Heineman: Hagel's combat experience would be valuable as Sect. of Defense

LINCOLN (AP) - Gov. Dave Heineman says former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel would bring valuable military experience to the Pentagon if he's confirmed as Secretary of Defense, but he's not saying whether he would support Hagel for the job.

Heineman declined to say Monday whether he would back Hagel's confirmation, saying he wanted to leave the decision to Republican Nebraska Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer.

But Heineman, a former Army Ranger, says Hagel's combat experience in Vietnam would serve him well in the position. Heineman said Hagel "knows what it is like to be shot at", something he feels it is important for the Secretary of defense to know when you are considering putting the country at war and the nation's young people "at harm's way."

The Republican governor says he'd also be happy to see a Nebraskan fill the job, although he believes that Hagel angered many Republicans with his criticism of the Iraq War and his support for Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Kerrey.

President Barack Obama says Hagel is ``the leader that our troops deserve,'' and understands war is not an abstraction. Obama praised the former Nebraska senator's independence and bipartisan approach, but he is drawing opposition from others who accuse him of being soft on Iran and insufficiently supportive of Israel.

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