WASHINGTON - The Senate today confirmed former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as secretary of defense, ending a protracted confirmation process.
Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, will be sworn in tomorrow, succeeding Leon E. Panetta who is retiring.
The vote in the Senate was 58-41.
In a farewell message to the department, Panetta said it has been "the privilege of a lifetime to lead the men and women of this Department, and I am grateful that President Obama selected such an outstanding leader to take my place."
Panetta thanked service members and civilians for working each day to keep America safe. "I also want to share with you my pride in what we've been able to accomplish together as one team and one family at the Department of Defense," he said.
President Barack Obama nominated Hagel on Jan. 7. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 30, and the committee recommended him for confirmation to the full Senate on Feb. 12.
Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during service as an Army sergeant, and served as senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009.
Hagel "has signaled his very strong commitment right away to get down to business, to get deeply invested in the work of the Pentagon and its military and civilian workers" if he were to be confirmed, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said during a Pentagon news conference earlier today.