To mark the end of his decades-long career in Washington, today President Obama surprised retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his very last day in the job. The honor is the highest any civilian can receive in the United States. During his remarks President Obama thanked Gates for his “profound sense of duty.” He also called Gates a “humble American patriot” adding that his greatest legacy may likely be helping to save the lives of U.S. troops. During his time at the Pentagon, Gates worked to procure mine resistant vehicles for our forces in harm’s way. Gates also led the push for using more unmanned drones and worked to shorten evacuation times for wounded servicemen and women from the battlefield.
Gates is the only Defense Secretary in American history who’s been able to thank two Presidents for the chance to run things at the Pentagon. Gates was nominated by former President George W. Bush in late 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld after his tumultuous time as defense secretary. He was then kept on after President Obama’s election as part of the President’s promise to have a bipartisan cabinet. Gates, who has won bipartisan praise during his four-and-a-half years in the job for how he presided over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thanked both Presidents in his remarks, today.
Gates joins a distinguished list of individuals who have received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama including Maya Angelou, Harvey Milk, Sidney Poitier, President George H. W. Bush, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, Stephen Hawking and Billie Jean King to name just a few.
Gates is being replaced by former CIA boss Leon Panetta who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on June 21.
Earlier today, Walter Isaacson, the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and author and retired Army Capt. Wes Moore talked with msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell about the legacy of Robert Gates.