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Gates Bids Farewell to Troops: On the eve of his last day in office, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a farewell message to troops. "It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four and a half years," wrote Gates, who is stepping down Thursday after heading the Pentagon since December 2006. He continued: "[Y]our dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan. Your countrymen owe you their freedom and their security." He closed: "My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life." The Senate has confirmed CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Gates. Panetta is scheduled to assume his new post on Friday. (Gates biography)