Fort Drum Town Hall
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Fort Drum, NY, Thursday, July 16, 2009
Thank you all very much and thank you General Oates for the introduction. And thank you all for coming today.
• I am thankful for the opportunity to be among the Warriors of the 1st Brigade Combat Team and those loved ones and supporters of this august, battle-tested organization.
• And, I wish all the best to the “Commandos” of 2nd BCT now on a rotation at JRTC, and soon to deploy to Iraq.
• And also, to the “Spartans” of 3rd BCT in Afghanistan and the 10th Aviation Brigade and the elements of the 10th Sustainment Brigade in Iraq. I wish you Godspeed and a swift and safe return.
• Finally, I want to welcome home the division headquarters team from their most recent Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment. Your work helped pave the way for the transition that took place just over two weeks ago.
Much has been asked of this division over the last two decades – from Somalia to repeat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq – and the 10th Mountain Division team has delivered for our country time and time again. No other division or post has been asked to do more. We are a safer and more secure nation as a result. What else needs to be said but: “Climb to Glory.”
My prepared remarks, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know, will be thankfully brief in order to leave more time to hear from you – what you need to do your job that you are not getting, what we can be doing better for your families, or just what’s on your mind. And, then we’ll do some handshakes, handout some coins, and do some photos
I know that several of your own have recently fallen in Afghanistan. And my words are wholly inadequate to characterize the men, or their sacrifice, or the sacrifice of so many from this division over the last eight years of war. It calls to mind a stirring example from ancient Greece. On the eve of the battle of Thermopylae, someone asked King Leonidas of Sparta about the risks he and his men faced. The king’s response was: “If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men’s valor, then this number will do.” Men and women of this division are more than equal to do anything asked of them.
As we fight two wars, I am mindful of the stress on Army families back home. The quality of life for our soldiers, their families, and especially our wounded warriors remains my top priority. And, I’m glad to see a number of efforts under way here at Fort Drum:
• An expansion of the Guthrie Clinic;
• A new Warrior in Transition support center and barracks;
• More Family Housing Units renovated, and hundreds of new homes delivered – although as I heard from my meeting with spouses not nearly enough houses on post;
• Expansion of the child development center and other youth programs; and
• The Soldier Family Assistance Center and Warrior Transition Units that continue to do outstanding work.
Nonetheless we know that much more still needs to be done.
I also want to take a moment to thank all the families. I know how much they sacrifice in order for you to be able to serve. They are truly the “power behind the power.” I just can’t tell you how much we all appreciate what they do, and what you do. And, I thank you for your noble work, and your selfless sacrifice.
With the announcement of your upcoming return to theater, I know I speak for all Americans when I wish you the best in the arduous missions that await you. The nation is grateful for your service.
Now let me just close with a final thought. I actually did not do these town halls for the first two years plus I was in this job. I thought they looked staged with soldiers as props. And I was embarrassed at how early you all had to show up and kill time waiting for the secretary of defense when you could be in the rack or doing something more productive. But I started to do these a few months ago because I realized that it was a chance mainly just to thank you personally, and to thank your families, for your service to our country. And to shake hands with each and every one of you. And be able to look you in the eye and thank you. I’ll take some questions here in a few minutes but the main purpose of this meeting really is for me to have the opportunity to tell you that I consider the well-being of each and every one of you to be my personal responsibility. For the younger ones of you, I care about you the way I would my own son and daughter. And for all of you my highest priority is to do everything possible to help you accomplish your mission, to win, and to come home safely.
So now I’ll take a few questions.