In his last full day on the job, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. President Obama gave Gates the medal during a tribute in front of the Pentagon.
"I'm deeply honored and moved by your presentation of this award," Gates said. "It was a big surprise. But we should have known. ... You're pretty good at this covert ops stuff."
Gates' career has spanned four decades of public service, throughout the administrations of eight presidents. He is being succeeded by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Considered the ultimate Washington insider, Gates, himself a former CIA chief, replaced Donald Rumsfeld in 2006. Gates served as secretary of defense in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Obama.
On Thursday, Gates described the transition between the Bush and Obama teams as "a first of its kind" during a war in over 40 years.
Obama called Gates "one of the nation's finest public servants," noting Gates' "profound sense of duty" that led him to continue serving in the Obama administration despite his desire to return to civilian life.
Obama said Gates "challenged conventional wisdom" to reduce wasteful military spending and save "hundreds of billions."
"Today we see the lifesaving difference he made," Obama said.FULL STORY