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War in Iraq ‘Personal’ to Gates, Nominee Tells Senators

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2006 – Defense secretary nominee Robert M. Gates spoke today on how the war in Iraq has touched him personally -- 12 graduates of Texas A&M University, which he has led as president for the last four years, have been killed in Iraq.

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, listens as Sen. Carl Levin questions Robert M. Gates, defense secretary nominee, during a Senate Armed Services Commitee confirmation hearing, Dec. 5. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

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Gates is President Bush's nominee to succeed Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

“I would run in the morning with some of those kids; I would have lunch with them,” Gates said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They would share with me their aspirations and their hopes, and I would hand them their degree and attend their commissioning. And then I would get word of their deaths.

“So this all comes down to being very personal for all of us,” he added.

As of yesterday 2,899 servicemembers have died in Iraq. “Every one of them is an individual tragedy for a soldier who has been killed and their family and friends,” he said. “And I see this.”

He said people have talked to him about the pressures of the confirmation process, but the real pressure came when he met a woman who had two children in Iraq. The woman told him, “For God’s sake, bring them home safe,” Gates said. “That’s real pressure,” he added.

Gates promised to listen closely to people, draw his own conclusions and make his own recommendations. “I did not give up being president of Texas A&M University … to come back to Washington to be a bump on a log and not to say exactly what I think and to speak candidly, frankly and boldly to people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue about what I believe and what I think needs to be done,” he said.

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Robert M. Gates

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