SECDEF prep school

Class is in for Chuck Hagel, the star (and only) pupil attending secretary of defense preparatory school, where the teachers are familiar top Pentagon and personal aides.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has loaned his chief of staff and longtime body man Jeremy Bash to shepherd Team Hagel, which is counting down toward a January 31 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hagel has been shuttled from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill for meetings with key senators, some of whom needed convincing before endorsing his nomination, and issue briefings with Defense Department officials and staffers.

“He’s starting to get substantive briefings on a variety of topics,” said an official working on Hagel’s confirmation, who was not authorized to speak on the record. The briefings with Defense Department experts range from topics like Iran to learning the details about the troops and military structure.

Marcel Lettre, special assistant to Panetta and former principal deputy secretary of defense for legislative affairs, is running the day-to-day operations for Team Hagel. Lettre ran transition duty for Panetta when he succeeded Robert Gates, in June 2011. He has been especially involved this week as Bash is accompanying Panetta through Europe on the secretary’s last overseas trip.

Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, is in charge of Hagel’s hill visits. “She’s the legislative guru,” the official tells E-Ring.

Always at Hagel’s side remains Aaron Dowd, who knows Hagel better than anyone. Since he was 18 years old, Dowd has been with Hagel, most recently as his de facto chief of staff. He’s the only staffer that Hagel has brought with him to the Pentagon so far, the official said.

In a bit of a class reunion, working press for Hagel are Pentagon press secretary George Little, who also is in Europe, and Marie Harf, Little’s former deputy at the Central Intelligence Agency. Most recently, Harf was a national security spokeswoman for the Obama campaign out of Chicago.

Assuming Hagel is confirmed, it is still unclear what staff will stay and who will go. The E-Ring will keep you apprised.

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