Robert Gates took his leave of government service yesterday, awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Gates was to the point in his remarks to the men and women he led, as he was to their commanders and civilian superiors for whom he had responsibility as Secretary of Defense:
To the Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces: On 30 June 2011, I will retire as Secretary of Defense. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four and a half years. All of that time we have been engaged in two wars and countless other operations.
It has been a difficult time for you and for your families, from long and repeated deployments for those in all four services — and the associated long separations from loved ones — to the anguish of those of you who have lost friends and family in combat or those of you who have suffered visible and invisible wounds of war yourselves. But your dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan. Your countrymen owe you their freedom and their security. They sleep safely at night and pursue their dreams during the day because you stand the watch and protect them.
For four and a half years, I have signed the orders deploying you, all too often into harm’s way. This has weighed on me every day. I have known about and felt your hardship, your difficulties, your sacrifice more than you can possibly imagine. I have felt personally responsible for each of you, and so I have tried to do all I could to provide whatever was needed so you could complete your missions successfully and come home safely — and, if hurt, get the fastest and best care in the world.
You are the best that America has to offer. My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life. God bless you.
Hat tip to Great Satan’s Girlfriend
Robert Gates was a remarkable public servant and one of the best SECDEFS since the office was created after WWII. Perhaps the best. Here’s why, in a nutshell.
One of the things that made Gates different was his approach to leadership. He saw it as a privilige, rather than a mark of membership “in the club”. Commanders and civilian appointees who were derelict in their responsibilities or did not take care of the people under their authority were relieved of that authority by being fired by Secretary Gates. This was virtually unheard of in my lifetime, where a Washington culture flourished where there were one set of rules for the rank-and-file but for the elite, “mistakes were made” (passive voice). Gates would have none of that.
Secondly, Gates was willing to make choices and fight for them. He didn’t need the job and attempted to retire when the Bush administration faded from the scene, so unlike many Cabinet secretaries, Gates was less inclined to equivocate, more apt to work for “the good of the team” than defend DoD turf and to speak rather than leak. Did Robert Gates win every battle? No, but he was in the arena at the elbow of two presidents of two different political parties and earned their trust and their respect.
Dr. Gates has also earned his retirement, but we can hope that he’ll be back.