One of the worst-kept secrets in Washington is that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will soon leave his post for a calmer life at his beloved Northern California ranch.
Panetta and those close to him have given no public indication he will leave upon the start of the next Obama administration, but people close to the defense secretary say Panetta is more than ready to retire from his long public service life.
Three choices to replace Panetta seem to be getting the most buzz as the announcement day gets closer.
CNN talked to people inside the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill and in the defense community about what each potential nominee could bring to the table, and what issues might work against them being chosen by the president for the top job.
Here are profiles:
In 2009 when she started at the Pentagon, she held one of the most powerful positions in the building as the under decretary of defense for policy. Considered the number-three position in the Department of Defense under the secretary and the deputy secretary, she was the highest-ranking woman in the building and advised then-Secretary Robert Gates, who was followed by Panetta, on everything from the formulation of national security and defense policy to as oversight of military plans and operations.
When she was tapped for the position, conventional wisdom and hallway buzz, had her being groomed for the top job in the Pentagon upon the eventual departure of Gates.
But Flournoy left the Pentagon a year ago saying she had to start spending time with her family of a husband and three young children.
Those who know Flournoy, including two Pentagon officials who have worked with her, say that may not be entirely accurate, and point to what she actually did in her off time -- becoming a senior adviser on Obama's last campaign and spending time at the defense-oriented think tank she co-founded.
The result? Her name popped back up a serious contender for the top Pentagon job.
She has the pedigree for it, with degrees from Harvard and Oxford, and a strong background in defense academia and defense policy analysis. She would bring a sharp and critical mind to the position with the ability to see the small and big picture of how the military should operate post-Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. John Kerry
If the president wants more of a diplomat, a steady hand and somebody who can offer restraint in the face of flexing combat muscle, then the Massachusetts senator could get the nod.
A Vietnam veteran who was awarded three Purple Hearts, Kerry is no stranger to the military. But most of his political career has been dealing with foreign policy -- some say that is a benefit when heading up a war department. Kerry has also made strong connections in Pakistan which could be beneficial as the U.S. begins to wind the war down in Afghanistan.
"This administration will be facing possible conflict with Iran and a build up of Chinese influence around Asia, and (to have) somebody who can offer some restraint and slow down the drums of military force, Kerry would be a good choice in that aspect," said Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution.
Kerry, a Democrat and former presidential candidate, is also well regarded by both Democrats and Republicans, a major plus for a job that involves plenty of lobbying of Congress. Though he offers a steady hand and can keep the trains running, some say he probably won't be bringing any new big ideas to the job,
Some say his nomination would be a consolation prize to the job he reportedly really wants, that of secretary of state. Some in uniform chuckle at the thought of Kerry walking the halls of the E-ring peering out the window over the Potomac toward the home of the State Department at Washington's Foggy Bottom.
But as a senator, Kerry may not have the management depth needed for the day-to-day operations in the Pentagon some see as crucial for the job. The White House would have to ensure a good number two was at the helm to ensure success of a Secretary of Defense Kerry.