President Barack Obama thanked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for his service as he officially announced his intention to nominate CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to lead the Pentagon after Gates retires June 30.
Obama said at the White House April 28 that Gates will go down in history as one of the finest defense secretaries in U.S. history.
The president also nominated Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to succeed Panetta at the CIA, and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen to succeed Petraeus as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Obama also is nominating Ryan C. Crocker to return from retirement and serve as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
The nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.
"Given the pivotal period that we’re entering, I felt that it was absolutely critical that we had this team in place so that we can stay focused on our missions, maintain our momentum and keep our nation secure," Obama said in the White House East Room.
Gates will step down after serving more than four and a half years in office.
President George W. Bush nominated Gates for the job at a time when prospects in Iraq looked bleak. The surge of U.S. forces into Iraq was hitting its stride, and hundreds of attacks occurred each day on coalition forces in the country.
"Today, every American must know that because he helped to responsibly wind down the war in Iraq, we’re in a better position to support our troops and manage the transition in Afghanistan," Obama said.
Adding, "Because he challenged conventional thinking, our troops have the lifesaving equipment they need, and our military is better prepared for today’s wars.
"And because he courageously cut unnecessary spending, we’ll save hundreds of billions of dollars that can be invested in the 21st century military that our troops deserve."
The United States military has fought in two wars every day of Gates’ tenure, and service members have also stood watch elsewhere around the globe.
"It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead our men and women in uniform and our defense civilians," Gates said. "They are the best America has to offer."
Adding, "My highest priority from my first day in office has been to do everything I could for our uniformed men and women in harm’s way to help them accomplish their mission, to come home safely, and if wounded, to get them the best possible care from battlefield to home front. I’ve done my best to care for them as though they were my own sons and daughters, and I will miss them deeply."
The president said Panetta has the right skills to take over for Gates. "The patriotism and extraordinary management skills that have defined Leon’s four decades of service is exactly what we need in our next secretary of defense," Obama said.
Adding, "As a former congressman and White House chief of staff, Leon knows how to lead, which is why he is held in such high esteem not only in this city, but around the world."
Panetta has served as CIA director for more than two years. The president said he has played a decisive role in the fight against violent extremism.
"He understands that even as we begin the transition in Afghanistan, we must remain unwavering in our fight against al-Qaida," Obama said. "And as a former [Office of Management and Budget] director, he will ensure that even as we make tough budget decisions, we will maintain our military superiority and keep our military the very best in the world."
Panetta thanked the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency for their superb, but unheralded work.
"I spent 40 years in public service, and it began when I served in the Army as an intelligence officer in the 1960s," he said. "I was proud to wear the uniform of our country, and my respect and admiration for our nation’s armed forces has only grown in the decades since."
Obama stressed continuity, noting that Petraeus will carry on Panetta’s work at the CIA. After 35 years in uniform, he will retire from the Army to become the next CIA director, effective early September, pending Senate confirmation.
"As a lifelong consumer of intelligence, he knows that intelligence must be timely, accurate and acted upon quickly," Obama said. "He understands that staying a step ahead of nimble adversaries requires sharing and coordinating information, including with my director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper."
Obama said he values Petraeus’ flexibility and adaptability. "Just as General Petraeus changed the way that our military fights and wins wars in the 21st century, I have no doubt that Director Petraeus will guide our intelligence professionals as they continue to adapt and innovate in an ever-changing world," the president said.
And Allen is the right man for the job in Afghanistan, the president said.
"As a battle-tested combat leader, in Iraq he helped turn the tide in Anbar Province," he said. "As deputy commander of Central Command, he’s respected in the region and has been deeply involved in planning and executing our strategy in Afghanistan."
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.)