WASHINGTON, June 29, 2011 — Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has sent a message to every post, ship, base and installation thanking service members and their families for their service.
In the message, which went out today, Gates said it has been “the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four-and-a-half years.”
The secretary retires from his position tomorrow. President George W. Bush nominated Gates as defense secretary in November 2006. When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, he asked Gates to stay. The secretary is the only cabinet member ever retained by an incoming president from another political party.
After fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the interests and well-being of the men and women in the military has been the secretary’s highest priority. “Your dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan,” he wrote in the release.
For his whole time in office, Gates has signed the orders deploying troops into harm’s way. “This has weighed on me every day,” he wrote. “I have known about and felt your hardship, your difficulties, your sacrifice, more than you can possibly imagine.”
The secretary has traveled extensively in the past few weeks to meet with and thank as many service members as he could. He traveled to outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq shaking hands with troops and giving them his commemorative coins.
Even with the travel, “he still only reached a fraction of the force,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. The message is his way to reach out to troops because, “he wants everyone in uniform — active and reserve, deployed and not — to know he is eternally grateful for their service,” he said.
In speaking with the troops in combat outposts and forward operating bases, the secretary has often choked up. “As anyone who has seen the secretary with troops can attest, I think it would be too difficult for him to deliver this message to the military without his emotions getting the best of him,” Morrell said.
Gates ended his message to the troops by saying they are the best America has to offer.
“My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life,” the secretary wrote. “God bless you.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)