WASHINGTON (AP) — It was from a chance encounter with a military mom that Robert Gates realized what his heaviest burden as Pentagon chief would be.
It would be his own emotions and his concern about the thousands of young American men and women he would send to fight and die on foreign battlefields.
It's pressure that, 4½ years since taking over at the Defense Department, he acknowledges has taken a heavy toll.
In a sense it has been a defining feature of his tenure — not the personal strain itself but how it influenced his priorities in the job.
Gates' tenure is one of the few in history to have begun and ended in wartime.
Gates is retiring as Pentagon chief on June 30.
© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.