Gates Reflects on Leadership, Troop Support
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 13, 2007 Beyond making budget and administrative decisions, leadership is about setting a tone of integrity and caring, and working for lasting change, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
In an interview with the Pentagon Channel, Gates, who took office in December, said he brought his leadership style from the Central Intelligence Agency and Texas A&M University to the Defense Department, focusing on including established professionals in the organization in decision-making processes.
“It seems to me it’s up to the leader to set the goal, but then to include as broad a group of people as possible in the decision making about how do we get from where we are to achieve that goal, and that kind of an inclusive decision-making process, I think, ensures that change is actually lasting because those who are left behind after the leader departs have embraced it and it’s their change,” he said.
To keep in touch with the professionals he manages, Gates said he has started having lunch with the senior enlisted advisors from each service, and when he visits installations, he is hosted by the senior enlisted servicemembers.
When President Bush asked Gates to take over as defense secretary after Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation in November, Gates recognized it would be a challenge, he said, but he couldn’t deny his sense of duty.
“When we have soldiers, when we have young people fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and we face challenges from Iran, North Korea, all the other challenges that we face around the world, there are so many servicemen and servicewomen making sacrifices and their families are making sacrifices, and when the president came to me and said he thought I could help, I don’t know how you say no under those circumstances,” Gates said.
An important aspect of honest, accountable leadership is ensuring the needs of servicemembers and their families are met, Gates said. When reports first surfaced in February about shoddy conditions and poor outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, DoD leaders acted quickly to evaluate the situation and improve conditions for wounded soldiers, he said.
“I haven’t heard a single complaint anywhere about the acute care at Walter Reed and the doctors and the nurses and the staff are just terrific,” Gates said. “They are the best in the world. There is just no doubt about that, but the outpatient care, clearly, had some problems and it was evident from the news articles, and I felt it was important to take it very seriously from the very beginning.”
The president’s bipartisan panel and the independent review group established by Gates are working now to assess the situations at military medical facilities and come up with solutions, Gates noted, but no one is waiting for these findings before making improvements. The Army already has created an action plan for Walter Reed and has repaired many facilities on post, and as the commissions report their findings, they will be implemented immediately, he said.
“We have action in place, and we will see a continuing series of actions down the way, and what I have told people is that after the war itself, I think, this department has no higher priority than taking the best care in the world of our wounded troops, and I am prepared to allocate whatever resources we need to make that happen,” he said.
While at his last post as president of a huge university, Gates said he felt a sense of personal responsibility for every young person under his leadership. Now, with millions of troops following his lead, he feels the same way, he said.
“I feel personally responsible for each and every one of them, and I care about what happens to them,” he said of the troops. “I care about their safety. I care about their families. I’m mindful of the sacrifices, not only the troops make, but their families make, and anything we can do to make their lives better and to make sure that they know how much they’re appreciated, I’m prepared to do, but I take it as a very personal responsibility.”