Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel worries that too few veterans are helping shape national security decisions today.
On Tuesday, during comments at a HillVets event across the street from the U.S. Capitol, Hagel said the lack of veterans in key political posts has left a "deficit" in critical military and security discussions, and helped widen the knowledge gap between civilians and those who served in the military.
"When you look at the presidential candidates today, not one is a veteran," Hagel told the crowd of more than 200. "Our current president and vice president are not veterans. The entire senior White House security staff, none are veterans.
"That doesn't mean they're bad people, that doesn't mean they're not smart, that doesn't mean they don't care about this country. But there is something missing here. And at a time when everything is hair-triggered, everything is nitro glycerine, and miscalculations can lead to a lot of trouble, we need veterans input."
Hagel's remarks were part of a larger event by HillVets to highlight contributions by military, veterans and advocates in politics and wider cultural efforts. The group honored Shaye Lynne Haver and Kristen Marie Griest, who last August became the first women to graduate from Army Ranger School, with a new leadership and service award.
Hagel praised their accomplishments and called the entire U.S. military the best trained and most skilled fighting force in the world.
But he also said he worries that too few Americans understand what that means.
"You all know the numbers — less than 1 percent of our society serves," he said. "That does not mean this country doesn't value our military or doesn't value our veterans. Of course they do.
"But there is developing a wider and deeper gap between civilian society and our military, and our veterans."
The former defense secretary and two-term senator said he wants to see veterans in government "in all capacities," including federal staffers and elected offices.
In the late 1970s, more than 70 percent of Congress has military experience in their backgrounds. At the start of the current Congress, that number dropped below 20 percent.
"We're losing that perspective, and it's not good for our country," he said. "It's not good for our policy making. We need the input of our veterans."
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.