Questions from service­members, civilian employ­ees and Family members about the U.S. military’s budget, resources and ser­vices highlighted an hour­long town hall event with the secretary of defense Monday afternoon at Fort Bragg.

The Fort Bragg visit was Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s first stop on a multi-day tour of military installations in

the southeastern United States. The stop gave him the opportunity to speak with a variety of Soldiers

stationed across Fort Bragg, from U.S. Army Forces Command leaders to Soldiers assigned to the

82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Reserve units on post.

Hagel addressed the

crowd of about 200 indi­viduals with ties to Fort Bragg in a large holding area, used to prepare para­troopers to conduct air­borne operations, on Pope F ield.

He opened the event by pinning the Purple Heart on the collar of Spc. Trev­or Hoover, a Fort Bragg Soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.

He also recognized the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Sgt. Evan Lewan­dowski, his wife, Melissa, and their three young children in his opening remarks. The Lewan­dowski family was named the Fort Bragg “Family of the Year” in December 2012, and emphasized the role of servicemembers’ Families in maintaining the military’s strength.

“Families are the core,

we must protect our people in every way we can.

With a large American flag in the back­ground, Hagel spoke with the crowd for over an hour, praising them for their hard work and support, and encouraging them to ask questions during a question-and­answer

session.

“We’re living at a time when we’re truly defining a future for our country and help­ing others define their futures around the world,” Hagel said.

“What you do every day is far more than putting a uniform on … it is certainly big­ger than just ourselves, it is building a bet­ter world.”

Hagel also made a point to recognize civilian employees, who do not wear uni­forms, but work just as hard in service to the U.S. military, he said.

The U.S. military’s work — the defense of the United States — requires partner­ships and relationships with each other and the nation’s allies, due to the size and complexity of the problems the military is working to solve Hagel said.

He also talked about balancing and pri­oritizing these responsibilities while also managing a reduction in budget and re­sources.

“This is not the first time this has hap­pened in the county, but this time is prob­ably more dramatic,” Hagel said. “(Seques­tration) is forcing us to take deeper, steeper and more abrupt reductions than we’ve

ever had to.”

The 11-day furlough implemented for most of DoD civilian employees came up several times during Hagel’s remarks and audience members’ questions. He said that a furlough for civilian employees, origi­nally planned to run for 22 days, was the last, budget-control measure he wanted to implement.

“I know it’s painful, but I could not take down the (military’s) readiness line any further than we already did,” he said. “We’ll get through this. In all of your ca­reers in this room, I suspect this is the most difficult time of your careers. I accept that, I understand that.”

Questions from the audience covered a wide variety of topics but followed the same common theme — the effect of budget and resource reduction, par­ticularly sequestration, on the military’s readiness and ability to take care of its ser vicemembers.

One military spouse and civilian em­ployee in the audience asked about the furlough’s effect on military schools. DoD teachers were given an exemption which reduced their furlough days from 11 to five, Hagel said.

Another civilian employee asked about the possibility of different services manag­ing furloughs based on their own budgets’ availability; Hagel said it was his decision that all services would come into, and out of, this period of reduced budgets together.

“I can protect that baseline part of our institution, I will.”