Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel has been sworn in as defense secretary, after a bitter confirmation fight and days before the military could see billions of dollars cut.
In remarks to employees, Hagel acknowledged the challenging time that the Department of Defense is facing due to automatic spending cuts, the "sequester," that are set to begin Friday if Congress does not take action.
He said the department will have to figure out and deal with the "reality." He said there are many challenges ahead.
Hagel spoke Wednesday. The Senate confirmed his nomination as defense secretary Tuesday.
He said the United States must engage the world and work with its allies. He pledged to do everything in his power to be the kind of leader that the Department of Defense and the country expect and deserve.
"We are living in a very defining time in the world, you all know that. 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, on our responsibilities, which are immense, but not lose sight of the possibilities for a better world."
The Senate's final vote on the nomination came nearly two weeks after his former colleagues in his Republican Party delayed a full vote, raising concerns about his views on the Middle East and the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Some of them accused Hagel of being too lenient toward Iran and too critical of Israel. Others also found fault with him for opposing the 2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq.
But Republicans eventually put aside their criticisms and allowed Hagel's nomination to be put to an "up or down" vote.
President Barack Obama praised the confirmation, saying the United States will, in his words, "have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve."
Hagel, a former enlisted solider, succeeds Leon Panetta and is the first Vietnam War veteran to serve as Pentagon chief.