The newly minted defense secretary carried out one of his most important roles for the first time Thursday, shortly after he was welcomed into a department facing the shock of pending sequestration cuts.
Chuck Hagel approved deployment orders Thursday afternoon, including orders to send combat arms and support units into Afghanistan to replace other units currently stationed there.
"Former Secretary [Leon] Panetta did this on a weekly basis," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters on Thursday. "We're following regular orders."
The scope of these specific deployments is not yet clear, though Little said they could include postings to anywhere around the globe.
Such are the tasks set before Hagel, having just weathered a grueling confirmation process, who entered into office less than 48 hours before the deadline for across-the-board mandatory cuts known as sequestration. Pentagon staffers cited a blow to morale as the deadline approached, which would ultimately bringing potential furloughs to civilian staff—such as Little—and 9 percent cuts to most military spending.
These threats have been front and center for Hagel, who cited sequestration along with budget cuts in his opening remarks to Pentagon staff on Wednesday. "I don't need to dwell on all the good news there," he quipped.
Hagel said the Defense Department should fall back on the military's traditional popularity.
Americans have the highest confidence in the military among all other public institutions, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.
"We don't want to squander that," he told an auditorium full of Defense staffers who came to meet their new boss on Wednesday, and those watching worldwide on closed-circuit TV. "We can use that to rebuild all the necessary institutions we have to rebuild here in our country and in the world."
Congress ranks at the very bottom of the list of public institutions, according to Gallup.
The potential for averting sequestration appears grim, as bills that would have at least eased the effect of the cuts failed in the House Thursday evening.
This might explain why Hagel has spent so much time greeting Pentagon staffers in person during his inaugural days in office. Defense secretaries usually call meetings in their offices for initial meetings with key staff. The former two-term Nebraska senator personally walked to the offices of the enlisted advisers for all of the military branches to talk shop in person Wednesday. He even made a trip to the Pentagon's Press Filing Room, greeting each reporter and staying to talk for a few minutes.
Hagel will meet with leaders from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force on Friday afternoon to determine how the departments will withstand the roughly $85 billion in cuts under sequestration, CNN reports.
The meetings will take place in "the tank," a reclusive and secretive meeting room, to discuss general readiness.