"The further away you get from the entry level, the further you get from the rifleman holding the rifle – the pointy end of the spear," says Bennett, now the chief of staff for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. This hampers the ability of decision makers to see the effect their policies where it matters.
"It's important to have that touchplate," he says, particularly amid the sweeping changes the military faces after repealing "don't ask, don't tell," introducing women into combat roles and bracing for sequestration cuts. "It may or may not affect [Hagel's] decision-making but it's about getting the data and getting the information."
The participants at last week's lunch meeting told Hagel about why they entered the military and what they have gotten out of it, Little said, including some of their personal and professional challenges.
"He heard from service members in the junior enlisted ranks who had some very compelling and quite difficult personal stories, who chose the military as a career because it helped them get out of some other deeply problematic personal situations," Little said. Hagel took notes on their comments and pledged to get back to them.