Introducing the Hagelites

Former staffers for Chuck Hagel say their old boss inspired the kind of loyalty that makes them want to run to his defense as the attacks mount against him.

"A number of us would lay in front of a bus for the man," one former staffer told Foreign Policy National Security.

“He wanted people around him who are thoughtful and inquisitive and nuanced,” said another former staffer, who said the boss led the charge when it comes to a work ethic.

“Nobody worked harder than him, which inspired great loyalty from his team.”

That kind of loyalty may mean Hagel will try to put the band back together if he is confirmed as the next Pentagon chief. Some of the names around Washington with close ties to President Obama’s nominee since he left the Senate in 2008 include a number of former staffers who have since gone taken different professional -- and ideological -- paths.

At least one former Hagelite is already in the building. Pentagon cyber boss Eric Rosenbach was Hagel’s national security advisor in the Senate and a staffer on the Select Committee on Intelligence. He was appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy in September 2011. Rosenbach also is a former Army intelligence officer with a J.D. from Harvard and master’s degree from Georgetown.

Aaron Dowd, former assistant to Hagel’s chief of staff, has remained closely connected to his boss and is considered to be on the short list for a big role in Hagel's front office.

Hagel’s former senior foreign policy advisor, Rexon Ryu (pictured above, left, in 2008), now works for Susan Rice as the deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Prior, Ryu worked on Iran and nonproliferation at the National Security Council for two years. He began his career as a foreign service officer stationed in Cairo and Jerusalem. Ryu has been described as “Hagel’s brain” and someone who traveled everywhere with him.

Stacie Oliver was Hagel’s military/defense aide in the Senate. After he left, she joined Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who just became the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Joe Lai, another former Hagel staffer, is now the military legislative assistant for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).

Mike Pevzner was Hagel’s staffer on the intel committee, where he has remained, working for Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). Pevzner has Pentagon experience; he was “senior analyst for counterterrorism issues and acting Branch Chief at the Defense Department,” according to his Linkedin profile, and he is a former Army officer with time served in the building, Moscow, and Germany. Another Ivy Leaguer, Pevzner went to Dartmouth and has a degree from Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Former Hagel foreign policy aide Andrew Parasiliti is now the editor of Al-Monitor. Before that he was executive director of the International Institute for Security Studies-U.S. office, a prestigious London-based think tank that runs the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual June gathering in Singapore of Asia-Pacific defense ministers at which the U.S. defense secretary has delivered the keynote address for several years running. With a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington, Parasiliti previously worked on Middle East issues at Harvard and the Middle East Institute.

Hagel is known for being a history nut and information sponge. He always expected his staff to be as informed -- or more informed -- than he was. One former staffer said Hagel always wants to know who the different players are, what their angles are, and how they see the world, so he can better connect with them.

Hagel’s background as an enlisted man affords him extra gravitas around men and women in uniform. As a senator, he would make a point not only to sit privately with service members -- especially from Nebraska -- but was particularly interested in talking with enlisted members. Those interactions are one of the things that former staffers say created an infectious sense of purpose.

“Senator Hagel is committed to the highest standards of leadership and public service. His view is that service is an honor, you are there to do things that matter, that are important for the country, and to do them right,” said Parasiliti. “As a member of his staff, the feeling was contagious. With Hagel, you felt you were part of something bigger than yourself.”

Mike Buttry (pictured above, right) rose through the ranks of Hagelites from communications assistant to spokesman and then chief of staff, until Hagel’s very last day in the Senate.

He said one sign of loyalty are the number of staffers who left Hagel for the private sector or other campaign jobs, as Buttry did, but then returned to work for the senator. His former chief of staff Lou Anne Linehan went to work for Colin Powell but returned, and Tom Danton, Hagel’s state director, went into the private sector but also returned.

“It’s the guy,” Buttry said. “There’s a legion of Hagel people that would walk through a wall for him.” Buttry said Hagel staffers felt they were working for something “larger than yourself,” which he admits sounds corny but insists was genuine.

“The clue that we had was at the end, in 2008 [when Hagel retired from the Senate]. Almost nobody left until the last day, which I think is unheard of. It was out of a sense of not just loyalty to him, but out of loyalty to each other.” Buttry now lives in Minnesota with his young family and said he does not plan to return to Washington.

Other names to watch include Chad Kreikemeier, a former Hagel legislative assistant turned foreign policy advisor for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

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