Gates Thanks Troops for Afghan Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WALTON, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, pay­ing his final vis­it to Afghanistan before his June 30 retire­ment, told troops on the front lines today that it’s tough for him to say good­bye.
Gates vis­it­ed this base in Region­al Com­mand South and Camp Dwyer in Region­al Com­mand South­west to speak to and thank the men and women who car­ry out the mis­sion every day.

“I’ve come out here to thank you for the last time for your ser­vice and for your sac­ri­fice,” he said. “More than any­body except the pres­i­dent, I’m respon­si­ble for you being here. I’m the per­son that signed the deploy­ment papers that got you here. And that weighs on me every day.”

About 200 sol­diers wait­ed here for the sec­re­tary under an awning, as the tem­per­a­ture already was over 100 degrees when he arrived. Gates answered ques­tions on var­i­ous top­ics — such as the sit­u­a­tion in Libya and how to get state­side train­ing for ser­vice mem­bers who dri­ve and work on mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles — before pre­sent­ing each with a com­mem­o­ra­tive coin.

Gates has held the posi­tion longer than all but four pre­vi­ous defense sec­re­taries, and with the nation at war the entire time. Pres­i­dent George W. Bush nom­i­nat­ed him for the job, and he took office in Decem­ber 2006. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma asked the sec­re­tary to stay in the posi­tion when his admin­is­tra­tion took office. He told the deployed ser­vice mem­bers he took the respon­si­bil­i­ty for the young men and women who make up the armed forces to heart from his first day on the job.

“I con­sid­ered myself per­son­al­ly respon­si­ble to make sure you had what you need­ed to com­plete your mis­sion, to come home safe­ly, and if you are hurt, to be mede­vaced as fast as pos­si­ble and get the best pos­si­ble care,” he said.

“I just want you to know I think about you every day. I think about your hard­ships and your sac­ri­fices and your bur­dens, and those of your fam­i­lies, more than you can pos­si­bly know,” he con­tin­ued. “You are, I believe, the best our coun­try has to offer, and you will be in my thoughts and prayers every day for the rest of my life.”

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

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