The Defense Department held a farewell ceremony this morning to honor outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Secretary Gates received the highest military salute and President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the most distinguished civilian honor.
In remarks, President Obama said Secretary Gates' greatest legacy is that soldiers knew he "had their backs" during foreign deployments and once they returned home from war zones.
Secretary Gates said he is "deeply honored and moved" and "surprised" that he received the Medal of Freedom.
Today is Gates’ last day as Secretary of Defense, a post he held for both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but has served numerous presidents in various roles, including head of the CIA.
Under his term, he conducted two wars, visited with countless soldiers and advocated for a leaner, more relevant armed forces.
In a speech to the Armed Forces Wednesday, Gates said his term as Defense Secretary was the “greatest honor of my life.”
He acknowledged that “it has been a difficult time for you and for your families, from long and repeated deployments.”
Gates said their service will continue to weigh heavily on his mind. “I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life,” he said.
After Gates’ departure today, CIA Director Leon Panetta will take the reins.