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Remarks by Secretary Gates During Troop Visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
May 12, 2011

                 SEC. GATES:  Good morning, Marines.  It's good to be back here at Camp Lejeune.  Thank you all for being here this morning, although I know, from a little experience in the military and a lot of experience in government, that more than a few of you probably aren't volunteers.  

                Let me just single out a couple of people.  You all are very lucky to have General Paxton as commander of 2MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force).  I got to know Jay very well when he was doing an onerous paperwork job in the Pentagon, and I can't tell you how much happier he is to be here at Camp Lejeune. 

                I also have with me my senior military assistant, Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly.  John is a tremendous adviser and counselor.  I also have with me Colonel Kris Stillings, who will become the commander of the Marine OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Quantico this summer.  So I get a lot of good Marine advice. 

                I'm not here to give a long speech, and I do want to save plenty of time for any questions or comments, but I did want to come back to Lejeune one more time before I retire at the end of June, just to say thank you and, as I say, to take some questions and hear any concerns that you have. 

                But first I just want to thank you for your service, for your sacrifices, for taking care of your buddies, for your victories in Anbar and Helmand and so many other places.  Thank you for protecting our country.  And a special thanks to your families for their sacrifices, their service, their patience, for taking care of the home front while you're on the battlefield. 

                Each one of you could have done something easier, safer and better paid, but you chose to step forward to wear this country's uniform, and most especially the eagle, globe and anchor.  Our nation owes you an extraordinary debt for your decision to serve in a time of war and for what you're doing every day. 

                America has leaned heavily on the Marine Corps this past decade and will continue to do so going forward, because Marines are always ready, no matter what the mission.  In just the past few months, Marines from the 2MEF have responded to Japan's devastating earthquake and nuclear crisis, evacuated civilians fleeing upheaval in Tunisia and Libya, conducted multiple airstrikes against Libyan tanks and armored vehicles advancing on Benghazi, and in Afghanistan have given the Taliban a severe beating and pushed them out of their traditional strongholds in Helmand after some of the heaviest fighting of the war. 

                I believe that the future of the Marine Corps, an expeditionary force with a maritime soul, is very bright.  The Marine Corps provides this nation with employable -- deployable middle-weight formations ready to fight on arrival, able to support itself from a minimal footprint, one that can rapidly respond to a range of contingencies.  

                As former commandant General Carl Mundy said, expeditionary is not a mission.  It's a mind-set.  For the last two centuries, the Marine Corps has been the tip of the spear, taking on the nation's toughest missions.  That's exactly what has been demanded of you in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and what will be required in the years to come.  

                The Marine Corps has been at the leading edge for over 200 years in adapting and responding to new technologies and new threats.  Even as our country faces great challenges, the adaptability, initiative and improvisation, along with the raw courage that is displayed by the United States Marines every day, gives me confidence that we can and will prevail as this country has in the past. 

                I came to this job four and a half years ago.  Every day I have held it, we have been at war, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also against terrorists and other evildoers.  You and your brothers and sisters in uniform have turned the tide in every case.  When others said the cause was lost, when our efforts encountered storms of criticism, you fought on to success.  Americans know what you have done, what you have accomplished, and I promise you they will never forget. 

                Nor will I.  I understand and feel more about what you have been through and what you have sacrificed than you can possibly imagine.  You've always been in my thoughts every time I signed the orders deploying you.  Every visit to the front, every visit to a FOB or a COP, every visit to a hospital, every condolence letter I write, every funeral at Arlington, reminds me every moment of every day what you have endeavored and the cost of what has been accomplished. 

                I have felt a deep sense of personal responsibility for each and every one of you.  And so after the wars themselves, taking care of you has been my highest priority, doing whatever was necessary at whatever cost to get you whatever you needed to accomplish your mission, to come home safely and, if wounded, to get you the best possible care from the battlefield to the home front.  You are the best the nation has to offer.  And it has been the greatest honor of my life to serve with you.  Semper fi. 

                Thank you.  (Applause.) 

