Pentagon Shake-up: Hagel's No. 2 Hands in Resignation

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is losing his No. 2 at the Pentagon as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter handed in his resignation today.

Carter, 59, has been a highly knowledgeable and powerful force inside the Defense Department, serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from April 2009 until October 2011, when he assumed the DSD role.

Carter had been among the top picks to replace former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta upon his retirement. After President Obama opted for Hagel instead, Obama personally asked Carter to stay on as Hagel's No. 2.

"Earlier today, I met with Ash Carter and reluctantly accepted his decision to step down as Deputy Secretary of Defense on Dec. 4, after more than four and a half years of continuous service to the Department of Defense," Hagel said in a statement moments ago.

"Ash has been an extraordinarily loyal and effective Deputy Secretary, both for me and Secretary Panetta.  In his previous capacity as Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, he provided outstanding support to Secretary Gates and - most importantly - to our men and women fighting downrange.  He possesses an unparalleled knowledge of every facet of America's defense enterprise, having worked directly and indirectly for eleven Secretaries of Defense over the course of his storied career," Hagel continued.

"I will always be grateful that Ash was willing to stay on and serve as my Deputy Secretary.  I have continually relied upon Ash to help solve the toughest challenges facing the Department of Defense.  I particularly appreciate his work spearheading the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which put the Department in a far stronger position to manage through unprecedented budget uncertainty.  He is a brilliant strategist and an excellent manager who helped enhance the Department's buying power, but Ash's most recent tour of the Department will be especially remembered for his tremendous efforts to provide more agile and effective support for our warfighters and their families.  His compassion, love, and determination to overcome any and all bureaucratic obstacles earned him their abiding respect and appreciation."

Hagel added that he's "grateful" Carter agreed to stay on for two more months.

Carter has four times been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal and was once awarded the Defense Intelligence Medal. He was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy in the Clinton administration and most recently taught at Harvard.

Less than a month ago, Carter traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. "The reason why I came is as a reflection of the fact that the United States and India are two countries that are destined to be security partners on the world stage. That is because we share common interests, but also more fundamentally, many common values and outlooks on issues ranging from defense trade to counter-terrorism to maritime security and beyond," Carter said at a media roundtable during his final stop.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Carter "a steady, consistent and effective voice for our men and women in uniform. He also has great respect and admiration from senators on both sides of the aisle."

“During his time as Deputy Secretary, we have faced some of the most challenging times in the department’s history," Graham added. "Ash Carter was always there providing exceptional leadership at a time when it mattered. He will truly be missed.”

The announcement comes just over a week into the government shutdown and directly after the fiasco in which the Pentagon denied death gratuities to the survivors of fallen soldiers, something Hagel and his staff deemed unavoidable because lawyers had interpreted the broad Pay Our Military Act to not include the benefits.

Yesterday Hagel announced he would accept help from a donor, the Fisher House, to pay the families. Today the Senate sent a bill explicitly authorizing the payments to Obama's desk.

“While the damage cannot be fully undone, Congress has spoken and acted in a bipartisan way to rectify the outrageous treatment the families of our fallen heroes received this week," said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). "Now, we’re learning the President has taken his political obstinacy to a new low and believes the legislation Congress has passed to right this wrong is ‘not necessary.’"