Speaking to reporters at the White House, President Obama recognized the departure of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after less than two years in office. Although White House sources disparaged Hagel’s term at the Defense Department after the news broke, Obama was careful to praise Hagel as a friend.
“When it’s mattered most, behind closed doors and in the Oval Office you’ve always given it to me straight and for that I will always be grateful,” Obama said.
Obama also reminded reporters that Hagel was a unique Secretary of Defense, because he was the first enlisted combat veteran to serve in that office.
“He understands our men and women like few others because he stood where they stood, he’s been in the dirt and he’s been in the mud and that’s established a special bond,” he said. Obama asserted that Hagel “does not make this or any decision lightly” but added that he considered himself “extraordinarily lucky” to have had Hagel in his cabinet.
Thanks to Hagel’s service, Obama noted, “today the United States of America can proudly claim the strongest military the world has ever known.”
Hagel was polite in his remarks on his administration. He thanked President Obama and the troops for allowing him to serve.
“Mr. President, again, thank you,” he said. “To you and to all of our team everywhere as we know, it is a team effort. That is the part of the fun of it, to help build teams and to work together to make things happen for the good of the country and make a better world.”