                And now if -- there are a couple of microphones up here, and I'm happy to take some questions.  We have several minutes here.  So if you don't ask questions, we're going to spend a lot of time just staring at each other.  And maybe we can change the -- maybe we can change the lights so that I can see the audience. 

                STAFF:  OK.  If you have a question, go ahead and walk up to the microphone.  

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Sergeant Benson, 8th Engineer Support Battalion.  My question is, in the coming months, years, we're starting to downsize the troops in Afghanistan.  As a military, what are we expected?  Are we getting ready to go into another hot spot, or are we kind of going -- drifting to a -- say, a peacetime military? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, you know, one of the things that has happened -- when we have gone through significant budget cuts before in the 1970s and in the 1990s, there was no apparent threat on the horizon.  In fact, after the end of the Cold War, people talked about the "end of history" like everybody was going to live together in peace and harmony. 

                That's quite different right now.  The fact is that it is evident that with not only terrorism but Iran and North Korea; China's military program, building programs; the problems we're encountering in Libya; upheaval across the entire Middle East -- the world is a very unstable place and likely will be so for a long time into the future. 

                And therefore, my concern that as we face the budget pressures that we will, that our military capabilities not be weakened.  My view is that when it comes to predicting -- particularly since Vietnam, since so -- since 1974, '75 -- since Vietnam, we have had a perfect record in predicting where and when we would use military force.  We have never once gotten it right.  We never had any idea six months before we went into Grenada or Panama or the Balkans or Haiti or Iraq or even Afghanistan until after 9/11.  We never had any idea where we were going to be deploying to these areas. 

                So my concern fundamentally is a historical one.  And that is four times in the last century, after wars we have basically unilaterally disarmed ourselves.  And then we have had to discover all over again that the world really isn't a friendly place and that we always need to have our military capability to protect our interests and our -- and our security. 

                So I'm hoping we won't make that mistake again.  That's a long approach to your question, but the honest answer is, I don't -- I -- you know, if you'd asked me four months ago if we'd be in Libya today, I would have asked you what you were smoking.  But these things develop, and we have to be ready when they happen.  You can't just sort of say, okay, we'll take a year or two to get ready.  And so I think -- I can't predict for you the next place where you may be called upon.  And I can't predict whether it will be a combat situation or the kind of situation that you've dealt with in Japan with a huge natural disaster.  But there is one -- there's no doubt in my mind about one thing, and that is you will be needed and you will be deployed. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  (Inaudible) -- with 210.  Sir, my question is, with our current economic state, the government almost foreclosing and our new SECDEF, should we worry about the possibility of the option of us not getting paid again or possibly not getting paid in the future? 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I don't think so.  The one thing that -- heck, the one thing that will always be done is they will always find a way to pay the military.  My -- I have a basic saying that I've used a few times with Congress based on history that it's always good practice to pay the guys with guns first.  But I don't think that that will be a problem.  We had -- we had this unique situation where we ended up with four continuing resolutions.  And the way most of these budget issues get resolved is sort of at the very last second before going over a cliff.  It makes it awfully difficult.  We wasted billions of dollars because of these continuing resolutions, in things we couldn't do, or disrupted contracts and so on.  But I don't think you'll have to worry about being paid. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Corporal -- (inaudible) -- Engineer Battalion. 

                My question is, with the economic state of our country, and with the current war in Afghanistan, how are things like Libya and Japan going to affect -- as well as with the downsizing of the military -- how are they going to affect our operations in those other countries? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, there won't -- there really won't be any impact on Afghanistan.  We -- the cost of the wars that we are in both Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for through something called an Overseas Contingency Fund, and those have routinely been funded by the Congress -- not so routinely back in '07 and '08; there were -- there were huge fights over them.  But the House -- just yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee, as I read the newspapers, voted the $118 billion for the overseas contingency operations, which is fundamentally Iraq and Afghanistan. 

