Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian, said Friday that he will stay in the post past the inauguration to assist the defense secretary nominee, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, in getting a grip on the complex management issues facing the military.
"I'll be staying just a little bit longer to help with the transition until my successor is confirmed," Work said at a farewell ceremony in the Pentagon's auditorium packed with the Defense Department's top uniformed and civilian leadership.
There had been speculation that Work, a retired Marine colonel and artillery officer who had taken on the DoD's toughest management tasks, would remain to work with Mattis.
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If that happened, Work joked that it might be the first time in Pentagon history that the top three posts -- secretary, deputy secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford -- would be held by Marines, but he made clear his intention to leave once a successor has been confirmed.
At the ceremony, outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pinned Work with the Defense Distinguished Public Award, the Pentagon's highest award for a civilian.
Carter relied on Work to take on the toughest management assignments -- overseeing the integration of women into all military occupational specialties and coming up with a "Third Offset Strategy" to maintain the military's technology edge.
"Bob never hesitates" or seeks to duck an assignment, Carter said. "Instead, he embraces it and charges ahead just like any Marine would. When you need something done and done right, you call Bob Work."
In his remarks, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the Joint Chiefs vice chairman, said that Work had a special ability "to take an issue apart and put it back together in a way we can all understand."
In countless meetings at the White House, or in the "tank" at the Pentagon, Selva said the first question that came up when a difficult issue arose was "Where's Bob?"
Carter said, "I too have had the experience of someone saying, 'Where's Bob?' In my time as secretary of defense, I couldn't have asked for a better partner than Bob."
No tribute to Work could go without mention of his second career as a movie buff. Work himself acknowledged that anyone who has ever come near him has had to endure his quotes from obscure Tom Cruise movies that tanked at the box office and only he remembers.
Carter called him a "master of Star Wars trivia" before Work launched into a recitation of his movie favorites and how they exemplified the efforts of various Pentagon staffers -- or something. There was the movie "Edge of Tomorrow" where Tom Cruise plays this warrior and … whatever.
The audience laughed along with Work about his movie jones. One of his favorites is "Ben Hur," Work said, and he imparted the advice of the Roman commander to Charlton Heston and the rest of galley slaves to all who will remain at the Pentagon in the new administration: "Row well and live."