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Pa. governor steps down to head homeland security

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Vietnam War combat veteran appointed by President Bush to head the newly created Cabinet post of the Office of Homeland Security, says he will resign his current job on October 5.

"It is an honor to serve your country at anytime, but now, more so than ever," Ridge said from his state's capital of Harrisburg, shortly after he attended Bush's Thursday night address to the nation in Washington earlier in the evening.

Bush announced the new post in his televised speech to Congress, in which he detailed the long battle against terrorism ahead, following the deadly hijack attacks September 11 that left thousands dead in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level," the president said in making his announcement.

Ridge said that because this is a new position, the duties and scope of his new assignment are not all spelled out, but it involves coordinating and creating a strategic plan for homeland defense.

The governor said the offer for the post came to him Wednesday in phone call from Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card and later, Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I think it's all right to admit that I'm saddened that this job is even necessary, but it is necessary, so I will give it everything that I have," Ridge said.

Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker will take over as Pennsylvania governor in a transition Ridge predicted will be "seamless."

"To the people of Pennsylvania, I hope you've detected over the past seven years, I love my job and I love you," he said. "I've been honored, proud and privileged to serve you."

Ridge, 56, was sworn in as governor in 1995. He was re-elected in 1998, and was to serve until 2003.

He was mentioned as a potential running mate in Bob Dole's 1996 campaign and in Bush's 2000 campaign, before Bush decided on Cheney.

Ridge fought in the Vietnam War in the infantry and received the Bronze Star for Valor, according to the governor's Web site.

He graduated from local Roman Catholic schools, worked summers as a union laborer and attended Harvard University on a scholarship. He graduated with honors in 1967 and enrolled in Dickinson Law School before being drafted at the end of his first year.

Ridge's social political agenda has included welfare reform and a special legislative session on crime that resulted in a so-called three-strikes law and a faster death-penalty process.

Ridge signed more than 200 execution warrants since he became governor in 1995.

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