Chuck Hagel appeared more at ease during his first day on the job at the Pentagon Wednesday than he did during his turbulent confirmation process, as repeatedly paid homage to a military that has been engulfed in war for nearly 12 years.

Hagel, who was sworn in earlier in the day, is the only Vietnam combat veteran to serve as defense secretary. In his remarks Wednesday, the former enlisted infantryman didn’t publicly dwell on his experience or the two Purple Hearts that he was awarded for wounds he suffered in combat. But his military service colored his pledges to the troops to “do everything I can to ensure the safety, the well-being, the future for you and your families.”