Charles “Chuck” Hagel, 66, is from the central U.S. state of Nebraska. After finishing high school, Hagel served in the Vietnam War as an infantry soldier and then as a sergeant. He was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Following his two years in Vietnam, Hagel worked as a radio newscaster and talk show host in Nebraska’s largest city, Omaha, while also finishing college. Eventually, he made his way to Washington, where he first worked as congressional aide, then as a lobbyist for a tire company before becoming a campaign organizer. A stint as deputy administrator of the country’s Veteran Administration agency ended with Hagel resigning in protest over planned cuts to veteran’s benefits.
Hagel went on to make millions in 1985 when he co-founded a mobile phone manufacturing company. In the 1990s, he owned a company that made electronic voting machines. He resigned in 1995 to prepare his political campaign for the U.S. Senate. He won his first election to the U.S. Senate in 1996, and won re-election in 2002.
In his 12 years as a senator, Hagel served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was a reliable supporter of Republican positions, until he broke ranks in a dramatic fashion.
In 2005, he challenged Vice President Dick Cheney’s declaration that the Iraq insurgency was in its ‘last throes” and he compared the Iraq War to Vietnam. After he was attacked by members of his own party, he responded, “To question your government is not unpatriotic — to not question your government is unpatriotic."
July 2007, he was one of only three Republican senators to support a Democratic bill to begin a withdrawal from Iraq within four months. Hagel explained his vote by saying “this thing is coming undone quickly.” That same year, he said George W. Bush’s administration was "the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus—almost every area" of any presidency in the last 40 years.
Since leaving the Senate, Hagel has become a professor of government at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and accepted leadership of the nonpartisan policy think tank, The Atlantic Council.
He is married to Lilibet Ziller and lives in the Washington, D.C. suburb of McClean, Virginia with their daughter and son.
-- Heather Maher