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Chuck Hagel: Secretary of Defense

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Chuck Hagel Begins His Post As Defense Secretary

Chuck Hagel Begins His Post As Defense Secretary

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Chuck Hagel was sworn in as the nation's 24th Secretary of Defense on Feb. 27, 2013, after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 26. A former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, the Republican Hagel is the third Secretary of Defense to serve under President Obama. Previous Obama Administration Secretaries of Defense include Robert M. Gates, first appointed by President Bush in 2006, and Leon Panetta.

Early Life and Education

Chuck Hagel was born in North Platte, Nebraska on October 4, 1946. After graduating from high school in 1966, Hagel attended the Brown Institute for Radio and Television, graduating in 1966. After serving in the U.S. Army infantry in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, he attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha, earning a BA in history in 1971.

Military Service

After joining the U.S. Army, Hagel volunteer to serve in Vietnam. Holding the rank of Sergeant, Hagel served as squad leader in the 9th infantry division from 1967 to 1968. In what is believe to be the only case of siblings serving together in combat roles during Vietnam, Hagel served alongside his younger brother Tom. As a result of his service in Vietnam, Hagel was awarded two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Political Career

After graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971, Hagel worked as Chief of Staff to Nebraska Congressman John Y. McCollister. In 1981, he served as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration (VA) under President Ronald Reagan. During his time at the helm of the VA, Hagel led the fight leading to increased benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. He chaired the Agent Orange Payment Program, the source of the Agent Orange Settlement Fund.

In 1996, Hagel was elected to the U.S. Senate from his home state of Nebraska. Before leaving the Senate in 2009, Hagel was active in the Senate committee system, serving on the Senate Foreign Relations; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; and Intelligence Committees. In addition, he chaired the Foreign Relations International Economic Policy, Export and Trade Promotion Subcommittee; and the Banking Committee's International Trade and Finance, and Securities Subcommittees. He also served as the Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Senate Climate Change Observer Group.

After retiring from the Senate, Hagel served as co-chairman of President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board and as a member of the Secretary of Defense Policy Board.

Nomination and Stormy Senate Confirmation

President Obama nominated Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense on Jan. 7, 2013. Hagel's nomination was approved and forwarded to the full Senate by a 14-11 vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 12, 2013.

Hagel's Senate Cabinet post confirmation process was not without controversy. While a Republican himself, Hagel's nomination was actually opposed by several Republican Senators. While serving in the Senator, Hagel had objected to the George W. Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War. In 2005, Hagel compared the Iraq War to Vietnam and questioned the Bush administration's claims of the effectiveness of its Iraq War troop buildup. "To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," he told his Senate critics at the time. Hagel had also angered his fellow Republicans by opposing passage of the controversial anti-terrorism PATRIOT Act. "I took an oath of office to the Constitution, I didn't take an oath of office to my party or my president," Hagel stated.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Hagel became the first Defense Secretary to have his nomination face a filibuster. On Feb. 14, 2013, Senate Republicans succeeded in denying Democrats the 60 votes required to end the filibustered debate on Hagel's nomination and bringing it to a final vote. On Feb. 26, 2013, Senate Democrats got the 60 votes necessary to end the debate, after which the Senate approved Hagel's nomination by a vote of 58-41. Hagel was sworn in as the 24th Secretary of Defense by President Obama on Feb. 27, 2013.

Also See: 5 Longest Filibusters in US History

Hagel began his service as Secretary of Defense, just as the mandatory budget sequestration threatened to strip some $46 billion from the Defense Department's fiscal year 2013 budget and result in the furlough of as many as 90,000 civilian defense employees are around the world.

Family Life

Sec. Hagel and his wife Lilibet live in McLean, Virginia, with their daughter, Allyn, and son, Ziller.

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