Soon after the election, I informed President Obama of my intention to retire from public service and return home to California. Today, the president announced that he will nominate Chuck Hagel to succeed me as secretary of defense, and I want to express my strong support for this nomination.
I've known Chuck for many years, and I had the opportunity to work with him closely in his capacity as chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. I greatly appreciate the work he has done to strengthen our intelligence enterprise in this important role, and as secretary of defense I also have benefited from his work on the Defense Policy Board.
Chuck Hagel is a patriot, a decorated combat veteran, and a dedicated public servant. I believe his experience, his judgment and his deep understanding of the security issues facing this country make him the right choice to be the next secretary of defense. I also want to commend the president for his choice of John Brennan to serve as the next director of the CIA. I have had the opportunity to work with John on counterterrorism issues these last four years, and he will be a strong leader of that great intelligence agency.
Today, I want to express my enduring gratitude to President Obama for having given me the distinct honor and privilege of serving in his administration as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and as the 23rd secretary of defense.
My public service began in 1964 when I served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army. After close to 50 years of serving the American people in both legislative and executive branch positions in Washington, the time has come for me to return home to my wife Sylvia, my children and grandchildren. I want to deeply thank all of them for giving me the fullest measure of love and support during many absences from home throughout my long career in public service.
I will leave Washington with a deep sense of pride in what we accomplished together during my four years on the president's national security team. As both director of the CIA and secretary of defense, I have always believed that our fundamental mission was to keep America safe. Because of the outstanding dedication of our intelligence and military professionals, America is safer and more secure that it was four years ago and we have reached a turning point after more than a decade of war.
As secretary, I am particularly proud of the following achievements: developing a new defense strategy for the 21st century that meets both our national security and fiscal responsibilities; the ongoing operations aimed at terrorism and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership; bringing the war in Iraq to an honorable conclusion; implementing the campaign plan to build an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself by the end of 2014; completing the NATO mission in Libya that resulted in the end of the Qadhafi regime; strengthening alliances and partnerships throughout the world; rebalancing our military toward the Asia-Pacific region; opening up opportunities for all Americans to serve by expanding the role of women and repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; and providing greater support for our Active, Reserve and Guard forces, their families, and our wounded warriors.
None of this would have been accomplished without the support and loyalty of an outstanding team of military and civilian staff and leaders I have had the honor to serve with at the Department of Defense. In particular, let me express my profound gratitude to the outstanding men and women in uniform that I have had the privilege to serve and to lead, especially those who put their lives on the line for this country on distant battlefields.
Their sacrifices teach us all that freedom is not free. A strong democracy depends on a strong defense. But you cannot have a strong and stable defense without a strong and stable democracy. As we continue to confront strategic challenges and fiscal austerity, my hope for the future is that the sense of duty our service members and their families exhibit every day inspires the leaders of this nation have the courage to do what is right to achieve the American dream of giving our children a better life and building a more secure future.