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Jan 28, 5:20 PM EST

At farewell ceremony, Obama praises Defense Secretary Hagel as 'true American patriot'

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FORT MYER, Va. (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is a true American patriot who devoted his life to the United States.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and top military brass praised Hagel at a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Fort Myer-Henderson Hall. Obama said the country is grateful for military progress on Hagel's watch.

Obama said Hagel strengthened key U.S. partnerships in the Middle East, paving the way for Arab nations to join the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

He said Hagel launched reforms that have better positioned the military for the future.

Hagel resigned abruptly in November under pressure from Obama. His tenure included the U.S. transition out of a combat role in Afghanistan.

Hagel said he's grateful for Obama's steady leadership in the world. He said the world is still a hopeful place despite its many problems.

Obama's nominee to replace Hagel is Ashton Carter. He's awaiting Senate confirmation.

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