                In the case of Libya, unfortunately, we're fundamentally having to eat that one.  And so it's probably at this point somewhere in the ballpark of $750 million, and we'll find the money.  But in terms of our operations overseas, the budgetary problems that the country is facing and the deficit I think will not have an impact in terms of funding the operations that we're in. 

                Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Lieutenant Keeve, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd MLG (Marine Logistics Group). 

                First of all, I want to thank you personally for sticking around as long as you have, and especially when it came to taking on another White House staff and new regime.  But my first question -- well, I have a couple of questions for you, sir, in regards to the defense bill markup that's currently in Congress.  What does the established requirement for management and measurement of the dwell time look like; and specifically in regards to the plan to balance the force drawdown within the Marine Corps, reducing our size, with the dwell -- deploy-to-dwell ratio, with the current operations in Afghanistan? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, right now, I think we have made -- I don't know if there's anything in the legislation on this, but right now, in terms of dwell, the goal is to get to one-to-two.  So for every -- let's say, every six months deployed, you'd get at least a year at home. 

                I think as we draw down in Afghanistan over the next three years, that the dwell will probably increase beyond that.  The Army will probably get to a one-to-two dwell for units this fall, so in just a few months.  Many units are already at one-to-two.  I think the Army's goal would be to try and get to one-to-three, and I think circumstances, particularly post-2014, may allow that to happen, including with you guys. 

                That said, there is no question in my mind that in particularly high-demand, low-density specialties, individuals may face some challenges in terms of getting that kind of dwell time, and it's just a fact of life.  In areas like military police, intelligence analysts, ordnance disposal, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) kinds of things, we just don't have enough of those specialties to fill the requirements, so we're still having to deal with a fair number of individual augmentees.  But for -- but for units, I think that -- I think we're headed in a good direction in terms of dwell time. 

                And we've -- the Marine Corps very carefully -- I mean, beginning -- before we got into this budget crisis, General Conway was telling me that he felt that the Marine Corps needed to get smaller again, that it had gotten too big and too heavy, and needed to go back to being somewhat smaller and a lot lighter. 

                And so his thinking all along was -- I approved an increase in size of 27,000 for the Marine Corps in January of 2007.  So that took you from 175,000 to 202,000.  I think -- I think the leadership of the Marine Corps would like to come back to a number kind of in between those two -- not until 2015, 2016, when we're essentially out of Afghanistan in terms of numbers of combat forces. 

                So I would be surprised if those changes had an impact on dwell time. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir.  And if you will, could you speak to your required establishment of a unified medical command and what that would entail, how does it affect the current TRICARE system and the active-duty forces' medical care?  Could you speak to that for just a second?  I'm not familiar with that, but I saw that that was also part of the Defense bill markup. 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, that makes two of us that aren't familiar with it.  

                Q:  Very well, sir.  I'm not trying to play “stump the chump.”  I just -- 

                SEC. GATES:  No, no, that's OK.  I don't -- I don't know about the unified military command.  I know we're working on that in the -- in the metropolitan Washington area.

                Q:  I'm sorry.  The -- did I say "military"?  I meant -- 

                SEC. GATES:  Or medical.  

                Q:  Medical.  OK. 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah, you did say "medical."  We're working on that in the D.C. area, but I'm not aware beyond that. 

                I will say this.  There has been a consistent pattern that I have observed the whole time I've been in this job, and that is, I get briefings at the Pentagon on how terrific TRICARE is, and customer satisfaction -- that it's above other HMOs and so and so on.  

                And then I go to the field, and I have yet to hear those kinds of comments about TRICARE -- and the difficulty in finding physicians, the difficulty in finding specialists, and so on.  

                So I think -- I think it's a good system, but one of the frustrations I've had is that we haven't made more progress in improving service.  

                I think it's not the quality of the medical care that's at issue.  It's the bureaucracy and the availability of physicians and waiting times and things like that. 

                And I always used to tell the folks from Personnel and Readiness -- I said if you want get a true survey of how people feel about this, don't interview the troops, interview their spouses.  They're the ones that end up in the waiting rooms. 

