Gates Thanks Soldiers, Asks Them to Thank Families

CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, Dec. 7, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates vis­it­ed two for­ward oper­at­ing bases in east­ern Afghanistan today to per­son­al­ly thank 101st Air­borne Divi­sion sol­diers who have been engaged in tough fight­ing and to ask them to thank their fam­i­lies for him.
The first vis­it was to For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Joyce in Kunar province, where Gates told hun­dreds of sol­diers of the 327th Infantry Regiment’s 1st and 2nd bat­tal­ions that although they’ve expe­ri­enced loss­es and hard­ships, they are doing impor­tant work and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan, has defined their work clear­ly, the sec­re­tary noted. 

“This is tough ter­rain, and this is a tough fight,” Gates said. “But as Gen­er­al Petraeus has said, we are break­ing the momen­tum of the ene­my, and we will reverse that momen­tum in part­ner­ing with the Afghans, and will make this a bet­ter place for them so they can take over and we can all go home.” 

Gates not­ed with grat­i­tude that the sol­diers are serv­ing in Afghanistan at a time of year that makes it par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult for them to be away from their fam­i­lies. He thanked the sol­diers for their sac­ri­fice, and asked them to pass his grat­i­tude on to their families. 

“Next time you’re in touch with them, through e‑mail or what­ev­er, tell them I per­son­al­ly thank them for their sup­port of you, for their stand­ing behind you in let­ting you feel that sup­port,” Gates said. 

The sec­re­tary lat­er con­veyed the same mes­sage to hun­dreds of sol­diers of the 1st Squadron, 61st Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment, at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Con­nol­ly in Nan­garhar province. And as he did with the sol­diers at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Joyce ear­li­er, he told them he does­n’t take his respon­si­bil­i­ty lightly. 

“This is kind of per­son­al for me,” Gates said. “I’m the guy who signed the orders that sent you here, and so I feel a per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty for each and every one of you.” His first pri­or­i­ty since he took office four years ago, Gates told the sol­diers, is mak­ing sure they have what they need to do their jobs, suc­ceed in their mis­sion and come home safely. 

And that mis­sion is impor­tant, Gates said. “It real­ly is impor­tant, and [it’s] about defend­ing our own coun­try,” he said. “If we don’t fight these guys on their 10-yard line, we’ll have to fight them on our 10-yard line.” Gates pre­sent­ed numer­ous awards at both bases, includ­ing Sil­ver Star medals to six sol­diers at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Joyce: 1st Lt. Stephen R. Tan­gen, Sgt. 1st Class John P. Flem­ing, Staff Sgts. Brent A. Schnei­der and Daniel J. Hayes, Cpl. Joshua Bush and Spc. Richard T. Bennett. 

At For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Con­nol­ly, the sec­re­tary met pri­vate­ly with 18 mem­bers of the pla­toon that lost six sol­diers last week when a rogue Afghan bor­der police­man opened fire on them. 

The sec­re­tary posed for pic­tures with every sol­dier present at both loca­tions and pre­sent­ed each with his com­mem­o­ra­tive sec­re­tary of defense coin. Before leav­ing For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Con­nol­ly, Gates told reporters trav­el­ing with him that being with ser­vice­mem­bers like the sol­diers he vis­it­ed today invig­o­rates him. “Vis­it­ing these places and see­ing these troops revives me with a lit­tle bit of ener­gy,” he said. “Par­tic­u­lar­ly here, they’ve tak­en some seri­ous loss­es. … The oppor­tu­ni­ty to shake hands with all of these sol­diers and thank them for all that they’re doing is very inspiring.” 

The sec­re­tary said his meet­ings with com­man­ders gave him a sense that they’re con­fi­dent and mak­ing “a good deal of head­way.” Though there’s no ques­tion the going is tough, he added, con­tin­ued progress with local gov­er­nance and good dis­trict lead­ers is a pos­i­tive sign. 

Gates met this evening with Petraeus, Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, com­man­der of Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand, and U.S. Ambas­sador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry. 

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

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