McFADDEN: Originally when you agreed to serve under President Obama you said that not to expect that you'd serve out the full first term. Well, we're now two years in and I'm wondering if you've given thought to what point you'd like to step down?
GATES: Well, I've made pretty clear that sometime next year it'll be time.
McFADDEN: Will you stay through July 2011?
GATES: Next year sometime. I think it's important not to get too wedded to these positions. There is a lure in senior positions in Washington that makes you want to stay. And I think it's important and empowering ah to be willing to leave.
McFADDEN To not inhale . . .
GATES: . . . Well . . .
McFADDEN: . . . all the power?
GATES: You inhale for a while. You just gotta quit! [laughter]
McFADDEN: On the other hand one could argue that there are very few people who can occupy the chair.
GATES: Well, you know, the old French term -- the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.
McFADDEN: I like your other one, the one about today the peacock --
GATES: Tomorrow a feather duster!
McFADDEN: In some ways it looked outside as if you were going to be the fox in the hen house, the Republican in the Democratic Administration. How has it been being a Republican?
GATES: I do the same things. I make the same kind of decisions. I've never been a partisan person. I believe totally in bipartisanship in international affairs. My highest priority is not what goes on in Washington; my highest priority is what those kids are doing out there in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's what I focus on.
McFADDEN: I was really moved by your speech at Duke and the notion that as the President of Texas A&M, you've been seeing kids just like the ones you're now sending to war, you know, in a very different context. Talk a little about that.
GATES: Well, I've talked about the fact that being a university president probably has been harder for me in this job in wartime, because I spent four and a half years seeing kids 18 to 25 walking around campus in T-shirts and shorts and backpacks going to class, mostly. [laughter]
McFADDEN: Or not going to class.
GATES: And having fun and, you know, living out their dream. And in an instant I'm, in Afghanistan and Iraq seeing kids exactly the same age in full body armor and putting their lives on the line for the rest of the country. And so I've, I guess I would say I've had a very paternalistic view toward these men and women out there. When I've talked at the academies and when I've talked in other places, I say you know I regard, I feel responsibility for you as if you were my own son or daughter. And I feel that very deeply.
McFadden: That's a lot of weight to carry, Mr. Secretary.
GATES: Well, that's my job.
McFADDEN: I've been told that you actually write handwritten notes on the condolence letters.
GATES Yeah. I told myself when I took this job I would never allow the fallen heroes to become a statistic for me. And so with every condolence letter I get the hometown newspaper article and a picture, because then I read about what their coaches say about them, what their boy scout leaders say about them, what their ministers say about them, what their friends and family say about them. So I try to know something about every one of these um incredible young people.
McFADDEN: How many have died since you've been Secretary of Defense?