Friday, April 11, 2014

Hagel Gets a Gift Horse During His Visit to Mongolia

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia – After weathering tough meetings with Chinese leaders about U.S. ambitions in the region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel‘s 10-day Asian excursion came to a close Thursday with a gift horse and sour milk curd.

Mr. Hagel wound up his extended international trip with a four-hour visit to Mongolia, the one-time seat of the 13th Century Empire led by Genghis Khan that is using its vast mineral resources to fuel one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Mongolians welcomed Mr. Hagel with a ceremonial bowl of sour, dried milk curd before the Pentagon chief and Mongolia’s defense minister signed a symbolic statement reaffirming their deepening military ties.

Mr. Hagel met with Mongolian soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces. But the star of the visit was a nine-year-old caramel colored horse from the Mongolian military honor guard.

By tradition, Mongolia presents special dignitaries with a horse.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received one he named Montana when he visited Mongolia a decade ago. Last year, Adm. Samuel Locklear, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, named his gift horse Chesapeake.

The name Mr. Hagel planned to choose for his Mongolian horse was a closely held secret on the trip. Some Pentagon officials wondered if he would name the horse after one of his aides. Others bet he would turn to his Nebraska roots for inspiration.

Sure enough, when the time came, Mr. Hagel named the horse Shamrock in homage of the mascot at his Nebraska high school.

“Shamrock is a name that’s meaningful to me,” Mr. Hagel said in front of the Mongolian defense ministry where placed a blue scarf around the horse’s neck as U.S. and Mongolian military officers looked on. “And I hope Shamrock likes his new name.”

While Mr. Hagel flew back to the U.S., Shamrock returned to Mongolia’s honor guard. Mongolian officials pledged to send Mr. Hagel annual updates on Shamrock so the defense minister can keep track of his horse’s life-and-times.

“It’s a handsome horse,” Mr. Hagel told Mongolian Defense Minister Bet-Erdene Dashdemberel.

Before he left Mongolia, military officials printed a large picture of Mr. Hagel and Shamrock and presented it to him in a gold frame to bring back to the U.S. Mr. Hagel said he’d give the picture as a gift to his high school and vowed to keep in touch with his new steed.

“I’ll send him Christmas cards,” Mr. Hagel said.

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