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At Robert Gates's departure ceremony President Obama presented the defense secretary with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "Obama called him a humble American patriot, a man of common sense and decency, and one of the nation's finest public servants," reports the Associated Press. It was apparently a surprise to Gates, who told the president "You're getting pretty good at this covert opps stuff." In his parting words, Gates offered advice to to incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: set up your office exactly how you like it, as "you may be here longer than you think." At 67, Gates, has served under eight presidents, including as the director of the CIA and the top civilian overseeing U.S. military forces. His job ends on Friday when Panetta is sworn in. Officials praised him for his "legacy of defending freedom, promoting effective diplomacy, and supporting American troops around the world."

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