                So I think -- I think there's still a lot of room for improvement in TRICARE, and we will continue to work on it. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir, very much, sir.  God bless you.  

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Corporal Edwards from 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion.  My question is in regards to the conflict in Libya.  I read article in the U.K. newspaper the Telegraph a little over a month ago, and it was an interview with one of the rebel leaders.  He explicitly said that some of his fighters had fought with the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I found this to be somewhat disheartening, since we as a country were supporting the rebels militarily and through public opinion.  Who are these rebels in Libya?  And how do we know that they won't be like the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, where we're supporting them today and then getting blown up by them tomorrow? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the honest answer to your question is that with the exception of some of the people at the top of the opposition or the rebels in Libya, we don't know who they are.  And I think this is one of the reasons why there has been such reluctance, at least on our part, to provide any kind of lethal assistance to the opposition.  

                Clearly, after the way that Gadhafi has treated his own people, as the president has said, he needs to go.  But I think most of us are pretty cautious when it comes to who -- who the opposition is.  The truth is, my impression is that it's extraordinarily diverse.  We deal with a handful of people in Benghazi, but we forget about those who led the uprisings in cities all over Libya when this whole thing started.  And who are they?  And are they genuinely anti-Gadhafi?  Are they tribal representatives?  Are they -- kind of who are they?  And we have no idea who those people are, but they were the ones that led the major uprisings in Tripoli and a variety of the other cities. 

                There are tribal elements to this, and I don't think we know very much about the tribes that are involved and where their loyalties lie between Gadhafi and between the opposition and so on.  So I -- and we have seen reports that there are some extremists that are fighting for the opposition.  We see information and we hear from the opposition that they're trying to isolate those people and get them out of the movement because they realize the risks associated with that in terms of international support.  

                But the truth is, I think, frankly, one of the reasons that we have been as cautious as we have in terms of providing other than humanitarian support and some non-lethal assistance to the opposition is because of what we don't know.  And I think we have to keep a wary eye on it in terms of how this thing progresses. 

                Q:  Thank you.  It's certainly an honor. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Lance Corporal Bailey with CLR-2 (Combat Logistics Regiment).  I was curious as to -- I've been reading about all the budget cuts that have been coming through.  I was wondering when those budgets would be going through and where, exactly, they're going to affect and how they're going to affect our operations and when we would see those effects. 

                SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry, could you repeat that?  I couldn't understand it. 

                Q:  I've been reading about a bunch of budget cuts lately, and I was curious as to where those cuts were going to be made, how they're going to affect our operations and where we're going to be seeing those effects. 

                SEC. GATES:  The way we're approaching these -- the longer-term cuts in the defense budget is as follows.  I am determined that we will not repeat what we did in the 1970s and 1990s, which is across-the-board cuts that end up hollowing out the force. 

                What does that mean?  That means sustaining force structure while reducing manpower, reducing flight training hours, reducing tank miles, reducing steaming days for ships, reducing money for exercises and training.  That's what -- that's how you hollow out a military.  So you still have the same number of brigades or the same number of regiments, you still have the same number of this and that, but you don't have the people to staff it and you don't have the money to train and keep the people who are doing the job at a level of excellence that is required.               

                Across-the-board cuts, as far I'm concerned, represent managerial cowardice.  And what I intend to do is try and shape this going forward, before I get out of here, so that people understand the hard choices that need to be made.               

                And we're looking at four areas of how we approach these cuts over the next 10 to 12 years, or four bins.  The first is to continue the efficiencies effort that we began last summer.  That has realized about $178 billion worth of savings if we can execute it.  We contributed 78 (billion dollars) of that to reducing the deficit; 100 million (dollars) of it we allowed the services to plow back into investments in higher-priority needs. 

                But I believe there is still infrastructure and overhead that we can cut -- headquarters that can be consolidated and so on -- to realize some savings.  So I think we'll have to continue that effort. 

                The second bin is marginal capabilities and marginal missions, those that we can look at through a more skeptical eye and say, okay, we probably can stop doing that, or where we have duplication of capabilities and say, okay, we can probably -- we don't need that kind of duplication. 

