Back already, Panetta returns to his empty office

Empty chairs and empty tables. Eisenhower and Marshall. Grant and Lee. The flags. The multi time-zone digital clock. And Leon Panetta. Still the secretary of defense. Still at Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s desk. For one …more …day.

Panetta is back already. The secretary returned on Tuesday to the Pentagon – and his now starkly empty office – for a bit of work before departing on Wednesday morning for Brussels and a regularly scheduled meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Just five days ago, the secretary’s staff lined the hallway from his office to the front door, carrying out every last box and applauding as he walked down the grand staircase with his wife, Sylvia, and his beloved dog, Bravo, in a staged exit worthy a lifelong public servant.

Panetta said his Valentines Day present “would be to allow Sylvia and I to get the hell out of town at the end of the day. I feel like it's ‘Groundhog Day’ around here.”

Now, only the portraits of Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall look down on Panetta’s chair, waiting for Chuck Hagel to arrive as soon as next week if the Senate moves his confirmation forward as expected. Images of Civil War rivals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant hang nearby as well, the E-Ring learned, perhaps a reminder to the incoming Hagel that this nation is a union once divided far more viciously than today's Senate.

Panetta called Eisenhower and Marshall  his “heroes” when he arrived in 2011, and left their paintings in place after Robert Gates handed him the keys.

“I kind of look at them and every once and a while I’ll turn around and say: What the hell would you do?” Panetta said, at the time.

Hagel will get to ask them, soon enough.

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett