Pentagon press secretary George Little announced he will retire on Nov. 15.
Pentagon press secretary George Little announced he will retire on Nov. 15. // DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

Pentagon Spokesman George Little To Retire

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary and former CIA spokesman, will retire on Nov. 15, he said in a statement on Friday.

Little gave perhaps the most convincing version of saying he wanted to spend more time with his family in an extensive statement.

“One of my immediate goals is to have a Blackberry-free Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in several years,” he wrote.

Little was spokesman at CIA for four years, serving alongside Leon Panetta during the Osama bin Laden raid. He came over to the Pentagon when Panetta was named defense secretary, in July 2011. Little opted for soft landing at the much more public Pentagon podium, creating a short-lived “dual spokesperson” arrangement with Rear Adm. John Kirby, who was spokesman for former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and now runs the Navy’s public affairs operations. Little soon took the reins solo, managing the transition from Robert Gates’ mostly Republican staff with the title of assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs. 

With a smooth, deep baritoned voice, Little brought a calm mouthpiece to the Pentagon briefing room. He presided over a two-year period marked by the end of the Iraq war, a rise in drone strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and special operations forces missions worldwide. Little stayed on to walk Chuck Hagel into Panetta’s office, having the job of managing another former member of Congress-turned-defense secretary with a penchant for loose talk. For his entire term, Little had to balance the public’s right to know what goes on inside the largest federal agency with the adminisration’s desired level of national security secrecy — all while managing a sharp amount of political message control from the White House. 

Little has a Ph.D. from Georgetown and is a University of Virginia graduate. 

His statement:

Media Colleagues,

It’s the privilege of a lifetime to serve as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary.  I’m routinely impressed by the commitment and teamwork of the thousands of DoD public affairs professionals who serve around the world and across the many public affairs disciplines.  I take pride in the incredibly positive impact of their work on our troops, military families, DoD civilians, and our nation.  That work is mission-central, and is key to sharing the powerful stories of the inspiring men and women who serve in the world’s finest military.

I have reached the difficult decision, after long consultation with my wonderful wife and two young sons, to step away from the podium and return to private life and the private sector.  After over two years as Pentagon Press Secretary and over four years as CIA spokesman, I simply need to turn more of my focus to weekend soccer games, helping with school homework, and building Lego sets that demand a higher level of engineering expertise than I currently possess.

Secretary Hagel graciously accepted this decision after I discussed it with him last month.

My last day will be Friday, November 15.  One of my immediate goals is to have a Blackberry-free Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in several years.

I will leave having done my best to serve two indispensable national security organizations led by three outstanding public servants:  Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary Leon Panetta, and CIA Director Mike Hayden.  I am also profoundly grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to serve in his administration.

The search for my successor is underway, and I am confident that whoever comes next will help define a strong course for our leaders and the DoD public affairs community.

To my media colleagues, I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to work with some of the finest reporters in the world.  The Pentagon press corps is professional, dedicated, and thoughtful.  I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with you, held what is probably a record number of on-the-road emergency gaggles, and enjoyed the occasional sparring in the Pentagon Briefing Room.  That’s as it should be.

As a University of Virginia alumnus, I’m almost obliged to quote Jefferson.  I do so to convey my genuine sentiments about the role of the press in our society:

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

To all of you, I look forward to your future accomplishments after I depart the five walls of this wonderful—and this essential—American institution.

With great respect and gratitude,

George Little