Thursday will be a “goodbye” day at the Pentagon for departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates even as behind the scenes senior officials are already getting ready to say “hello” Friday morning to incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta is expected to head up the Pentagon’s massive outdoor stone staircase on Friday morning and get right to work. Pentagon officials tell CNN Panetta will have a morning meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the secure room known as “the tank” and a senior staff meeting to get his tenure off to a brisk start. Insiders say look for a Panetta’s traditional yellow pad of paper to be quickly covered with notes, ideas and plenty of questions.
Panetta stepped down as director of the CIA earlier this week. A lot of CIA-Pentagon “watchers” are waiting to see if the former CIA chief Panetta brings one very important personal “operative’ with him to his new post at the Pentagon – his golden retriever named Bravo. Bravo has been a semi regular at the agency, padding the hallways and sitting at Panetta’s feet during some of the most classified briefings inside the agency. Bravo is widely described by straightfaced CIA officials trying not to smile as the only dog in government with a ‘very top secret clearance.”
First of course Panetta will be sworn into office in a small private ceremony. Gates will have left the Pentagon Thursday afternoon, but does not officially leave office until Panetta takes the oath.
After the formal departure ceremony at the Pentagon Thursday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will come back into the Pentagon one last time for a reception and lunch and then head down the stairs from his third floor office, out the door, and into retirement at his home in Washington state. As he walks down those stairs, its expected he will walk through a wall of applause from his senior staff and dozens of other Pentagon workers, both military and civilian who plan to follow the tradition of lining the staircase when a secretary or senior commander departs for the final time.