By Justin Fishel, Fox News Channel
In what was likely his last appearance at the Pentagon podium, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did his best to explain why he’s leaving the job, yet may have left more question unanswered than answered.
After delivering prepared remarks about the DoD’s response to sexual assaults, Hagel was asked why he resigned - and if he was in fact fired – as has been widely reported.
Hagel told reporters that it was a mutual decision that came about after a series of private meetings with the President. “When I say private, no one else has been in the room,” Hagel said.
“So with all the speculation and all the smart people figuring out what was said and what wasn't said, only two people know what was said. That's the president and me.”
Hagel also called President Obama a “friend" and said he couldn’t point to one major issue or point of contention that led to his resignation, but wasn’t clear on the more subtle reasons.
“This was a mutual decision based on the discussions that we had. I don't think there's ever one overriding or defining decision in situations like this, unless there's some obvious issue -- and there wasn't, between either one of us.”
Hagel said repeatedly he felt it was time for a “fresh” leader and “you have to know when to leave.”
He suggested the next two years present a whole new set of challenges. But, when asked if he meant he wasn’t up to those challenges, he scoffed. “Whether I thought I could do the job was not the issue.”
“No one ever knows about a job, especially a big job, until you get in – until you’re the actual practitioner of the job. Now – you can read about it, your predecessors can tell you about it, you can think you know about it, and you can write about it and broadcast about it, but nobody knows about these jobs.”
He also suggested it would be good to have new civilian leadership in the department as many of the Joint Chiefs, including the Chairman, are expected to rotate out early next year.
Finally, Hagel got emotional.
“46 years ago today I arrived at Oakland, California on a transit back from Vietnam after I’d spent one year in Vietnam. 46 years ago today. If anybody would have told Sergeant Hagel walking off that plane with my duffel bag where I’d be 46 years down the road that would have been pretty hard for me to believe.”