should be our main mission and its key to success.”
With a corrupt government, local and national police force, this convoluted job will be anything but a piece of cake. Whether or not Hagel is the right man for the job, we cannot " lose" this war, we cannot let go of all of the progress we have made just to exit a quagmire. There are far too many investments into the country- with my own patriot's blood being left in the dirt of Paktya province, sacrificed out of a valiant heart, to free an oppressed people, and moreso love for the country that he left to give his all to serve and protect. Part of my heart was left in Zormat district on September 9th, 2011, when my husband, SPC Christpher Horton, gave his last breath to the mission in Afghanistan and protection of the American people.
"I always ask the question is this going to be worth the sacrifice, because there will be sacrifice," Hagel said [ on the surge in Iraq] . "Now, was it required? Was it necessary? Senator McCain has his own opinion on that, shared by others. I am not sure. I am not that certain that it was required. It doesn't mean I am right."
The question is not whether or not the surge or loss was required or necessary, but more so, how are we going to protect our gain and our interests in two nations that we have now spent the longest time in war with in American history. Those losses will never be regained, but we can honor them by being responsible, by finishing the task that they gave their all towards, and by protecting those here at home and making sure they continue to sleep peacefully in their beds at night.
Despite many Americans' belief that once the wars are over, they can wipe their hands clean from the conflicts, they are wrong. The end of a war is almost like cleaning up a devastating hurricane, there are many to look after, many injured, wounded, displaced, and there are many that bear the visible and invisible wounds of war. As the number of casualties for the Iraq/Afghan wars surpasses 6,500, there are many widows and orphans that need the support of America, and many service members who have bravely borne the battle. Many soldiers are coming home without jobs, many with PTSD, and many other consequences to war that we still don't know how to fully address.
Don't get me wrong, the Afghan war is not the only issue on the table. Iran is on the verge of obtaining nukes, North Korea is taunting us weekly, and there is a huge question mark as to where exactly Syria's chemical weapons are. Not to mention the looming deficit and the almost certain threat of sequestration- the DOD will be obligated to work with the smallest budget in years and be forced to cut vital programs and defense spending.
In July 2011, when I was a Senate intern, I had a quick conversation with Senator Levin as he hurried through the halls of the Russell Senate office building to cast a vote. I told him about my deployed husband who was currently in Afghanistan with Oklahoma's 45th infantry brigade combat team, and I gave him a pin with the 45th Thunderbird on it. I'll never forget what he said to me, "I am so sorry." I always wondered what he meant in those words- as if he knew something I didn't know. I'll never forget that day, nor will I forget the encounter I had with him today in the same Senate hall. Today I told him something different- I reminded him of our previous meeting, and told him this time that my husband did not make it home. I humbly told him how thankful I was for his work, and how important it is to me to make sure my husband's and so many others' sacrifices are worth it.
This nation has a great responsibility on it's hands and a mission that we have no choice but to succeed in. We have invested far too many interests to achieve anything less, and our new Secretary of Defense, whoever it may be, will be vital in this mission.