Chuck Hagel was confirmed Tuesday as the next Secretary of Defense.
The Senate voted 58-41 for Hagel to succeed Leon Panetta as the Pentagon’s top chief, just three days before sequestration is scheduled to take place.
“From the moment he volunteered for military service in Vietnam, Chuck has devoted his life to keeping America secure and our armed forces strong,” Obama said in a statement issued shortly after Hagel’s confirmation. “An American patriot who fought and bled for our country, he understands our sacred obligations to our service members, military families and veterans.”
Obama nominated Hagel on January 7. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 30, and the committee recommended him for confirmation to the full Senate on January 12.
Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during service as an Army sergeant, and served as senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009.
He will be sworn in Wednesday.
The vote also marks the end of the two-year tenure of Panetta as Secretary of Defense. After Hagel was confirmed, Panetta sent the following letter to Pentagon employees:
To All Department of Defense Personnel:
“Tomorrow morning, Chuck Hagel will be sworn in to succeed me as secretary of defense. It’s been the privilege of my life to serve with and lead the men and women of this department, and I am grateful that President Obama selected such an outstanding leader to take my place.
“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. 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.
“First and foremost, I’m proud that because of all of your hard work, your sacrifice, and your dedication, we’ve kept this country safe. I’m proud of the courage and commitment you’ve displayed in combat, and for your determination to defeat our enemies, prevail over significant challenges in two wars, and give the people of Iraq and Afghanistan a chance at a much brighter future.
“I’m proud of the gains we’ve made in weakening al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. At all levels in this department, you’ve shown the ability to work together closer than ever before with our partners in government and abroad. Your skill and teamwork are undermining and frustrating our enemies’ designs to attack this country.
“I’m proud of the defense strategy that we’ve developed and started to implement, which sustains the world’s strongest military and helps meet the department’s obligations to fiscal discipline. Together we’re keeping our military agile, flexible, and ready; we’re rebalancing our force posture; we’re building new partnerships and investing in new technologies.
“I’m proud of expanding opportunities for everyone in the military, because I believe everyone deserves a chance to serve. And I’m proud of what we’ve done to help and care for returning service members, veterans, and their families, who’ve sacrificed so much especially over this past decade of war.
“Most of all, I’ll always remain proud and honored to have led brave warriors who are risking their lives on behalf of the American people. Everything our military has been able to accomplish is because of dedicated people like you – it is because of your willingness to deal with extended absences from loved ones and deploy in harm’s way.
“I’ll never forget, honoring our fallen to whom our nations rendered final honors, and I’ll keep their families in my prayers. In my time as secretary of defense, I’ve seen the profound difference that each of you has made in the life of this nation and our world. You have responded to the call of the bugle with courage and with selfless dedication to country.
“My prayer as I leave is that we all share the same courage and dedication to protecting the United States of America, the home of the free and the land of the brave.
“God bless America, God bless you, and God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense.”