Gates Calls Families, Community Supporters ‘Power Behind the Power’
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BLISS, Texas, May 2, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates paid tribute here last night to what he called “the power behind the power” -- the families and community members who stand behind the troops engaged in the war on terror.
Speaking to local and military family group leaders at the Officers Club, Gates praised Fort Bliss soldiers who, along with their comrades throughout the military, have been “giving their all” in the fight against extremism.
That’s been possible, he said, because of the support troops receive from their families, as well as the support they and their families get from their community.
Gates pointed to the key role families play in their soldiers’ success and the day-to-day challenges they endure during long deployments.
“America owes a great deal to those who are ‘the power behind the power’ -- the spouses, children, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of our men and women in uniform,” he told the group. “They, too, make a contribution and pay a price in the cause of protecting our country.”
They demonstrate “grace and patience and an amazing ability to organize and rely upon one another” when their loved ones are gone, he said.
“Army families take care of their own, and Fort Bliss families are no exception,” he said. “They are strong. They endure. They are bound together by their shared experiences, by sacrifice, and by the pride they rightly feel in the noble work their soldiers do.”
Gates thanked to the local community that recognizes that contribution through support to Fort Bliss soldiers and their families.
This support has been particularly evident during the post’s expansion, during which the community has welcomed the incoming 1st Armored Division soldiers with open arms, and local businesses and educational groups have rallied to assist, he said.
Meanwhile, individual volunteers have made contributions to the Fort Bliss community that Gates said “don’t always get the attention they deserve.” They range from helping families prepare their tax forms to decorating barracks doors for single soldiers returning home from Iraq.
“I can tell you that every bit of help matters,” Gates told the group. “This is a tough time for our troops and their families. What you do is noticed and deeply appreciated.”
Civilian appreciation for the military wasn’t always so evident, Gates said. He recalled El Paso Mayor John Cook’s description of his own homecoming experience from the Vietnam War, when a protestor threw an egg at his bus.
Determined not to let that happen when the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team and 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, returned to Fort Bliss, Cook hosted a “Welcome Home Heroes Parade” through downtown El Paso in February. Thousands of local residents turned out to cheer on the 4,000 troops and honor the 31 cavalry troops killed during the deployment.
The American people are divided about the war, Gates conceded. “Yet despite this, Americans are united in their admiration of our men and women who have volunteered to serve at such a challenging time,” he said.
Gates called it “heartwarming” to see gestures of support and simple thank yous to the troops. “The appreciation is real; it is sincere; and it bridges any political divide,” he said.
All Americans look forward to the day when every deployed soldier can return home, Gates said, noting that he expects continued force reductions in Iraq in light of the improved security situation there.
“Until then, Fort Bliss soldiers and families and this generous community will continue to step up and do right by this country and by each other,” Gates told the group. “We are, after all, members of the same family -- the American family. You all have my deepest appreciation and gratitude.”
Community and family members said they felt honored that Gates came to thank them personally for their support.
“This is the coolest thing. Having him come here is a really big deal for El Paso,” gushed Cindy Ramos-Davidson, chief executive officer of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The military and civilian communities here are intertwined. We all support each other.”
Michi Carl, a Fort Bliss school liaison and Army wife, said it felt good to hear Gates pay tribute to military families. The Army has made huge strides in its support for military families, she said, particularly since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and continues moving in the right direction.
“Now things are phenomenal, and they are getting better all the time,” she said. “Spouses and families are listened to.”
Just as gratifying, she said, is seeing the secretary recognize the local community for its support for Fort Bliss and its soldiers. “This community is amazing,” Carl said. “The community truly cares.”