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Portrait Unveiling for Secretary Robert Gates

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Pentagon, Washington, DC, Monday, October 29, 2012

Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by extending a very warm welcome to all of the distinguished guests and former leaders of the department who join us this morning.

And most of all, the members of the Gates family and Secretary Gates.

It's not every day you have to brave a hurricane in order to come to a portrait unveiling   But then again, for those of us who've been in this job, it's like dealing with a hurricane every day, so we're used to it.

Bob, Becky, Eleanor, I'm truly honored to be able to preside at this ceremony today.  This is a special moment for me and for the department.  It gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to really one of the great leaders of our country, a man who I believe will be remembered as one of America's most dedicated and most effective public servants. e's someone who made history by answering the call to serve.  And as he once put it, by agreeing to stay on and on and on in the administration of President Obama.

But today, it isn't all about Bob.  We also honor those who made his success possible.  Above -- above all, his wife Becky, who has the gratitude of the entire department, and indeed the nation, for the love and support that she offered and continues to offer Bob throughout his career.

We also have a number of Bob's key staff here, those who have left government and are looking well rested, and I might add, well paid   And I also have the opportunity to work with many who have stayed on and I thank all the staff both past and present for the great work that they have done for the nation.

It's an honor for me to pay tribute to Bob because especially in recent years, I have followed his career and jobs in Washington very closely, and I mean that literally.  I've -- I've known Bob for a long time.  Bob -- Bob and I, as I've mentioned before, worked together on the Iraq study group.  This was back in 2006.  And at the time, Bob was president of Texas A&M and I was at the Panetta Institute. 

I remember that opportunity because all of the members of the Iraq study group having the opportunity to work together and to really look at the issues involved with Iraq was a great experience for me.  And I think -- I think it was an effort that was well worth the work of everyone who tried to in some way direct that -- help direct that policy for the future.

I'll never forget -- I've mentioned this before -- going into Baghdad in 2006.  It's not a -- not a pleasant experience.  You had to do a kind of corkscrew landing going into Baghdad in order to avoid fire.  And then we shot off with armed helicopters to our location.  And then as you all know, every meeting we held, we drank tea after tea after tea after tea, and finally Bob and I looked at each other, and he hustled me off to the CIA headquarters and bar.  And we finally had a decent drink. 

That's when I knew that Bob was really my kind of guy.

And that visit to Iraq made clear -- I mean, for all of us -- the challenges faced by our troops on the ground there. 

Within weeks of that trip to Baghdad, few of us expected that President Bush would then turn to Bob Gates to be secretary of defense, to help put that war on the right path.  He loved his job as president of Texas A&M, but he loved his country more.  And that profound sense of duty, and strength of character were on display from the moment that Bob took on this responsibility. 

From the beginning, his calm demeanor, his no-nonsense straight talk delivered in that Kansas twang, helped reassure a country -- reassure a country that was badly shaken by the growing toll of the Iraq war.

Over time, his steady and effective leadership helped change the direction of that conflict, and I believe the course of history.

Bob has said, that he had three priorities when he came into the job as secretary:  Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.  And he came into this building on a war footing, determined to provide the commanders on the ground and their troops everything they needed in order to succeed.

But, he soon encountered the massive and sometimes entrenched bureaucracy at the Pentagon.  It was not responding as quickly as it should have to the needs of the troops. 

When it came to his attention that acquiring more heavily armed MRAPS could help protect troops from the threat of lethal IEDs, he refused to accept any excuses from a defense establishment that had ignored pleas upon pleas from the battlefield.  He  was told that they couldn't be produced fast enough.  He told them that wasn't good enough.  And the MRAPS needed to be delivered, and needed to be delivered as quickly as possible.  And they were.  And they were.

Hearing from our troops how much they valued that protection is, I think, a lasting legacy of Bob.  He helped save lives. 

When he heard from the troops how much they valued surveillance provided by unmanned aerial vehicles, he pushed to get more of these assets into the theater on a quicker pace.

And another Gates legacy, one that perhaps is not as well known was his insistence on speeding medevac, to theater to respond quickly in Afghanistan.  Even though some claim that at the time it wasn't possible because of the extremes of distance and terrain. 

But he pushed hard to ensure that the same golden hour standard that existed in Iraq, a standard that improved survival and chances of recovery for the injured, he made sure that they met that same standard when it came to our troops fighting in Afghanistan.

And thanks to his efforts, evacuation times for our wounded in Afghanistan were more than cut in half, one hour 40 minutes, to 41 minutes.  Again, saving lives. 

Bob's determination to get these capabilities to the battlefield has saved, as I said, untold life and limbs; and they continue to make a difference today.  There can be no greater legacy then saving lives.

His overriding priority was to get our young men and women in the field the equipment they needed to succeed and to come home safely.

When our medical institutions failed to deliver he put the right place -- the right people in place in order to get the job done.

When serious appeared with our nuclear enterprise, Bob demanded that those responsible be held accountable and helped restore America's confidence in that key part of our nation's security.

A lot of what Bob did, I am grateful for because it really helped lay the groundwork for what we were able to do in putting our defense -- our new defense strategy in place.

He worked to have more energy and resources put together on preparing for the kind of irregular conflict that we were most likely to face in the 21st century, knowing full well that was the kind of force we would need for the future.

He had the opportunity to reshape the department to do that, to become more efficient and more agile, which is important -- an important framework for our entire strategy.

He worked hard to eliminate more than $300 billion in costly and poorly performing programs, as well as those poorly suited to the 21st century battlefield.  He relentlessly pressed the department to look for more efficient ways to do business and to use that money to invest in high-priority warfighting capabilities needed for the future.

The significant progress that we have achieved over the last few years against the insurgency in Afghanistan and against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region and beyond would not have been possible without his determination to put more resources and attention to that fight.  Indeed the impressive fusion that we see today between our intelligence community and the military owes much to his initiative.

Significant challenges still lie ahead for this effort, but thanks to Bob Gates leadership, and to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us, we are on a much better path today.

Which brings me to Bob's most important priority.  Like few others, Bob truly felt the heavy burden that settles upon those who have to sign orders to send America's youth into harm's way.

As tough as he was when it came to not only the bureaucracy, he always had a soft spot in his heart for the young men and women serving on our frontlines.

He traveled to the frontlines of our country's wars as others -- as often as he could to spend time with our young troops, to personally express his care, his concern, his love, his support for America's fighting men and women.

He was a tireless advocate for them, and like them, reflected the very best qualities that the American people expect in a public servant -- integrity, sense of duty and a sense of hope for the future.  But that future will be more secure and the American people will be safer because of the leadership of Bob Gates.

I know that we're all here to unveil a portrait, but in reality a portrait is made up of oil and canvas and fades with time.  I think the most important portrait of a person is the memory that we hold that person in our hearts and the respect and honor that we have for that individual.  That portrait, that portrait in all of our hearts for Bob Gates will last forever. 

Bob and Becky, you have earned the enduring gratitude of this department, and the entire nation.

Thank you very much.

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