Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf collected a personal pat on the back from his Pentagon superiors and President Bush as he took a break from overseeing the withdrawal of troops he commanded in the Persian Gulf war.

"What he and his troops did for the morale of the United States of America is unbelievable," Bush said Tuesday during a photo session with the four-star Army general in the Rose Garden of the White House.Bush played host to the general at lunch and signed legislation to award Schwarzkopf and Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gold medals for their "exemplary performance" in conducting the gulf war.

Schwarzkopf, who returned to his Florida home on Sunday after eight months in Saudi Arabia, met earlier Tuesday at the Pentagon with Powell and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in what officials described as an informal, welcome-home session.

Schwarzkopf returned to Tampa, Fla., Tuesday afternoon to resume his command at McDill Air Force Base, where he will oversee the return of the 250,000 troops remaining in the gulf region.

The Pentagon said the troops, who numbered 550,000 at the peak of the deployment, are being withdrawn at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 a day.

The 56-year-old Schwarzkopf has announced he will retire before the end of the year.

Bush told reporters he had told Schwarzkopf that "what he and his troops did . . . in terms of fulfilling our objectives is fantastic.

"We have a great team in (Defense Secretary Dick) Cheney and General Powell and General Schwarzkopf, and the country knows it. You can feel it. It is fantastic. And I told him that, and congratulated him."

A reporter joked that Schwarzkopf was hard to recognize clad in a green dress uniform instead of the desert camouflage fatigues he wore in the Middle East.

"First time I've had these on in eight months," Schwarzkopf replied.