Chuck Hagel Biography

Likely Secretary of Defense Nominee Under President Barack Obama

Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel is expected to be President Barack Obama's choice for secretary of defense during his second term in the White House. U.S. Congress

Chuck Hagel is a Vietnam War veteran and former Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska who was picked by President Barack Obama to be secretary of defense during his second term in the White House.

Hagel replaced Leon E. Panetta as secretary of the Department of Defense. He announced his resignation in November 2014. Obama had urged Hagel to resign.


Hagel is a graduate of St. Bonaventure High School in Columbus, Neb., according to congressional records.

He is a 1966 graduate of the Brown Institute for Radio and Television in Minneapolis, Minn., and 1971 graduate of University of Nebraska.

Military Career

Hagel served in the U.S. Army infantry from 1967 to 1968 and attained the rank of Sergeant E-5. He served in Vietnam in 1968 and received two Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in the conflict.

Hagel said in his Senate bio that he served side-by-side in the war with his brother Tom. The brothers were infantry squad leaders with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division.

Senate Career

Hagel served two six-year terms in the U.S. Senate. He was first elected in the 1996 election, and won re-election in 2002. He declined to run for a third term in 2008.

Private Sector Career

Hagel worked in the private sector before being elected to the Senate, including stints as radio newscaster and talk-show host.

He served as the president of Omaha, Nebraska-based investment banking firm McCarthy & Co.; chairman of American Information Systems; president and chief executive officer of the Private Sector Council in Washington, D.C.; deputy director and chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations and president and CEO of the World USO.

Other key achievements listed on his Senate bio include:

  • Co-founding Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc. in 1980;
  • Being nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration;
  • Serving as deputy commissioner general of the United States for the 1982 World’s Fair.
  • Working as government affairs manager for Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Washington, D.C. From 1971 to 1977;
  • and Working as a newscaster and talk show host with radio stations KBON and KLNG in Omaha, Nebraska, beginning in 1969.


Hagel is married to Lilibet. The couple has two children.

Key Votes in Congress

The votes that are perhaps most relevant to Hagel's potential cabinet post heading the Defense department were those in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hagel later became an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and his administration's handling of the wars.

Hagel went on record as describing the decision to send troops into Iraq as being "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam," a remark that drew criticism from his fellow congressional Republicans.

Hagel defended himself by proclaiming: "To question your government is not unpatriotic — to not question your government is unpatriotic."

Hagel has also expressed opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Reaction to Nomination

Some political observers Obama's selection of a Republican because it signaled a willingness to reach across the aisle. But Hagel faced a difficult nomination process, as Republicans voiced opposition to the nominee for his past remarks suggesting Israel should negotiate with Palestinians.

The Emergency Committee for Israel claimed in a 2013 television ad, for example, that "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option."

In addition to facing opposition from pro-Israel groups, Hagel faced tough scrutiny from conservative Republicans still upset with him for his criticism of Bush and advocates for gay rights. Hagel drew fire for his 1998 comments about a nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg; Hagel called the nominee, who was gay, "aggressively gay." Hagel has apologized for his comments, calling them "insensitive" and claiming they do not represent his views on rights for gay Americans.