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A Sense of America’s Exceptional
Farewell Parade : As Delivered by
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Pentagon River Terrace Parade Field,
Thursday, June 30, 2011.
President Barack Obama: “Our nation is at war, and to know Bob (Gates) is to
know his profound sense of duty -- to country, to our security, and most of all,
to our men and women who get up every day and put on America’s uniform and put
their lives on the line to keep us safe and to keep us free. ... “Bob Gates made
it his mission to make sure this department is serving our troops in the field
as well as they serve us. And today we see the lifesaving difference he made --
in the mine-resistant vehicles and the unmanned aircraft, the shorter medevac
times in Afghanistan, in our determination to give our wounded warriors the
world-class care they deserve.”
President Barack Obama addresses
audience members at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute to honor retiring Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011.
Thank you, Mr. President, for those kind words, and for
honoring me and this Department by your presence here today. I’m deeply honored
and moved by your presentation of this award. It is a big surprise, but we
should have known a couple of months ago -- you're getting pretty good at this
covert ops stuff.
Mr. Vice President, distinguished guests, colleagues, friends, thank you for
being here this morning.
First, I’d like to congratulate Leon Panetta on his recent confirmation. Right
after the 2008 election, Leon wrote an op-ed suggesting President-elect Obama
retain me as Secretary of Defense. So when President Obama asked for my
recommendation for a successor, I returned the favor.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses audience
members at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in his honor at the Pentagon, June
Seriously, this department and this country, is fortunate that a statesman of
Leon Panetta’s caliber and experience has agreed to serve once again – and at
such an important time. My parting advice for Leon is to get his office just the
way he likes it. He may be here longer than he thinks.
I’d like to thank the members of Congress with us today. I appreciate the
gracious and supportive treatment accorded to me by Senators and representatives
of both parties these past four and a half years. Even when there were
disagreements over policies and priorities, the Congress always came through for
our men and women in uniform– especially for programs that protect and take care
of troops and their families.
As most you probably have noticed, over the past few weeks I’ve had my say on
some weighty topics. So on this, the last stop of what has been dubbed “the long
goodbye,” I’d like to spend just a few minutes talking about the men and women
that I’ve been fortunate to work with in this job.
I’d like to start with the two presidents whom I’ve been privileged to serve in
this role. Serving as Secretary of Defense has been the greatest honor and
privilege of my life. For that, I will always be grateful. First, to President
Bush, for giving me this historic opportunity, and for the support he provided
during those difficult early months and years on the job. Then, to President
Obama, for his confidence in taking the historic step of asking me – someone he
did not know at all – to stay on, and for his continuing trust ever since.
The transition from the Bush to the Obama administration was the first of its
kind – from one political party to another – during war in nearly 40 years. 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.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
greets President Barak Obama upon his arrival at the Pentagon for an Armed
Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Gates, June 30, 2011.
I have also been fortunate that both presidents provided me an excellent team of
senior civilian appointees. When I took this post, the first – and best –
decision I made was to retain every single senior official I inherited from
Secretary Rumsfeld – including his personal front office staff, most of whom
have been with me to this day. Likewise, I have been fortunate to receive
another first class roster of senior civilian officials from President Obama.
They have provided me superb counsel and support on a range of difficult
institutional issues and strategic initiatives.
These and other achievements – indeed anything of consequence achieved in this
department – required respectful collaboration between the civilian and military
leadership, which has been a source of strength to the country. I have received
wise, forthright, but loyal counsel from the service chiefs and from the
leadership of the Joint Staff. And I will always be grateful to them for their
candor, cooperation and friendship.
Above all, though, I want to recognize and thank first General Pete Pace who was
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when I arrived and whose counsel and friendship got
me off to a strong start. And then, of course, my battle buddy for nearly four
years, Admiral 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. 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
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates waits with Navy Adm.
Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for President Barak Obama to
arrive at the Pentagon for an Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Gates,
June 30, 2011.
A practice and spirit of cooperation is equally important for relationships with
other elements of the government– especially those dealing with intelligence,
development and diplomacy. The blows struck against Al Qaeda – culminating in
the Bin Laden raid – exemplify the remarkable transformation of how we must fuse
intelligence and military operations in the 21st Century.
With respect to the State Department– my views have, as they say in this town,
“evolved” over the years. I started out my interagency experience in Washington,
D.C., as a staffer on President Nixon’s National Security Council. As you might
imagine, the Nixon White House was not exactly a hotbed of admiration for the
foreign service – generally thought of as a bunch of guys with last names for
first names who occasionally took time out of their busy day to implement the
president’s foreign policy. And, for much of my professional life the
secretaries of state and defense were barely speaking to one another.
In the case of Secretaries Rice and Clinton, I have not only been on speaking
terms with these two formidable women, we have also become cherished colleagues
and good friends. I suppose that giving a big speech calling for more money for
the State Department didn’t exactly hurt. But, we should never forget that
diplomats and development experts from State and AID are taking risks and making
sacrifices in some of the planet’s least hospitable places, and I speak for all
of our military in appreciating the contributions they are making every day to
the success of our missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the
In doing my upmost to support the troops downrange on these missions, I’ve spent
a good deal of time venting frustrations with the Pentagon bureaucracy. However,
I did so knowing that the people most often frustrated by the pace of things in
this building are the career civilian professionals who strive every day to
overcome the obstacles to getting things done. As someone who worked his way up
through the GS-ladder, I understand and appreciate the challenges these public
servants face and the sacrifices they make. What they accomplish does not
receive the attention and the thanks it deserves. So know that I leave this post
grateful for everything our Defense civilians do for our military and our
During a time of war, the top priority of everyone in this building ultimately
must be to get those fighting at the front what they need to survive and succeed
on the battlefield, and to be properly taken care of once they get home. I have
spent much of the past two months visiting with these troops, first in military
facilities around the U.S., and then over several days at a number of forward
operating bases in Afghanistan. Though I was only able to meet a small sample of
those who deployed down range, it was important to me 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.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, President Barack Obama
and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, render honors
during the playing of the national anthem at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute
in honor of Gates at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011.
Looking forward to this moment, I knew it would be very difficult for me to
adequately express my feelings for these young men and women – at least in a way
that would allow me to get through this speech. So yesterday, a personal message
from me to all our servicemen and women around the world was published and
distributed through military channels. I will 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.
Finally, as I was contemplating this moment, I thought about something my wife
Becky told me in January 2005, when I was asked to be the first Director of
National Intelligence. 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. 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 their loved one received a deployment notice or
is considering another tour of service.
Just under five years ago, when I was approached by the same president again to
serve, Becky’s response was the same. As much as she loved Texas A&M and Aggie
sports, and our home in Washington state, and as much as she could do without
another stint in this Washington, 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. Well, Becky, we’re
really going home this time. Your love and support has sustained me and kept me
grounded since the day we first met on a blind date in Bloomington, Indiana, 45
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews troops at the
Armed Forces Farewell Tribute at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011.
Shortly, I will walk out of my E-ring office for the very last time as defense
secretary. It is empty of all my personal items and mementos, but will still
have, looming over my desk, the portraits of two of my heroes and role models,
Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall. It is from Marshall that I
take a closing thought first delivered more than six decades ago in the opening
years of the Cold War. Addressing new university graduates, Marshall extolled
what he considered the great “musts” of that generation: They were, he said,
“the development of a sense of responsibility for world order and security, the
development of a sense of the overwhelming importance of the country’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. 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.
Thank you. God bless our military and the country they so nobly serve