Army Col. James C. Markert, left, escorts outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a ceremony on Friday at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
President Barack Obama said farewell to Leon Panetta on Friday, and reiterating support for former Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom the president has nominated to replace him as defense secretary.
Calling it "the honor of my life," Panetta said goodbye to the U.S. military, capping a venerated public service career that spanned four decades and included stints as a lawmaker, a top White House official and the spy chief who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden.
President Obama, honoring his first-term Pentagon chief at a ceremony at a military base outside Washington, said Panetta would be remembered for welcoming more Americans into the military by opening combat roles to women and overseeing the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly — "In short, for making our military and our nation that much stronger."
Every decision he has made has been with one goal in mind: taking care of our sons and our daughters in uniform and keeping America safe," Obama said.
Obama held up Panetta’s tenure as an example of how Congress must work together to solve such upcoming issues as sequestration and the continuing resolution that finances the government.
“There is no reason — no reason — for that to happen,” Obama said, according to Politico. “Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have an impact on our military preparedness.
“Now’s the time to act — for Democrats and Republicans to come together, in the same spirit Leon Panetta brought to service: solving problems, not scoring points,” Obama said.
Looming awkwardly over the formal farewell ceremony was the ongoing uncertainty about Panetta's replacement.
Obama has nominated Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, to take over for Panetta, but Republicans have expressed deep misgivings about his previous statements about Iran, Israel and other issues.
Days after postponing a vote on Panetta's confirmation amid GOP demands for more information, the Democratic chairman of the Senate's military panel said Friday he will press ahead with a vote.
Making no reference to the political hurdles, Obama said Hagel's mission would be to keep the U.S. military prepared and described Hagel as "a combat veteran with the experience, judgment and vision that our troops deserve."
John Brennan, who is Obama’s nominee for CIA Director, also attended the farewell.
Brennan’s confirmation hearing was on Thursday. No date has been set for a vote on his nomination, Politico reports.
Panetta has said he will remain on the job until the Senate confirms a successor. Then he will finally leave the Pentagon, returning home to his walnut farm in Carmel, Calif., after more than 40 years in Washington.
Obama cited Panetta’s service as CIA director, heading the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. “Just think of our progress on his watch,” the president said.
Panetta said he will never forget the deadly cost that many troops have paid in serving their country.
“I’ll always remember the moments of grief, when this nation has rendered final honors to our fallen heroes, and when we’ve had to comfort their families,” he said. “Writing notes of condolences to those families who have lost loved ones has been, for me, one of my toughest jobs.”
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