If Defence Secretary Robert Gates feels any twinge of wistfulness when he departs the Pentagon on Thursday, it probably wont last long. Even during the Bush years, Gates spoke often of the clock in his office by which he counted down the days until he could retire to his beloved Washington State. When President Obama asked him to stay on as defence secretary, Gates made no secret that he did so out of public duty, not an affinity for Washington, D.C. But Washington insiders certainly had an affinity for Gates. Here are three reasons Americas longest-serving secretary of Defence will be missed and legacies that many hope will last after hes gone. 1. Candour Gates was liked for his willingness to say what was obvious but was, vexingly, often left unsaid by Washington politicos at least publicly. More notably, he seemed open to being on the receiving end of candour, too. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing early in his tenure, Gates made clear that he would speak truth to power, even when the television cameras were rolling. Asked during the height of the Iraqi insurgency if the United States was winning the war there, Gates answered, simply, No. He is no dummy, though. At his final press conference with Pentagon reporters, Gates gave this answer when asked whether the US is winning the war in Afghanistan: I have learned a few things in 4-1/2 years, and one of them is to try to stay away from loaded words like 'winning and 'losing. Still, he aired some frustrations both past and present on his way out the door. He warned of a dim if not dismal future for Nato if it doesnt shape up, and serenely told lawmakers livid over the perceived duplicity of Pakistani officials that most governments lie to each other thats the way business gets done. He said in an exit interview with Politico that one of the reasons its probably time for me to leave is that sometimes too much experience can get in the way, and you can get too cautious. He added that his experience may be making me more cautious than I ought to be. But caution coupled with decades of experience is precisely what most Americans hope for in their leaders, his boosters note. Gates acknowledged his own pivotal role during internal Bush White House debates about American adventurism, particularly in Iran, to The New York Times. The only thing I guess I would say to that is, I hope Ive prevented us from doing some dumb things over the past 4-1/2 years, he said. 2. Accountability As Gates looks back over his tenure, he tends to place two moments among his most important on the job. The first was taking action when he learned of the appalling treatment of injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In doing so, he acknowledged the role of the press in helping bring that treatment to light, as well as its reports about the difficulty of getting Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles to troops in the field, which dramatically improved survival rates from roadside bomb attacks. Responding to both of these critical issues, which only came to my attention through the media, became my top priority and two of my earliest and most significant management decisions, Gates said in his last Pentagon press conference. He also made it clear that accountability is not just for the junior ranks, but also for senior officials. In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, Gates fired the Army surgeon general, the commander of the hospital, and the Secretary of the Army. Likewise, when an Air Force B-52 was mistakenly loaded with nuclear weapons, he relieved the Secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff. Its pretty rare anywhere in Washington for someone at a senior level to be held accountable and to be held responsible, because they rarely lost their jobs, Gates told the American Forces Press Service (AFPS). It certainly got everybodys attention at a senior level. 3. Compassion For some time on the job, Gates avoided holding the town hall meetings that are a staple of senior military official visits to war zones. I always felt they were staged, and I didnt think Id get candid questions, he told AFPS. The one thing I have never been willing to do in this job is to use troops as props, he added. Another thing I dont like about town halls is how long they have to be there before I get there. Theyd rather be in bed. Gates repeatedly emphasised how heavily the troops weighed on his mind when he signed orders, and wrote condolence letters and he took responsibility for putting them in harms way. His tone contrasted sharply with that of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, whose famously dismissive response to a US soldier in Iraq worried about the lack of equipment that you go to war with the Army you have came to embody a Pentagon heartbreakingly out of touch with the needs of its troops on the ground. Just as troops were Gates greatest concern, they were also, he often said, his greatest professional delight. He marvelled at their capacity to endure discomfort and referred to the confidential lunches he had with troops to which their commanders were expressly not invited. That really rubs them raw, Gates said in an interview with the Pentagon press service this week. But they really have nothing to worry about. In 4-1/2 years, Ive never had a kid say something negative about his commander. They did, however, share complaints large, small, and comical. They told him, for example, about the weak crotches in the Army combat uniforms. I loved the comment one of the kids made, Gates recalled. He said, 'You know, its not too bad in the summertime, but in the winter, it can get to be a problem. He returned the favour. I am more candid with these young people than I am with anyone else, Gates said. Its because I trust them and believe in them. They are the only thing I will miss about this job. Christian Science Monitor