Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel won Senate confirmation as secretary of defense on February 26, 2013. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War vet, was the subject of intense Senate scrutiny and a filibuster to delay his confirmation.
Hagel will be sworn into the office on February 27. He will replace Leon Panetta as Pentagon head.
Opponents have questioned Hagel's support of gay issues as well as his support for Israel.
Hagel will be battered and bruised from the Senate hearings when he takes office. He will have to prove to his detractors -- and other nations -- that he has the clout and effectiveness to lead the U.S. military.
He also will take office two days before sequestration cuts are supposed to hit the federal budget. Hagel has said he is in favor of trimming defense spending, but a $54 billion hit his first year may not be what he expected.
Obama Praises Hagel
President Barack Obama, whose support of Hagel never wavered, again praised him saying Hagel's life has symbolized support of the American military. Hagel, he said, is "an American patriot who fought and bled for our country, he understands our sacred obligations to our service members, military families and veterans."
Obama said he is counting on Hagel's "judgment and counsel" as the U.S. winds down its war in Afghanistan.
Panetta Bows Out
Meanwhile, after learning of Hagel's confirmation, Panetta said "goodbye" to the personnel of the defense department.
"As my final act in this position, I want to express my deepest gratitude to each and every one of you who are fighting and working every day to keep this country safe," he said in a statement. "I also want to share with you my pride in what we've been able to accomplish together as one team and one family at the Department of Defense."
Panetta said he was especially proud of "weakening Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," and of giving "the people of Iraq and Afghanistan a chance at a much brighter future."