U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spent Easter in Meridian with his wife's family. It was a brief vacation away from the pressures of Washington.
The former Republican senator from Nebraska was sworn in as our nation's Secretary of Defense just a little over a month ago. He is now dealing with many critical national security issues, including the latest threats from North Korea.
Just this weekend, North Korea announced it has entered a state of war with South Korea, and included a threat to attack the United States mainland. The country's young leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets, if provoked.
The threats came after two U.S. B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions earlier this week over a South Korean island as a part of a defense drill.
Secretary Hagel told Newscenter 11 Sunday that he and the administration are keeping close with our allies.
"We take seriously the rhetoric coming out of North Korea," said Secretary Hagel. "They have some choices, North Korea does; they can move in a different direction toward a responsible pathway to peace but we can't minimize threats. We are prepared, our country, our allies should know and be reassured, that we're committed to our allies in that area, and especially here on the mainland in our country."
Hagel says the U.S. has communicated with its allies since this incident.
"We are in constant touch with our allies. General Thurman, our U.S. Commander there in South Korea, works very closely with our South Korean allies. I spoke with the South Korean minister of defense a couple of days ago. So they are tremendous partners; they're very steady, and they're very careful. And that's what's required at this time. Very steady, very wise, careful actions and leadership. We don't want any kind of combustible event to ignite some bigger issue over there."
Hagel's wife is the former Lilibet Ziller, a native of Meridian. His mother-in-law, Glennie Ziller, says she was thrilled the Hagels could be here to worship at Meridian's First Baptist Church.
"He's so congenial, and just so easy to be with, and we just love him," said Glennie Ziller. "He's one of the family."
Secretary Hagel says he comes with his wife and children to Meridian about once a year, and looks forward to the tradition of family pictures in front of the cross in front of the church.
"When we were at church this morning, we took pictures. And we have a picture taken years ago, when our son and daughter were very small, and they came up about 1/4 up the cross," said Hagel. "And now they are as tall as the cross. So, nice memories we have here."
Hagel called it a special time.