PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates received the National Constitution Center's 2011 Liberty Medal tonight in honor of his five decades of distinguished service. In what was a moving tribute to Dr. Gates' role as the "Soldiers' Secretary," Iraq War veteran Anthony Odierno, representing Wounded Warrior Project, and SFC Dana Graham of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, representing the USO of Pennsylvania and Southern NJ (Liberty USO), joined Center President and CEO David Eisner to present the prestigious medal to Dr. Gates. The public ceremony took place at 7:00 p.m. at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia.
ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff hosted the live event, which also featured presentations by Pennsylvania Governor Thomas W. Corbett and actress and star of Army Wives Kim Delaney. Action News Anchorman Jim Gardner hosted the live broadcast of the ceremony on WPVI-TV/6abc. The event also was streamed live on www.6abc.com.
Appearing in video tributes throughout the ceremony were President George H.W. Bush, under whom Gates served as Director of the CIA; President Bill Clinton, Chair of the National Constitution Center Board of Trustees; President George W. Bush, who originally appointed Gates to the post of Secretary of Defense in 2006; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom Gates worked closely during his final term as Secretary of Defense under President Obama; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who Gates recently succeeded as chancellor of the College of William and Mary; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
In his five-decade career in public service, Dr. Gates has served eight presidents – in uniform, as the director of the CIA and as the civilian head of America's armed forces. From the era of the Cold War to the complex challenges of the 21st century, he helped transform U.S. intelligence and military operations to meet emerging realities, and advocated for the safety and empowerment of American servicemen and women. Having served both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, Dr. Gates is the only Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to serve presidents of different parties. He retired from the post on June 30, 2011.
National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner said that this year's award recognizes an individual who truly embodies the values of our Constitution:
"Dr. Robert Gates is a leader who would make our Founding Fathers proud. He exemplifies the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation that gave life to our democracy – a spirit that is increasingly rare today, but needed more than ever as 'We the People' wrestle with a level of economic and political turmoil we have not faced for generations."
"Secretary Gates' steadfast commitment to the well-being of our men and women in uniform makes him an ideal recipient of this year's Liberty Medal," said President Bill Clinton, Chair of the National Constitution Center. "As he embarks on his next chapter, we are pleased to honor his many years of distinguished service to our country."
"Secretary Gates has proven himself to be a true leader – as Director of the CIA, president of Texas A&M University and as Secretary of Defense," Governor Tom Corbett said. "This year's Liberty Medal could not go to a more worthy person; Secretary Gates has worked tirelessly to support liberty and democracy worldwide, and his efforts have greatly advanced our nation's safety and security."
"Secretary Gates is a true American hero who has dedicated his life to our country," said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. "He conducts himself with a quiet dignity, but is vociferous and determined in his support for our troops and for causes of freedom around the world. He is a most-deserving addition to the list of illustrious leaders who have been awarded the Liberty Medal."
Dr. Robert M. Gates was sworn in as the 22nd Secretary of Defense on December 18, 2006.
Following his term under President George W. Bush, he was asked to remain in that office by President Barack Obama. His unprecedented transition from a Republican to a Democratic administration furthered his reputation as a pragmatist and a problem-solver who earns bipartisan support.
As defense secretary, Dr. Gates oversaw the 2007 surge of forces in Iraq, leading to a dramatic drop in violence and paving the way for significant troop drawdowns in the years since. In Afghanistan, he implemented a similar surge in 2009, resulting in much improved security.
Gates also has fought to end troubled weapons programs and to reduce overhead to make the department operate more efficiently, saving hundreds of billions of dollars that are being reinvested in higher military priorities, as well as deficit reduction. Described by TIME magazine as "candid and fearless," he has demanded accountability from military and civilians alike and won accolades for getting our soldiers all they need to succeed in the missions they have been given and to come home safely.
A tireless advocate for the welfare of American troops, Gates has been called the "ultimate soldiers' secretary." Thinking of the troops as his own sons and daughters, he has made it a top priority to care for them and their families. His push for the purchase of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and the production of drones, cameras and sensors provided a safer way to conduct operations and saved the lives of countless American soldiers. He also played an instrumental role in reducing the amount of time to get wounded soldiers from the battlefield to a hospital in Afghanistan.
Prior to his historic tenure as Secretary of Defense, Dr. Gates had an illustrious career at the Central Intelligence Agency, which he joined in 1966. He spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional, including nearly nine years at the National Security Council, serving presidents of both political parties. He served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 to 1993 and remains the only career officer in the CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to director. He served as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from 1986 to 1989 and as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser at the White House from 1989 to 1991. In 1967, Dr. Gates was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and served as an intelligence officer at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
Dr. Gates has been awarded the National Security Medal and the Presidential Citizens Medal, has twice received the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, and has three times received the CIA's highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
He and his wife, Becky, have been married over 40 years and have a grown son and daughter. Gates is looking forward to returning to Washington state to be reunited with his family.
The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Given annually, the medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. The Liberty Medal was first administered by the National Constitution Center in 2006, when Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were honored for their bipartisan humanitarian efforts on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. Other past Liberty Medal winners include Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Kofi Annan, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Bono. Last year's Liberty Medal was awarded to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Medal also has been awarded to organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and CNN International. Six recipients of the Medal subsequently have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ira Lubert of Independence Capital Partners sponsored the Liberty Medal award in 2011, as he has for the past three years. For the sixth year, Citizens Bank was the presenting sponsor for the President's Reception prior to the Liberty Medal ceremony. Hublot, the luxury Swiss brand that brings the "Art of Fusion" to watchmaking, is co-sponsoring the Liberty Medal gala for 2011-2012, and creating a limited edition "U.S. Liberty Bang" timepiece to celebrate the significance of the Liberty Medal. This special watch launched today to coincide with the ceremony. In addition, the number one timepiece of the 100 limited watches was awarded to Dr. Gates during the Liberty Medal Gala Dinner.
The City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also support the Liberty Medal.
The National Constitution Center is America's first and only nonpartisan, nonprofit institution devoted to the U.S. Constitution. Its mission is to illuminate constitutional ideals and inspire acts of citizenship. Located on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia, the Center provides a cutting-edge museum, timely public programs, and dynamic educational resources. The museum dramatizes the story of "We the People" through the stirring live performance Freedom Rising, the iconic Signers' Hall, featuring 42 life-sized bronze statues of the Framers, and more than 100 interactive exhibits, films, photographs and rare artifacts. As a national town hall for constitutional dialogue, the Center regularly engages political leaders, scholars, pundits and journalists of diverse viewpoints. The Center also houses the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, which serves as the hub for national constitutional education and provides exceptional civic learning resources both onsite and online. For more information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A complete list of Liberty Medal winners follows.
Past Recipients of the Liberty Medal
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister
Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader
Bono and DATA (joint prize)
George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton, former U.S. Presidents (joint prize)
Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan
Sandra Day O'Connor, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General*
Dr. James Watson and Dr. Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA (joint prize)
Kim Dae Jung, President of South Korea*
Senator George J. Mitchell, Irish peace negotiator
King Hussein I of Jordan and Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister of Israel (joint prize)
Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees
Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic
F.W. de Klerk, President of South Africa* and Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress* (joint prize)
Thurgood Marshall, former Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)* (joint prize)
Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President*
Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity, Poland
* Liberty Medal recipients who subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize
SOURCE National Constitution Center