Gates Returns to Aggieland to Discuss Book

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COLLEGE STATION The 22nd president of Texas A&M and the 22nd Secretary of Defense returned to Aggieland Tuesday.

Robert Gates spoke at a Bush Library Foundation event at Rudder Auditorium, discussing his new book that has raised a lot of eyebrows. "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War" has turned into a much-talked about look at his latest time in Washington.

Gates -- who spent five years under two U.S. presidents leading America's armed forces -- sounded familiar refrains that have made his new book quite the talker.

"Despite everyone being nice to me, getting anything of consequence done was so damnably difficult, even in the midst of two wars," he said.

Gates left A&M in late 2006 when President George W. Bush called and asked him to serve as the Defense Department's leader. He would later become the first defense secretary to serve back-to-back presidents of different parties when Barack Obama made Gates the only hold-over cabinet member.

Like he has in recent interviews, Gates repeated his praise of many of the men and women he worked with, including his mentions that he agreed with President Obama on all of his decisions on Afghanistan. But Gates chided me-first attitudes, what he called the Obama administration's micro-management, and he was especially hard on Congress and their inability to get things done, including being unable to pass appropriations bills in a timely manner.

"This dereliction of duty was dramatically disruptive of sensible and efficient management of the department," Gates said Tuesday.

But the 70-year-old remained steadfast in noting that he left A&M for a great reason.

"Being the secretary of defense was the greatest honor of my life, and in many ways, it was the most gratifying job of my life," he said prior to the event.

Gates spoke at length about his love of the service members, especially those wounded in wars that he visited.

"In my imagination, I would put myself in his hospital room, hold him to my chest and comfort him, he said, crying as he spoke. "Silently in the night, I wept for him.

"For the wounded and their families, for the families of the fallen, the wars will continue for the rest of their lives," he added, "and so this book is dedicated to them."

Gates signed books for the sold-out crowd after the event.

In his meetings with the media prior to the event, Gates noted the major construction projects on the campus, including at Kyle Field. He said he was skeptical at first about the school's move to the Southeastern Conference, but said he's been pleased to see the success A&M has had so far.

Gates took questions from the audience during the Rudder event, including one asking whether he'd return as A&M president.

"Somehow, I suspect that offer would not be forthcoming, and second, really good second acts are pretty rare," he said.