Hagel takes helm at Pentagon after bitter fight

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

Newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is vowing to continue to build strong relations around world and engage with allies.

Hagel is telling the Pentagon workforce that he is committed to ensuring that the troops and department civilians are treated fairly and equally.

He is taking the helm of the Defense Department as massive, automatic budget cuts loom, and as complex negotiations with Afghanistan leaders intensify over winding down the war.

Hagel was sworn in during a private ceremony near his new office Wednesday morning, after a bruising Senate confirmation process.

He said he then visited the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial for some time of reflection. He plans to spend his first day in the Pentagon meeting with his staff and senior defense leaders.

The former Republican senator from Nebraska was given the nod by a 58-41 vote, but he only won over four GOP senators. 

Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) were the only Republicans who voted for Hagel.

His confirmation follows weeks of determined opposition by a group of Republican senators to their former colleague. Senate Republicans had filibustered a final vote for a week and a half as they asserted more time was needed to delve into Hagel's background.

Hagel was President Obama's choice to succeed Leon Panetta as defense secretary.

Republicans had opposed Hagel, accusing him at various points of harboring some opposition to Israel and not being sufficiently committed to opposing development of an Iranian nuclear program.

He now moves into the defense post just as the department faces billions in automatic spending cuts if the sequester begins this Friday.