Robert Gates' last day at Pentagon: three reasons he'll be missed

Defense Secretary Robert Gates steps down from his Pentagon post Thursday after 4-1/2 years on the job. If he feels any twinge of wistfulness, it won't last long.

2. Accountability

Kevin Dietsch/Newscom/File
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks at a news briefing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Feb. 23, 2007. Gates announced he would form a committee to investigate the worsening conditions at the hospital.

As Gates looks back over his tenure, he tends to place two moments among his most important on the job.

The first was taking action when he learned of the appalling treatment of injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In doing so, he acknowledged the role of the press in helping bring that treatment to light, as well as its reports about the difficulty of getting Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles to troops in the field, which dramatically improved survival rates from roadside bomb attacks. “Responding to both of these critical issues, which only came to my attention through the media, became my top priority and two of my earliest and most significant management decisions,” Gates said in his last Pentagon press conference.

He also made it clear that accountability is not just for the junior ranks, but also for senior officials. In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, Gates fired the Army surgeon general, the commander of the hospital, and the Secretary of the Army. Likewise, when an Air Force B-52 was mistakenly loaded with nuclear weapons, he relieved the Secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff. “It’s pretty rare anywhere in Washington for someone at a senior level to be held accountable and to be held responsible, because they rarely lost their jobs,” Gates told the American Forces Press Service (AFPS). “It certainly got everybody’s attention at a senior level.”

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