WASHINGTON, June 30, 2011 — The life of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is a lesson to young Americans that public service is an honorable calling, one that makes the nation better and stronger, President Barack Obama said today.
During a farewell tribute ceremony for Gates at the Pentagon, Obama reviewed Gates’ accomplishments during the past four-and-a-half years.
“I can think of no better way to express my appreciation to someone I have come to admire and whom I consider a friend,” Obama said. “I can think of no better way to express the gratitude of the nation for Bob Gates than with a very special recognition.”
With that, he presented Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can award a civilian.
“Robert M. Gates has selflessly dedicated his life to ensuring the security of the American people,” the citation read. “He has served eight presidents of both parties with unwavering patriotism.”
During the ceremony, Obama recounted the highlights of Gates’ impact during his tenure at the Pentagon.
When the outcome of the Iraq war was in doubt, Obama said, Gates presided over the efforts that helped restore order.
“Over the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops from Iraq, ended our combat mission and are responsibly ending that war,” the president said.
When the fight against al-Qaida and the nation’s efforts in Afghanistan needed a new focus, Obama said, Gates helped the administration devise the strategy that put al-Qaida on a path to defeat.
When institutional inertia kept funding systems the troops didn’t need, the president said, Gates launched a war on waste, “… speaking hard truths and saving hundreds of billions of dollars that can be invested in the 21st-century military.”
Gates “made it his mission to make sure this department is serving our troops in the field as well as they serve us,” Obama added.
“We see the lifesaving difference he made in the mine-resistant vehicles and the unmanned aircraft, the shorter medevac times in Afghanistan, [and] in our determination to give our wounded warriors the world-class care they deserve,” Obama said of Gates.
Gates’ greatest legacy, the president said, may be “the lives you saved and the confidence you gave our men and women in battle,” who knew there was a secretary of defense who had their backs, loved them and fought for them, and did everything in his power to bring them home safely.
Gates’ willingness to serve under presidents of both parties is a measure of his integrity, Obama said, and “a reminder, especially to folks here in Washington, that civility and respectful discourse and citizenship over partisanship are not quaint relics of a bygone era.”
As commander in chief, Obama said he is determined that the U.S. armed forces, despite the need to make hard fiscal choices, will always remain the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped fighting force in history.
“In an uncertain world that demands our leadership, the United States of America and our armed forces will remain the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known,” the president said.
“This is the America, strong and confident,” Obama said, “to which Bob Gates has devoted his life.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)