SEC. GATES: (In progress) -- came down here to thank each of you, get a photograph and give you a coin just to express my appreciation for what you’re doing.
First of all, I want to thank you for signing up to serve in the military at a time when you knew you’d be at war. The whole American people appreciate your service.
Also, at this holiday time, I know that it’s tougher to be away from your families. Military service always imposes sacrifices, but they seem especially tough at holiday time. So the next time you’re in touch with your families, I hope you’d let them know, whether it’s e-mail or a phone call or whatever, just pass along to them my personal thanks to them for their support to you and their patience with all of us. What they do makes your service possible, and we recognize that.
You guys here are at the tip of the spear of the campaign of the last several months. It is a campaign in which you have taken new territory, cleared it, secured it, and held it. And you’re tying together the battle spaces in southeastern and southwestern Afghanistan. This is a critical part of our strategy and of the current campaign. And you have been enormously successful.
Finally, I’d just tell you that I’m the guy who signed the orders that brought you here. And for that reason, I feel a personal responsibility to each of you. And every day that I’ve been in this job, which is pretty close to four years now, my top priority has been to get you what you need to do your job, to accomplish your mission, to come home safely. And I just want you to know that the sacrifice, and the hardship, and the losses that you take affect me more than you can possibly imagine.
So I just want to thank you again for your service. And let’s get on with doing some photos and coins.