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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday the Pentagon must address skyrocketing personnel costs before they cripple the US military. In his first major policy speech since becoming the Pentagon's boss in late February, Hagel cautioned that cuts to coveted benefit programs such as health care may be coming. "With full recognition for the great stresses that our troops and their families have been under . . . for nearly 12 years of war, and for the essential contributions civilian employees make to the Department's mission, fiscal realities demand another hard look at personnel," he said during his April 3 address at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. This includes "how many people we have both military and civilian, how many we need, what these people do, and how we compensate them for their work, service, and loyalty with pay, benefits, and health care," he said. Hagel said "the biggest long-term fiscal challenge" for the Defense Department is not a declining budget topline number, but rather "the growing imbalance" in how the Pentagon spends its money. "Left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel, and develop replacements for aging weapons platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations, and readiness—the budget categories that enable the military to be and stay prepared," he said. (Hagel speech transcript)