Obama bids farewell to Hagel

President Obama declared Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack Trump Afghan pullout deal unachievable, says ex-Pentagon leader MORE a “great friend” and “American patriot” during a farewell ceremony on Wednesday.

“In an era of politics that too often descends into spectacle, you've always served with decency and dignity. And in a town of outsized egos, you've never lost your Midwestern humility,” the president said at a farewell ceremony for Hagel at the Pentagon.


Hagel, a former Republican senator, resigned in November amid reports that he clashed with members of the president's National Security Council team over its micromanagement of the Pentagon. He served as Defense chief since 2013.

There was no mention of those tensions at the ceremony, although the president noted, “You've always been frank and honest and said what you thought. I have so profoundly benefited from that candor.” 

The president recalled his first meeting with Hagel 10 years ago when he joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a freshman senator from Illinois. 

“I'm grateful to Chuck on a very personal level,” he said. “I was new and green, you were a veteran legislator. I was the student, and you shared some lessons of your service.” 

Long-time friend Vice President Biden noted Hagel's “moral courage and political courage.”

“Your integrity, Chuck was something that everyone ... recognized, and is recognizable immediately,” he said. “You always meant what you said, you always said what you mean.”

Obama noted that Hagel oversaw the “responsible end” of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, helped to reassure allies in Europe and Asia and oversaw the military's efforts to fight Ebola. 

He also praised Hagel’s reforms in the way the Pentagon deals with sexual assault, his efforts to integrate women into combat jobs and to recover fallen and missing personnel.

He hailed Hagel’s own service in Vietnam as well.

“It's not simply that you've been the first enlisted combat veteran and first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of Defense,” he said. “It's how your life experience, being down in the mud, feeling the bullets fly overhead, has allowed you to connect with our troops like no other secretary before you.” 

Hagel used his farewell speech to advocate for patience and global partnerships in addressing foreign policy challenges. 

"We must recognize that there is not an immediate answer to every problem," he said. "It will require steady, wise, and judicious use of American power, prestige, and influence."

Hagel, however, dedicated most of his farewell speech to service members. 

"As I will soon leave this job that I have cherished for the last two years, I want you all to know that the things that I have most respected and most admired are your dignity, your courage, and your dedication," he said. 

"Of all the opportunities my life has given me, and I have been blessed with so many, I am most proud of having once been a soldier," he continued. 

"The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty to your fellow soldier, these, I have carried with me throughout my life."

This story was updated at 9:12 p.m.