Gates Sends Message Thanking Troops for Service

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)