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Obama Praises Panetta in Farewell Ceremony: President Obama thanked soon-to-retire Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for his nearly 50 years of public service, including the last 19 months leading the Pentagon, during Panetta's farewell ceremony. "As our nation's 23rd Secretary of Defense, every action Leon Panetta has taken, every decision that he has made, has been with one goal in mind: taking care of our sons and our daughters in uniform and keeping America safe," said Obama during the Feb. 8 ceremony at JB Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. Obama credited Panetta for his leadership in overseeing the end of the war in Iraq, degrading al Qaeda, formulating a new defense strategy, and supporting wounded warriors, military families, and veterans. Panetta—who became Defense Secretary on July 1, 2011, replacing Robert Gates—expressed his gratitude. "It has been the honor of my life to have served in the position of Secretary of Defense," he said. Panetta is expected to stay on until his successor is in place. The Senate has yet to vote on the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to replace Panetta. The nomination has been controversial, with some senior GOP senators opposed, like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). (Includes AFPS report by John D. Banusiewicz and AFPS report by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.)