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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