                The third bin is the hardest, and that is, forcing decision-makers to look at our strategy and our capabilities and where are they prepared to take risk in meeting future challenges.  And I'll give you an example.  And if you look at the Quadrennial Defense Review, there are a bunch of scenarios of all the different things we should be prepared to take on in the years to come.  So one of those scenarios that's been characteristic for a number of years now is our ability to fight two major regional conflicts at the same time -- so let's say, just hypothetically, Iran and North Korea. 

                So what if you tell your -- and we built the force to be able to do that.  So what if you tell yourself, OK, the odds of getting into a conflict in both places simultaneously are really so low we don't need to have that capability to do them together, to do them simultaneously?  So what are the implications for force structure of that? 

                The problem is, there is a risk, and the risk is that we're wrong.  And the enemy always has a vote.  So if one or the other -- if we got into it with one or the other and the other saw an opportunity because we were engaged and started something, then what are the implications?  So I want to try and force decision makers to face the risks associated with changes in force structure and force capabilities.  

                And as we look at the world and the challenges and the missions that we've been given, how do you manage that risk as part of a process of cutting the budget?  This is what I call strategy, not math.  Right now, the process is just the reverse.  Everybody's doing math and not strategy.  I want to try and focus in this third bin on, OK, if you want to change the -- if you want to change the size of the budget in a dramatic way, what risk are you prepared to take in terms of future threats to the country, so that there are conscious decisions and choices made. 

                And then the fourth bin is what I call the third-rail issues: military compensation, military health care, military retirement, base closures.  Those are all tough.  

                Now let me just tell you.  I don't think there's any chance in the world of a change in military retirement that doesn't grandfather everybody who's already in the service.  So don't get nervous. 

                But the -- health care, for example:  The Department of Defense in 2000 spent $15 billion on military health care.  And this year in 2011 we'll spend $53 billion.  From working-age military retirees -- so not the active force, nothing that anybody is looking at in military health care affects the active force -- but in terms of working-age retirees -- so those who retire anytime in their 40s or 50s up until they're qualified for Medicare -- that premium or that fee was set at $460 in 1995.  It is still $460.  We're proposing a radical change, two and a half bucks a month.  So they pay $520 a year.  That compares with the average federal civil servant paying about $4,500 a year.  So these are some of the things that we have to look at as well.  So those are the four areas that we're looking at in terms of the budget.  

                Unfortunately, this is not an entirely rational process.  There's a lot of politics in it.  As I say, there's a lot of math.  And we go through things like we did with these four continuing resolutions that are completely irrational and cause us to do incredibly stupid things.  But there we are.  

                And -- but as I say, my hope is to tee this up for Leon Panetta and for the president in a way so that they can make conscious choices and decisions with the advice of the chiefs and the -- and the combatant commanders in terms of how we move forward on the kinds of reductions that they're calling for.

                That's probably more than you ever wanted to know. 

                Q:  Thank you. 

                SEC. GATES:  But that's how the sausage is getting made. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  Corporal Witbachs, the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.  My question is, now with Osama bin Laden gone, what other goals would we like to accomplish in Afghanistan before the eventual drawdown? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that there is -- the -- what I said when I was at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base last week is that I think that the elimination of bin Laden is a potential game-changer in Afghanistan, but I also don't think we'll know for six months or so. 

                One of the -- one of the considerations here is that bin Laden and Mullah Omar of the Taliban had a very close personal relationship.  We know that there are a number of Taliban that have no use for al-Qaida.  Their attitude is, what has al-Qaida ever done for us except get us kicked out of Afghanistan? 

                And so you may end up with a parting of the waves between the Taliban and al-Qaida.  And if that could happen at the same time we're keeping military pressure on the Taliban, keep them from taking back what you guys seized from them, expand the security bubble, you may actually next winter have the potential for reconciliation talks that are actually meaningful in terms of going forward, because one of the red lines for both us and the Afghan government are the Taliban disavowing any role with al-Qaida. 

