Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - President Barack Obama says retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta helped strengthen the military during his relatively brief tenure.

At a farewell ceremony Friday, Obama noted that Panetta oversaw the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly in the military and opened combat roles to women.

Panetta was set to retire as CIA director in the spring of 2011 when Obama asked him to run the Pentagon.

The 74-year-old Panetta is leaving Washington after more than four decades, including as a congressman, federal budget director, White House chief of staff and CIA director who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

Panetta has said he will remain on the job until the Senate confirms a successor.

Obama nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to succeed Panetta.

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