After surviving a bruising Senate confirmation process, newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did his best to rouse the troops Wednesday during a welcoming ceremony at the Pentagon against the backdrop of massive defense cuts due to begin Friday.
"It's a difficult time. It's a time of tremendous challenge. But there are opportunities. And I think it's important that we all stay focused, obviously on our jobs and our responsibilities, which are immense, but not lose sight of the possibilities for a better world," said Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska.
The ceremony highlighted the new chief's experience as a former enlisted Army infantryman who was wounded in Vietnam and awarded two Purple Hearts. Mr. Hagel was introduced by Army Sgt. 1st Class John Wirth of Gordon, Neb.
"We've got the chief of staff of the Army [here]. He makes me shake a little, being an old Army sergeant. But the sergeant major of the Army scares the hell out of me. I think he does the general too, actually," Mr. Hagel said, evoking laughter.
Mr. Hagel, who was sworn in Wednesday at the Pentagon, drew a broad map of priorities — taking care of troops and their families, engaging with allies to confront world threats and challenges, and making sure to run the Pentagon in a fair manner.
"It's also important for you to know that I'm committed to — and I've told the president this, the Congress — to assuring that every person in the Department of Defense, associated with the Department of Defense, civilian or military, is absolutely treated fairly, honestly, equal benefits — everything that each of you do should be dealt with on a fair and equal basis," he said.
The new defense secretary ended the ceremony sounding like a military officer.
"And I look forward to working with you. You'll always know that you have a secretary of defense that will deal straight with you. I'll be honest. I'll be direct. I'll expect the same from you. I'll never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn't do. I will never ask anybody to do more than I wouldn't do," Mr. Hagel said to the group of a few hundred military and civilian personnel. "I'm very proud to be on your team."
Mr. Hagel succeeds Leon E. Panetta, who had hoped to retire from public service after serving as President Obama's first CIA director but was talked into taking over last July for Robert M. Gates, a holdover from President George W. Bush's Pentagon. Mr. Gates made a point of carrying a "countdown clock" tracking the time until he could retire.
Mr. Panetta retreated to his home in California last weekend to follow the outcome of Senate votes Tuesday that granted Mr. Panetta his wish not to have to return to Washington.
Mr. Hagel was confirmed on a Senate vote of 58-41, with four Republicans joining the Democrats in backing him. Mr. Hagel's only Republican support came from former colleagues Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — all three had announced their support earlier — and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their unprecedented delay of a Pentagon choice and allowed the nomination to move forward on a 71-27 vote.
Mr. Hagel, 66, has said he did not ask for the Pentagon job but has embraced the opportunity.
"I will do everything in my power to be the kind of leader that you expect and you deserve, also, the kind of leader the country expects and deserves," the Vietnam combat veteran said in 15 minutes of remarks in which he struck a tone of humility.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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