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Bill White Headshot

Let Me Tell You About My Friend, Chuck Hagel

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I have watched with growing dismay over the past week as groups and individuals on all sides of the partisan spectrum have spoken out against former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), President Obama's nomination for Secretary of Defense and an exemplary American hero and public servant. It's time to cut through the clutter and tell you about the real Chuck, who has been a devoted friend and colleague of mine for over 20 years. It is my hope that by speaking out, I can help get rid of the white noise and focus attention on the Chuck I admire, the Chuck who is, in my mind, deserving of the respect of all Americans.

For several years I ran the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and I've sat on the board of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund since 1992. Today I run a firm dedicated to raising funds for and awareness of the urgent challenges faced by our active-duty service members, our veterans and their families. Chuck has been an unsurpassed ally in these critical missions to care for and support those who serve and have served our country. I am certain that he will continue this stalwart advocacy as Defense Secretary; in fact, that is one of the two basic roles of the Defense Secretary. Furthermore, as a Vietnam veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts for his service to our country, Chuck knows the very real challenges of veterans and their families better than any Secretary in recent memory. He's lived it, and it informs every move he makes. The other basic role of Defense Secretary in today's economy is to bring congressional leaders together and reach an agreement on fiscal management of the Department of Defense. Only a longtime Senate deal maker and consensus builder like Chuck can accomplish this. This is vital to our national security and fiscal health. Nobody takes these two challenges more seriously than does Chuck.

Much has been made of a statement Chuck made at the time of Ambassador James Hormel's confirmation 14 years ago. As an openly gay man I found his words regrettable and still do, and Americans deserve the explanation and apology that Chuck has succinctly and generously offered. I accept his apology, as a gay American and as his friend. However, I have also been openly gay throughout my friendship with Chuck, and he has always shown me unquestioning respect. He has shown the same to my husband Bryan. Over the last several years we have witnessed a sea change on gay rights and on our leaders' gradual embrace of the issue. Leaders from the president down have come a long way, and Chuck is no exception. I believe we owe Chuck's public evolution the same respect given to President Obama's public evolution and the growth of scores of other American leaders.

Finally, no American citizen, community leader or elected official should lose sight of the reason for Chuck's nomination to head up the Pentagon. The Secretary of Defense is hired to firmly execute the policies and vision of the president, the vice president and the White House. President Obama and Vice President Biden are the greatest allies to military personnel currently serving or who have served in the past, and they have been true allies to LGBT Americans in their quest for equality.

Chuck's positions on Israel and Iran have also been under scrutiny, but the president has stated firmly that his own support for Israel's security and growth are unwavering, and that Iran's government is a terrorist organization, and on these and so many other relevant issues and the challenges that face our great country, Chuck's values reflect not only those of the president and mainstream America but my own. I am very much looking forward to working with Chuck to help him advance important efforts to support our troops and their families in his role as Secretary of Defense. I know he will be an amazing one.

Bill White served as president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Intrepid Relief Fund and is now the CEO of Constellations Group.