WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Robert Gates has formally taken over as U.S. secretary of defense, becoming the 22nd man to hold the job.
At a Pentagon ceremony Monday, U.S. President George Bush praised the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency as someone with "a track record of steering large organizations through change and transformation. I know Bob Gates will be an outstanding secretary of defense."
"The job of secretary of defense is one of the most important positions in our government," Bush added. "The secretary must understand the challenges of the present and see the threats of the future and find the best ways to prepare our armed forces to meet them."
Bush also praised and thanked Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned as secretary of defense shortly after the November elections.
Gates lauded Rumsfeld, as well, saying the former secretary "cares deeply about our men and women in uniform and the future of our country."
Gates cited Iraq and Afghanistan as his two most pressing concerns and said he plans to travel to the region in the near future.
"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Gates said. "But, as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."