Chuck Hagel on Thursday pledged to “move forward expeditiously” on the issue of equal benefits for gay troops during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination for secretary of defense, Hagel reiterated his support for open service and extending equal benefits to the families of LGBT service members.

“As I've discussed with many of you in our meetings, I am fully committed to implementing the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members,” said Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam veteran.

In a written response he added: “If confirmed, I will work closely with the Department of Defense civilian and military leadership to move forward expeditiously on the issue and will inform the appropriate Congressional committees of decisions as they are made.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, which advocates on behalf of LGBT service members, applauded Hagel's remarks.

“After two years of equivocation and delay by Pentagon leadership, it is gratifying to see Senator Hagel show the kind of clear, unambiguous support for our service members and their families we saw today,” she said in a statement. “It is an historic day when issues critical to gay and lesbian service members and their families take center stage in a confirmation hearing for secretary of defense.

Hagel had been attacked as “anti-gay” in print and television ads paid for by the Log Cabin Republicans and an anonymous group. Both cited Hagel's poor voting record on gay rights in the Senate and comments he made in 1998 toward James Hormel, the openly gay former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

(Related: Chuck Hagel attacked as anti-gay in anonymous TV ad.)

Hagel recently apologized for calling Hormel a bad fit for the post of ambassador because he's “openly, aggressively gay.” And in a letter to California Senator Barbara Boxer, he endorsed repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and committed to extending equal benefits to the families of LGBT troops.