Gates Ends Historic Term as Defense Secretary

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2011 — Robert M. Gates is the only man to thank two pres­i­dents for the priv­i­lege of serv­ing as sec­re­tary of defense.
At the Armed Forces Farewell Trib­ute on the Pentagon’s parade field today, Gates thanked Pres­i­dent George W. Bush for nom­i­nat­ing him for the job in 2006, and Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for retain­ing him in it dur­ing the change in admin­is­tra­tions in 2009.

At the cer­e­mo­ny, Oba­ma praised Gates’ bipar­ti­san­ship, and award­ed him the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom — the high­est award a pres­i­dent can con­fer to a civil­ian.

Gates also spoke to those who would have the Unit­ed States with­draw from world affairs and retreat to iso­la­tion­ism. He took the thought from for­mer Defense Sec­re­tary and Army Chief of Staff dur­ing World War II Gen­er­al of the Army George C. Mar­shall. Gates said that once while address­ing uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates, Mar­shall extolled what he con­sid­ered the great “musts” of that gen­er­a­tion.

Mar­shall said the musts includ­ed the devel­op­ment of a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty for world order and secu­ri­ty, and the devel­op­ment of a sense of the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of America’s acts and fail­ures to act.

“Now, as when Mar­shall first uttered those words, a sense of America’s excep­tion­al glob­al respon­si­bil­i­ties and the impor­tance of what we do or do not do remain the great ‘musts’ of this dan­ger­ous new cen­tu­ry,” Gates said. “It is the sacred duty entrust­ed to all of us priv­i­leged to serve in posi­tions of lead­er­ship and respon­si­bil­i­ty; a duty we should nev­er for­get or take light­ly; a duty I have every con­fi­dence you will all con­tin­ue to ful­fill,” he added.

Gates said his ser­vice as sec­re­tary of defense “has been the great­est hon­or and priv­i­lege of my life, and for that I will always be grate­ful.”

The tran­si­tion from the Bush to the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion was the first dur­ing war in near­ly 40 years, Gates said, and it showed how seri­ous peo­ple in both par­ties came togeth­er to do good for the coun­try.

“The col­le­gial­i­ty, thor­ough­ness and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the Bush-Oba­ma tran­si­tion were of great ben­e­fit to the coun­try and were a trib­ute to the char­ac­ter and judg­ment of both pres­i­dents,” he said.

When Gates arrived in the Pen­ta­gon in Decem­ber 2006, Marine Gen. Peter Pace helped shep­herd him through the intri­ca­cies of the build­ing, and Gates thanked Pace, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, for his help.

Gates also thanked his “bat­tle bud­dy,” the cur­rent chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.

“With­out Mike’s advice to me, his effec­tive lead­er­ship of the uni­formed mil­i­tary and our close part­ner­ship, the record of the last sev­er­al years would, I think, have been very dif­fer­ent,” the sec­re­tary said. “Mike was nev­er shy about dis­agree­ing with me, but unfail­ing­ly stead­fast and loy­al to me and to the pres­i­dents he served once a deci­sion was made. He is the epit­o­me of a mil­i­tary leader and offi­cer, a man of supreme integri­ty, a great part­ner and a good friend.”

Gates said he ben­e­fit­ed from the great team in the depart­ment when he arrived, and the great team that came in under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. He thanked the polit­i­cal appointees of both par­ties and the career civ­il ser­vants for their efforts in the Pen­ta­gon to pro­vide for those serv­ing on bat­tle­fields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates also stressed the need for coop­er­a­tion among fed­er­al agen­cies. He specif­i­cal­ly point­ed out the pro­duc­tive and warm rela­tion­ship between the State Depart­ment, DOD and the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.

“The blows struck against al-Qai­da, cul­mi­nat­ing in the [Osama] bin Laden raid, exem­pli­fy the remark­able trans­for­ma­tion of how we must fuse intel­li­gence and mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” he said.

Gates said his views on coop­er­a­tion with The State Depart­ment have evolved over his four decades of gov­ern­ment ser­vice. When he began his pub­lic ser­vice career in 1966, he said, the sec­re­taries of state and defense bare­ly spoke.

“In the case of Sec­re­taries [Con­doleez­za] Rice and [Hillary Rod­ham] Clin­ton, I have not only been on speak­ing terms with these two for­mi­da­ble women, we’ve also become cher­ished col­leagues and good friends,” he said.

Gates also tes­ti­fied before Con­gress on the need for more mon­ey for the State Depart­ment. “We should nev­er for­get that diplo­mats and devel­op­ment experts from State and [the Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment] are tak­ing risks and mak­ing sac­ri­fices in some of the planet’s least hos­pitable places,” he said. “And I speak for all our mil­i­tary in appre­ci­at­ing the con­tri­bu­tions they are mak­ing every day to the suc­cess of our mis­sions in Afghanistan, Iraq and else­where around the globe.”

The sec­re­tary thanked his wife, Becky, for her help and sup­port. When Pres­i­dent Bush asked Gates to be the sec­re­tary, he asked his wife what she thought.

“I was real­ly wrestling with the deci­sion and final­ly told her she could make it a lot eas­i­er if she just said she didn’t want to go back to D.C.,” Gates said. “She thought a moment and replied, ‘We have to do what you have to do.’ That is some­thing mil­i­tary spous­es have said in one form or anoth­er a mil­lion times since 9/11 upon learn­ing that their loved one received a deploy­ment notice or is con­sid­er­ing anoth­er tour of ser­vice.

“She made it easy for me to say yes to this job, to do what I had to do to answer the call to serve when so much was at stake for Amer­i­ca and her sons and daugh­ters in two wars,” he added.

Gates has spent much of the last few months vis­it­ing with Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers around the world. He has put a farewell mes­sage out to the troops.

“Though I was only able to meet a small sam­ple of those who deployed down­range, it was impor­tant to meet, to look them in the eye one last time and let them know how much I care about them and appre­ci­ate what they and their fam­i­lies do for our coun­try,” he said. “I’ll just say here that I will think of these young war­riors — the ones who fought, the ones who keep on fight­ing, the ones who nev­er made it back — till the end of my days.”

Gates praised his suc­ces­sor as sec­re­tary, Leon E. Panet­ta, who will be sworn in as the 23rd defense sec­re­tary tomor­row.

“This depart­ment and this coun­try are for­tu­nate that a states­man of Leon Panetta’s cal­iber and expe­ri­ence has agreed to serve once again, and at such an impor­tant time,” Gates said. “My part­ing advice for Leon is to get his office just the way he likes it — he may be here longer than he thinks.”

The sec­re­tary will fly to his home in the state of Wash­ing­ton.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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