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The Boss is leaving

July 1, 2011

When the boss leaves, there’s usually a bit of a party, or at least a little ceremony.  When the boss is the Secretary of Defense, there’s a huge ceremony put on by the folks who do it best!

The Brass was there, the salute was fired, and the band struck up a Souza tune.  Soldiers in dress blues, the Navy in gleaming whites, Marines in full dress uniform and the Air Force in their blues were lined up for review and the Old Guard fife & drum marched by in red coats and tricorns.   The flags fluttered and snapped, the sabers flashed while the civilian staff of the Pentagon stood by and watched.

The President, flanked by the retiring Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, walked out of the Pentagon for the ceremony.  Admiral Mullen’s whites and gold braid were blinding in the full sun under a cloudless blue sky, especially next to the charcoal suits of the President and Secretary.

The speeches began with Admiral Mullen who described Secretary Gates as a pragmatic patriot who is known to put up with “no bull” and whose vocabulary can be called “colorful”.  His honesty while serving 8 presidents  in his 40 years of public service; his honesty and integrity while serving with hundreds of generals and admirals as well as  millions of troops are the reason his troops know that he was always there for them.   “You made us try harder, dig deeper.”  His habit of asking uncomfortable questions compelled changes in the military, he demanded armored Humvees, demanded the troops get respect, demanded the best of care for those wounded and for the military families.  “You always fought for the troops.”

President Obama continued the theme of Secretary Gates’ service to the country as a “humble American Patriot” with common sense and sense of decency that made him one of the nation’s finest public servants.  He paid tribute to Secretary Gates’ planning and implementing the plans for the end of the war in Iraq and putting the war in Afghanistan on the right track, as well as saving 100s of billions of dollars by declaring a war on wasteful spending.  The troops knew they had a Secretary of Defense who loved them and served them to the best of his ability.

According to the President, today’s ceremony was not only to pay tribute to a great public servant, but to celebrate the principals he stands for; the lesson that public service is an honorable calling; that integrity, civility, citizenship over partisanship are not relics of bygone era, but a cornerstone of service.

The President departed from the program to award Secretary Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom, prompting the Secretary to remark that it was a surprise but “we should have known this, you are getting good at this covert ops stuff.”

The Secretary thanked everyone – the two Presidents that he served at DoD, the Secretaries of State, the transition teams for both Presidents, and the Joint Chiefs that he worked with and a special tribute to his wife and family.   The theme of his remarks were respectful cooperation between uniforms and civilians, between Defense and State, that the main aim of his tenure has been the care of the troops, the wounded and their families.

But his most heartfelt goodbye was to the troops.  He knew that he couldn’t make it through a speech if he spoke to the troops themselves so he sent out a message to them online.  With a catch in his voice, he told the audience assembled that he would think of these young warriors to the end of his days.

Secretary Gates had a hard road to travel these past years – I remember the vociferous anger and down right hate that I saw when he agreed with the decision to allow photographers and reporters at Dover (from the right); and the surge in Afghanistan bound troops was unpopular as HELL with the left.  Through it all, SecDef has worked hard for us, trying hard to keep our issues at the forefront, trying to cut the fat in the budget and not cut the muscle.  Was he perfect?  Nope.  Did he try?  Oh yeah.  I think he was genuine in his support. What about you?


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