Gates Visits Fort Bragg to Meet With Soldiers, Spouses
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived at the home of the 82nd Airborne Division and Army Special Operations Command this morning to spend the day meeting troops preparing for or recently returned from combat deployments to get a firsthand update on their operations, requirements and concerns.
The secretary was slated to kick off his first visit here at neighboring Pope Air Force Base, where he will preside over a naturalization ceremony for about 40 servicemembers.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks to servicemembers during a naturalization ceremony Oct. 23, 2008, at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Nearly 40 servicemembers representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines became U.S. citizens during the ceremony. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tony Hawkins
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“They represent all the services and come from 26 countries on five continents,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. “The melting pot is clearly alive and well in the United States military, and the country as a whole, for that matter.”
Later today, Gates will meet with “All American” Division soldiers who will demonstrate preparations for their upcoming deployment with weapons training, convoy operations and other activities, Morrell said.
The division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in November. The Defense Department announced Sept. 30 that the division’s 4th and 1st brigade combat teams will deploy to Iraq during a window that begins this winter and continues through summer.
Gates also will meet with an array of Army Special Operations Command units that Morrell noted deploy regularly to “Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world.”
The Army element of U.S. Special Operations Command, its largest, includes Special Forces, Ranger, special operations aviation, psychological operations, civil affairs, and signal and combat service support troops.
Gates will lunch privately with soldiers, then meet with about a dozen 3rd Brigade Combat Team spouses. The session will be closed to observers and the media, Morrell explained, with Gates in a “receiving mode,” soliciting candid views about issues ranging from stress on the force to family support services.
These sessions have proven invaluable in the past, Morrell said, giving the secretary insights he might not get elsewhere. They’ve valuable in “drawing his attention to problems that they may be having that he may not be aware of,” Morrell said yesterday.
They’ve also been the source of new ideas. For example, Gates first heard a recommendation that Montgomery GI Bill benefits be transferrable to family members during a meeting with a military spouses’ group at Fort Hood, Texas. The secretary then pitched the idea to President Bush, who liked the concept so much he included it in his State of the Union address, and ultimately signed the measure into law.
For Gates, spending time with troops and their families is the best part of his job, Morrell said. During his 23 months as defense secretary, Gates has visited 108 installations, ships, forward operating bases, provincial reconstruction teams, joint security stations and wounded warrior facilities.
Gates regularly seeks out sessions with servicemembers and their families during these visits, preferring smaller forums to promote an open exchange, Morrell said.
“His visits with … troops and their family members are really very, very valuable for him for a variety of reasons, one of which is they really buoy his spirits and they re-energize him to come back and move this bureaucracy so that it is more responsive to the needs of the warfighter,” Morrell said. “Clearly, he is buoyed by the time he spends with the troopers.”