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On June 30, 2011 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates retired from one of the most storied careers of public service in modern times.
For four decades Gates served in various capacities under eight different presidents. But the history books will include him most importantly for his service as the twenty-second Secretary of Defense serving under presidents from two different parties, Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama.
At the retirement ceremonies held at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011, President Barak Obama awarded Secretary Gates the Medal of Freedom for his service and unswerving dedication to the nation. This is an appropriate award for a man who is both a patriot and one who, as Secretary of Defense, was personally engaged with the troops on the front lines. He loved them and experienced their suffering and their losses personally. He wrote individual letters to the families of each of the fallen, researching local newspapers, finding personal information about them so that he could get to know them more deeply and so that his letters could express the real respect and affection he had for those who gave their lives to protect and defend us all. He thought of them all as his sons and daughters.
During his tenure, Sec. Gates stood up for his troops before Congress and made sure that the troops on the front lines had the equipment they needed to be effective and to survive.
Under his guidance the Departments of State and Defense, which were, more often than not, at odds with one another, worked together more closely and effectively than ever. He engendered a spirit of cooperation between intelligence and military operations that was more coordinated than it had ever been in the past, which resulted in the important, stunning, and welcome success of the recent Osama bin Laden operation.
When President Obama asked Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense under his administration, Sec. Gates asked his wife, Becky, about what his response should be. She said, "We have to do what you have to do." Her response matches the response that military spouses say to their husbands or wives every day. They answer the call to serve, together.
Robert Gates is an honorable man. As Secretary of Defense he was more than a bureaucrat concerned only with the bottom line of the budget, or the politically expedient. Secretary Robert Gates is a leader of exceptional character, who held the men and women who serve this nation with their lives close to his heart.
In accepting the Medal of Freedom from President Obama Sec. Gates said, "I will think of my troops till the end of my days. Serving as the Secretary of Defense has been the honor of my life. For that I will be eternally grateful."
Secretary Robert Gates, for the dedication, love and care that you have given to the nation and, more specifically, to the men and women of the armed services over the years of your service, we offer you our honor, our respect and our thanks for a job well done.