Secretary of Defense Robert Gates left the Pentagon for good Thursday, but not without a few laughs.
Sendoffs by President Obama and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were sprinkled with humor and anecdotes, often about the many years Gates spent in public service.
In his opening remarks, Mullen praised his character, which he believes mirrors the grit of troops down range.
“I think that’s why so many of them are drawn to him,” Mullen said. “He tells it straight, no bull, no fancy words–not that he doesn’t have a fabulous vocabulary or even a colorful one at times”.
Mullen also described Gates as infallibly honest, telling the story of one soldier who claimed “that guy Gates couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie”.
But on a more personal note, Mullen called Gates a friend, one that he would miss, well– most of the time.
“I will miss your leadership. I will miss your counsel. As your next door neighbor I will even miss coming home on a Saturday afternoon to the sight of you sitting on your front porch,” Mullen said. “I will not miss you blowing all your dead leaves onto my lawn.”
In a surprise moment, President Obama presented Gates with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can bestow on a civilian. In thanking Mr. Obama, Gates said he was both honored and surprised, but added “we should have known a couple of months ago you’re getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff”– referring to the Navy Seal raid that lead to Osama Bin Laden’s death at his Pakistan compound.
Secretary Gates was never a fan of Washington politics, despite spending the last four decades working in the city.
“If you look past all of Bob’s flashiness and bravado and his sharp attire, his love for the Washington lime light,” the President joked. “…then what you see is a man I have come to know and respect, a humble American patriot”.
Mullen said he remembered a time when Gates “called Washington the only place in the world where someone can walk down lovers’ lane holding their own hand.”
Now, with his Pentagon office cleared out, Gates, who has advised eight Presidents over the years, had one final suggestion aimed at his successor – former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
“My parting advice for Leon is to get his office just the way he likes it. He may be here longer than he thinks.”