Wolfowitz, 61, often described as a leading architect of the Bush administration's plan for overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, said he looks forward to "working on behalf of the world's poor" as head of the Washington-based international economic development agency.
He has been deputy defense secretary since March 2001. Navy Secretary Gordon England (search) has been nominated to succeed Wolfowitz, but the Senate has not yet voted to confirm him. Wolfowitz is scheduled to assume his new post June 1.
At a ceremony on a Pentagon parade ground that overlooks the Potomac River, Wolfowitz reviewed a military honor guard and was presented with a Defense Department medal for distinguished public service which cited him as an "internationally recognized voice for freedom."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) praised his top deputy for intellectual firepower and perseverance, noting that he was a leading force in Rumsfeld's drive to modernize the military.
"The threatened, the oppressed and the persecuted around the world must know in their hearts that they had a friend in Paul Wolfowitz," Rumsfeld said. "You are one of those rare people who, as the Talmud puts it, would rather light candles than curse the darkness."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace (search), the Joint Chiefs vice chairman whom President Bush has nominated to be the next chairman, said he found Wolfowitz to be a man of intellectual courage and genuine humility.
Alluding to Wolfowitz's reputation in some circles as a hard-bitten neoconservative, Pace said he knew the deputy defense secretary as a compassionate man. "If I speak too much about this I'll blow your cover," he added, jokingly. He thanked Wolfowitz for regularly visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals and attending the funerals of troops killed overseas.
"You have great humility," Pace said. "Of all the titles that you've earned — doctor professor, dean, ambassador, secretary — the two you prefer most are Dad and Paul. That says a lot about you."