Hagel: 'Hope is not a strategy'

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China MORE expressed optimism that cuts to the military's budget that affect troops would be overturned, although he acknowledged "hope is not a strategy."  

"I am hopeful — and I know hope is not a strategy, it's not an operation, and it's not a mission," Hagel said at a U.S. military base in Kuwait on Tuesday. "But let me put it in a different way. I have some confidence that we're going to be able to get this turned around." 

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"And at some point, sequestration will no longer be the law of the land. And the severe cuts that we have been taking and living with will level off and come down in a manageable way," he added. 

Although Hagel's "hope" reference was related to defense cuts, the term has been used by Republicans to mock President Obama's 2008 campaign that touted "hope" and "change" as two central tenets. 

The outgoing secretary's answer came in response to a question from a soldier stationed at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, seeking advice for soldiers "who are frustrated with the shrinking budget and the effects it has on the opportunity for training, schools, and advancement." 

The Pentagon is facing $500 billion in cuts through 2023 as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which automatically applied the cuts after lawmakers failed to agree on tax and spending reform. The cuts doubled already planned cuts of $487 billion during that time. 

Due to the tightening budget, the military services have had to delay advanced training for troops that many see as critical to career advancement in the military. 

The Pentagon is also seeking to shrink troop pay raises from 1.8 percent to 1 percent, increase co-pays for pharmaceuticals under the military health insurance by $3, decrease the amount of off-base housing subsidies by 1 percent and reduce the amount of support given to military grocery stores by $100 million. 

Congress is poised to approve those cuts as part of the 2015 defense policy bill, which has been lobbied against by military family advocates. 

Hagel acknowledged that those benefits were important for recruitment and retention of troops. 

"You all are too smart. You all have too many options. You're not going to stay at an institution that not only doesn't value education or promote it or enhance it but doesn't do something about it," he said. 

However, he also said he believed the Pentagon has done a very good job under the defense cuts of striking the balance between reducing benefits and keeping troops ready to fight. 

"We will not send you into combat — into harm's way at any time, anywhere, unless we believe and your generals, your sergeants major, your leaders believe you are ready," he said.