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Gates Thanks Spouses for Soldier Support

By Shandi Dix
1st Infantry Division

FORT RILEY, Kan., May 8, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with military spouses during a town hall meeting here. He discussed local school issues and healthcare before thanking the spouses supporting their soldiers.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with spouses at Fort Riley, Kan., May 8, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Shandi Dix

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Army Brig. Gen. David Petersen, 1st Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear, welcomed the spouses before Rachel Holbrook, Army spouse and host of How-to-TV introduced the secretary.

"This is the first time Secretary Gates has joined the U.S. Army spouses in a town hall such as this and I speak for all U.S. Army spouses in thanking him for his attendance," Holbrook said.

Gates thanked the spouses for their support before responding to their questions.

"Thank you for all you do for your loved ones in uniform, your families and your communities," he said. "Many of you are running single parent households while your spouse is deployed or have done so in the past. Some of you have done it more than once."

Regarding the issue of overpopulation in the Geary County unified school district on Fort Riley, Gates told the spouses, "I have some good news for you all.

"I was briefed on this problem in the schools here on post in preparation for this visit and I've looked into it and what I'm about to say requires the approval of Congress," he said. "I have the money to fund an additional elementary school, upgrade two elementary schools and the middle school here on post. I need to transfer it to the education department so that they can extend it and that requires congressional approval."

The issue will go forward to Congress May 10 and Gates said he is hoping for quick action.

"That is fantastic news," said Kathleen Whittle. "The school my children go to, it was built in 1955 and I'm pretty sure it hasn't even had a coat of paint since then and so this is a much needed and fantastic decision."

Whittle's two children both attend Fort Riley Elementary School, part of Unified School District 475. "They do a great job taking care of our kids but the help from the Department of Defense would be fantastic," she said.

One spouseĀ asked Gates how the administration's new healthcare program was going to affect both active duty and retirees.

"I'm pretty confident that there will be no change in terms of active duty and I think there's been little change for retirees but I'm not a hundred percent sure on that," Gates said. "I think the one change that we will make ... is the extension of the parent's benefit to the child until they're 26 (years old). That's part of the healthcare bill and I think we're adding to that but other than that I don't think there is significant change."

Another spouse asked about having licensed professional counselors practice on installations along with licensed clinical social worker's and licensed psychologists.

"To be honest I don't know," Gates said. "I do know that the Army is working very hard to hire additional mental healthcare professionals and get them available as quickly as possible. I can tell you that I don't think that Gen. (George) Casey and Gen. (Peter) Chiarelli spend more time on any issue than they do on this issue of mental healthcare, post traumatic stress, (traumatic brain injury) and care of wounded warriors."

Following the session, spouses were able to shake hands with Gates and receive a coin for both themselves and their soldier. Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Brown also presented each spouse with a red rose.

"I was very impressed with the fact that he was able to make the time," Whittle said of the secretary's visit. "I know his schedule is packed solid, I'm sure. It gave the people that were responsible for this trip a lot of extra work to make sure that he was able to get out here and talk to us today. No matter what question these spouses threw at him and there was a wide variety, he was able to speak intelligently about all of them. He was well informed on all of the information."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the military spouse appreciation day town hall at Ft. Riley, Kansas, May 8, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen   
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