"So Friday marks the beginning of a new era here at the Pentagon. This morning Secretary-designate Leon Panetta will be sworn in as the 23rd secretary of defense by General Counsel Jeh Johnson," Morrell said during a press briefing. "So with a new SecDef should come a new press secretary. So I plan to relinquish my responsibilities on Thursday and will leave the Pentagon for good in July to focus on considering what comes next for me and my family."
He assured media representatives they'd be in good hands with members of the Pentagon's public affairs office and an as-yet named press secretary.
Morrell thanked former President George W. Bush for hiring him and President Obama for allowing him to continue as the Pentagon spokesman when he was elected.
"It has, quite simply, been the most professionally rewarding four years of my life," he said. "That is largely due to the fact I have been able to work closely with one of the great statesmen and public servants of our time."
He said he is in Gates' debt "for the access he has given me, the faith he has shown in me and the wisdom he has shared with me. But most of all I am appreciative of the friendship we have developed over long days in the office and long trips around the world."
He also thanked the Pentagon press corps for its commitment to "this huge, complicated beat."
Gates will fly home to Washington state where he will "once again try his hand at retirement," Morrell said. "After a couple of notable failures, he assures me he is determined to succeed this time."