Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel would not be the “first person of enlisted rank” to run the Pentagon, contrary to claims made by President Barack Obama. At least four defense secretaries served as enlisted soldiers during their military careers, according to the New York Times.
The problem is that at least four other American defense secretaries—Melvin R. Laird, Elliot L. Richardson, Caspar W. Weinberger and William J. Perry—served part of their military careers as enlisted men.
The true distinction is that Hagel would be the first defense secretary that failed to be promoted to an officer rank before retirement. Hagel was of enlisted rank throughout his military career, while the others retired as officers.
The White House is standing by Obama’s statement.
“President Obama was precise and accurate in referring to the fact that Senator Hagel would be the ‘first person of enlisted rank’ to go on to serve as secretary of defense,” said Marie Harf, a White House spokeswoman.