WASHINGTON — Well over a thousand expectant people arranged themselves into a line that snaked back and forth through the Pentagon food court and overflowed into the massive building’s court yard.

“He’s a rock star,” said a young soldier looking at the scene as he headed to get his lunch.

The man they were waiting for, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under two presidents from 2006 to 2011, didn’t exactly look like a rock star. He walked gingerly off an elevator wearing a neck brace — the result of a fall at home — and over to the table where he would spend the next few hours testing the endurance of his writing hand as he signed hundreds of copies of his new memoir, “Duty.”

Juicy bits from the book exploded into headlines prior to its release in recent weeks, including harsh critiques of Obama administration officials — some of whom he depicted as dilettantes meddling with military and intelligence affairs they didn’t understand.

Defense employees who showed up for autographs said they liked Gate’s views, liked his style running the department, liked the man himself.

“I think it was his honesty I liked — he told it like it was,” said Joe Nelson, a DOD civilian who works in Air Force acquisitions.

Iris Rowand, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who is now a civilian now working for the Joint Staff , said she hasn’t read the book yet, but has heard the reports about it.

“The few tidbits I heard I kind of agreed with,” she said. “I thought, somebody finally is putting it in writing.”


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