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Defense Secretary Calls Losses in Iraq, Afghanistan ‘Painful, Personal’

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, May 31, 2007 – Of all the challenges he confronts at the helm of the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today said one of the most difficult for him is writing condolence letters to families who have lost a loved one in the war on terror.

“I feel very strongly about the families of every soldier and Marine who is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Gates told reporters today during a media roundtable at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters here.

Speaking on the last day of a particularly difficult month for U.S. forces in terms of troops killed, Gates said he feels each and every loss.

“It is very painful. It is very personal,” he said. “It is why I handwrite notes on each of the letters (to families), because I want them to know that each and every one of them is important to me, important to the president.”

Gates said the Defense Department is sympathetic to families’ losses and is “deeply grateful” for their support and sacrifices. “We feel them very personally as well.”

In the face of these losses, the secretary said he’s encouraged to see that the troops remain committed to the mission in the terror war, despite the potential risks. He noted that for the first time since in the country’s history since the Revolutionary War, it is fighting a war with an all-volunteer force.

“These young men and women in uniform who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting there because they believe in what they are doing,” he said. “And we have the greatest admiration for their willingness to serve and their willingness -- as they know, potentially -- to have a personal sacrifice.”

Gates met personally today with servicemembers based here to thank them for their service and their continued commitment. A sailor who attended the brief session summed up the message he took away from Gates’ troop talk as “Keep charging.”

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