Obama Awards Gates Presidential Medal of Freedom

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) 

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