Gates Fields Questions From Troops at Bagram

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 7, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates vis­it­ed Region­al Com­mand East troops here today to share his thoughts, seek their con­cerns and express his thanks.
Hun­dreds of ser­vice mem­bers assigned to Com­bined Joint Task Force 101 gath­ered inside a met­al ware­house to lis­ten to the sec­re­tary, who arrived in Afghanistan this morn­ing.

“I real­ly just want­ed to come by here and thank you for your ser­vice, and through you, thank your fam­i­lies,” he told the crowd of uni­formed men and women.

Region­al Com­mand East is under the com­mand of Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell, who also com­mands the deployed task force and the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion. The com­mand cov­ers 14 provinces and 160 dis­tricts in east­ern Afghanistan, includ­ing a 450-mile stretch along the bor­der with Pak­istan.

Gates praised the command’s suc­cess in work­ing with and fight­ing along­side Afghan part­ner forces to make the command’s geo­graph­ic area safer for the peo­ple who live there.

“It was a tough win­ter, and it’s going to be a tougher spring and sum­mer, but you’ve made a lot of head­way,” Gates told the troops.

Gates said as sec­re­tary of defense, he feels per­son­al­ly respon­si­ble for every ser­vice mem­ber the nation sends to Afghanistan, and that he is com­mit­ted to make sure they have what they need to be suc­cess­ful in their mis­sion.

Gates then answered ques­tions, which ranged from what keeps him up at night, to the like­li­hood of nine-month deploy­ments for the Army, and to the future rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan.

Con­cern for the troops is what keeps him up at night, Gates said.

“I think a lot about you peo­ple out here — what you have to put up with, the con­di­tions you live in, the sac­ri­fices you make,” the sec­re­tary said.

Gates told the troops he does­n’t believe nine-month deploy­ments for the Army will hap­pen any time soon, though Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, has said he’d like to see them. His first goal for Army deploy­ments is to make sure units get two years at their home sta­tions for every one-year Afghanistan tour, the sec­re­tary said. The 2‑to‑1 deploy­ment ratio will be in place for 70 per­cent of Army units this year, he added, and should be in effect for all Army for­ma­tions by the end of next year.

Gates told the ser­vice mem­bers the Unit­ed States is work­ing with the Afghan gov­ern­ment to build the process that will lead to tran­si­tion­ing the lead role in Afghan secu­ri­ty to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. The Unit­ed States may keep a great­ly reduced force in Afghanistan after that date, he added, if the Afghan gov­ern­ment is inter­est­ed.

“We are ful­ly pre­pared to have a con­tin­u­ing pres­ence here, assist­ing the Afghans after 2014,” Gates said. “I think there is a desire on both sides to have some arrange­ment.”

Gates also had lunch with some of the troops, then gave a com­mem­o­ra­tive coin and a hand­shake, and had a pho­to tak­en, with each ser­vice mem­ber in the audi­ence.

Lat­er this week, the sec­re­tary will trav­el to Stuttgart, Ger­many, for the U.S. Africa Com­mand change of com­mand, before mov­ing on to Brus­sels, Bel­gium, for meet­ings with NATO defense min­is­ters.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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