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Gates Sworn In as Defense Secretary

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2006 – Robert M. Gates was sworn in as the nation’s 22nd secretary of defense in a ceremony at the Pentagon here today.

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Robert M. Gates, second from left, is sworn in as the 22nd secretary of defense by Vice President Richard B. Cheney at the Pentagon Dec. 18. Gates' wife, Becky, and President George W. Bush look on. Defense Dept. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

After President Bush introduced Gates as “an experienced and thoughtful leader,” Vice President Richard B. Cheney administered the oath of office. Gates was officially sworn in at the White House earlier today in a private ceremony.

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the people in this department -- dedicated professionals whose overriding priority is the defense of our nation,” Gates said upon taking the oath at the Pentagon.

The Defense Department is carrying on many different activities, all of which are important, but the most pressing concern is the situation in Iraq, Gates said. Since being confirmed by the Senate, Gates has participated in National Security Council meetings on Iraq, received a number of briefings at DoD, and discussed the situation and way forward in Iraq with the president. He said he intends to travel quite soon to Iraq and meet with military leaders and other personnel there.

“I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and of having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder, on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead,” Gates said.

The situation in Afghanistan is also very important, Gates said. The progress made there in the last five years cannot be undone, he said, and the U.S. and NATO must keep their commitment to the Afghan people.

“How we face these and other challenges in the region over the next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress towards sustainable governments, which are allies in the global war on terrorism, or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant,” he said.

Bush also emphasized that America is at a time of great consequence in the war on terror. The secretary of defense must understand the challenges of the present, see the threats of the future, and provide the best possible advice to help direct the nation’s armed forces as they engage the enemies of freedom around the world, he said.

Gates is the right man for the job, Bush said.

“He knows the stakes in the war on terror,” Bush said of Gates. “He recognizes this is a long struggle against an enemy unlike any our nation has fought before. He understands that defeating the terrorists and the radicals and the extremists in Iraq and the Middle East is essential to leading towards peace. As secretary of defense, he will help our country forge a new way forward in Iraq so that we can help the Iraqis achieve our shared goal of a unified, democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and be an ally in our struggle against extremists and radicals.”

Everyone wants to find a way to bring America’s troops home, Gates said, but the U.S. cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. “Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come,” he said.

Bush cited Gates’ long career in public service: He started in an entry-level position at the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966, rose to become its director, has worked under six presidents, and spent almost nine years on the National Security Council staff.

“Bob Gates’ lifetime of preparation will serve him well as the secretary of defense,” Bush said.

Bush and Gates both praised outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, noting his exceptional leadership during a time of change at DoD. “Donald Rumsfeld has devoted decades of his life to public service,” Gates said. “He cares deeply about our men and women in uniform and the future of our country.”

Gates said that defense transformation will remain a priority for him, and he pledged to involve in the decision-making processes those who will ultimately carry out the decisions.

“I return to public service in the hope that I can make a difference at a time when our nation is facing daunting challenges and difficult choices,” he said.

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