From serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to co-hosting weekend coverage for “Fox & Friends,” Pete Hegseth has already had an extensive career. While his success and drive could be traced back to Army boot camp or Princeton University’s basketball court, he claims his career has been defined by the “traditional American values” instilled in him while growing up.
Traditional American Values
Hegseth grew up in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Although he didn’t come from a military family, his family’s values helped to shape his patriotic journey. His parents demonstrated their values through their work in their community. His dad coached basketball, and both of his parents were involved in the church.
“It was a love of God and a love of country. It was a basic, pure genuine patriotism, appreciation, hard work, individual responsibility, competitiveness,” Hegseth said of his upbringing in an interview with IJR. “I was not from a military family, so it wasn’t that tradition, but it was a general reverence for things that matter.”
Hegseth explained that sense of patriotism didn’t stem from any political party: “These traditional American values that have been passed on for decades — they’re not political, they’re cultural.”
Small town patriotic traditions pointed Hegseth in the direction of military service. When he was a kid, the “Fox & Friends” host would attend Veterans Day services with his family:
“A memory that I hold close is my grandfather and other men of that town walking down the street in their uniforms and the whole town stood up to salute them and clap for them. I just remember thinking, such reverence is held for these men. I want to do the type of thing they did for my country. That’s why I’m such a believer in civic ritual. Remembrances are important. They enfuse in kids what really matters in society.”
Hegseth graduated high school and went to Princeton University to play basketball. While at Princeton, he joined the ROTC program. He enlisted in the spring of 2001, just months before the attacks on September 11. He would go on to serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I never thought my military service would translate into advocacy.”
After two tours of duty in the Middle East, Hegseth began to see a disconnect between what was happening on the ground in Iraq and what was being perceived by the media.
“I never thought my military service would translate into advocacy,” Hegseth told IJR, “but then I came back from the Iraq War in 2006, and I remember looking at the political discussion and the rhetoric around the war and it was totally detached from reality. I was on the ground. I saw what was happening.”
Through a military friend, Hegseth was introduced to Vets for Freedom. The goal of the organization was to get the word out about the reality of the war in Iraq. After becoming the group’s executive director, Hegseth played a major role in encouraging the surge of U.S. troops that changed the direction of the war.
After his success with Vets for Freedom, Hegseth began his work for Concerned Veterans for America. While serving as CEO, Hegseth worked to raise awareness for the failures of the Veterans Administration. Although he admitted there is still much to be done in improving the V.A., he believes Concerned Veterans for America put the issue on the national radar.
“[Veterans] are only powerful when they are organized,” Hegseth told IJR. “Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of vets disconnected around the country. When you bring that energy together, it’s really powerful.”
“There’s a huge disconnect.”
Although his military service and work with Concerned Veterans for America ended, Hegseth still struggles to address the “disconnect” between the military and the media today, with many Americans struggling to keep track of where troops are deployed.
When President Donald Trump announced he would be removing troops from Syria, some Americans had no clue American troops were even in Syria:
Trump: We're leaving Syria.
DC: Leaving Syria will be a disaster.
American public: Wait, we're in Syria?
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) December 20, 2018
The number of Google searches for Syria skyrocketed after the president’s announcement:
Hegseth claims this disconnect between the media, the general public, and the armed services has to do with distance, both in time and in space:
“We’re 16, 17 years away from these wars starting in the first place and memories fade. We had 100s of thousands of troops in some of these countries for years and now we have 2,000, 5,000 and 7,000, which means they’re just not going to get as much attention. I’m empathetic to the fact that not every American is going to be tracking the progress on the ground in the Middle East, but it does lead to this disconnect.”
Although Hegseth does worry about the disconnect between the U.S. military and the average person, he doesn’t think it exists because Americans are not grateful to those who serve:
“Most Americans are incredibly thankful for those who serve. We live in a country that learned a lot from Vietnam and the way those guys were treated. It’s not a gap in gratitude; we’re just fortunate to live in a time where men and women will sign up to go fight in these countries so that we can live in comfort here. It’s a pretty unique and powerful moment for the country, but it also doesn’t always have to be the way it will be. If we take it for granted, we could lose it.”
With that said, he doesn’t believe the media are without guilt. He pointed to the recent attacks on President Trump for his visit to Iraq as an example of the media failing to paint the proper picture of what was happening.
“They turn a Christmas trip to Iraq, which I always appreciated when George W. Bush did it and Barack Obama did it, they turned that somehow into a negative. They hate Trump and they’re going to do anything they can to tear him down and make him look bad,” said Hegseth, adding, “It should also surprise nobody that the troops love Trump.”
As far as the media is concerned, Hegseth has done his part to paint an accurate picture of the American military men and women.
His show on Fox Nation, “Ace of Spades: The Hunt for Saddam Hussein,” follows the work done to capture Hussein, complete with interviews from some of the soldiers and intelligence officers who were there.
This year, Hegseth will also be co-hosting Fox News’ New Years Eve coverage from Time Square with Kennedy. Hegseth told IJR he hopes their coverage will avoid the “empty fluff” of most New Years Eve specials, instead highlighting American exceptionalism.
Hegseth said the “All-American New Year” coverage will include a live swearing-in ceremony for new members of the United States Military, as well as many guest appearances from other Fox News hosts.