                I think we still -- I mean, al-Qaida is down, but it's not out.  And what we saw from the Taliban between 2002 and 2006 is you leave these guys alone or you don't have any capability to keep them down, and they will reconstitute themselves.  They do come back.  That's exactly what happened with the Taliban during those years on the Pakistani side of the border and then in Afghanistan itself. 

                So I think we have to keep pressing the fight against al-Qaida.  They have kind of an advise-and-assist role with the Taliban and some of these other groups.  So the number of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, I think, is misleading in the respect that there may be one al-Qaida foreign fighter working with hundreds of Taliban, teaching them how to build IEDs, teaching them how to place them, teaching them tactics. 

                So I think we've got to keep the pressure on al-Qaida.  As I say, they're down but not out.  And we will see what the implications are.  And if there is reconciliation, which I think most people believe is the way this conflict will end at some point, then that might allow for a faster drawdown of U.S. troops.  But as I say, I think it's too early to tell.  And I think we won't really know probably until this winter what the impact has been. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir.

                STAFF:  Any more questions? 

                SEC. GATES:  Up in the balcony. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  I'm Corporal Forrester, 2nd -- (inaudible).  What's being done about the mass murders on the Mexican border with the cartels and drug traffickers?  Why aren't we deploying there? 

                SEC. GATES:  What was the last part? 

                Q:  Why aren't we deploying to Mexico?  It's on our home front, and there's mass murders being done with the cartels and -- (off mic) -- drug traffickers. 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, you know, first of all, this is -- this is essentially a Department of Homeland Security responsibility.  We have about 1,200 guardsmen on the border right now.  They were put there as a bridge while DHS trained up an equivalent number of additional border guards and civilian law enforcement.  We're providing some technical assistance.  We're providing some ISR capability for them.  And so I think we will just have to -- you know, we're very much in a support role.  I'm very uncomfortable with people in uniform in a law-enforcement role.  And I don't want trained combat soldiers in the Guard or the active force searching trunks and cars and things like that.  That's law enforcement's responsibility. 

                But where we can provide some technical assistance, where we can provide some training, then we have -- we have made that available.  We did it -- we had about -- we had several thousand guardsmen deployed during 2007 and '08 during the Bush administration to the border; again, as a bridge to a capability -- to increase capabilities by DHS.  But I think that we need to be -- we need to be very cautious in deploying significant numbers of people in military uniforms and with military training to do what is essentially a domestic law-enforcement responsibility.  I think that there is -- just based on what I read, there is a growing concern that the tentacles of the cartels are reaching into the United States.  But again, I think that's primarily the responsibility of domestic law enforcement. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir -- (inaudible) -- Castilla, from Medical Logistics Company.

                I'm going to go a bit out of the norm questions here.  I understand that this -- the answer to this question might be limited, or not at all, due to security reasons.  But with the recent events with Osama bin Laden and the named SEAL Team 6, what measures are being taken to protect the identities and the lives of the SEAL team members, as well as the lives of military forces deployed that might have to face extreme retaliation from terrorist organizations that want to have those identities known? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, first of all, there is a -- an awareness that the threat of retaliation is increased because of the attacks -- because of the action against bin Laden.  I think that there has been great -- frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden.  That all fell apart on Monday -- the next day. 

                The one thing I would tell you, though, is that I think there has been a consistent and effective effort to protect the identities of those who participated in the raid, and I think that has to continue.  We are very concerned about the security of our families -- of your families and our troops, and also these elite units that are engaged in things like that.  And without getting into any details -- and I -- and I would tell you that when I met with the team last Thursday, they expressed a concern about that, and particularly with respect to their families.  And so we're -- I -- as you say, I can't get into the details in this forum, but we are looking at what measures can be taken to pump up the security. 

                Q:  Thank you, sir. 

                SEC. GATES:  Thank you. 

                STAFF:  We've got one more question.  One more question.  Over here. 

                Q:  Good morning, sir.  My name is -- (off mic) -- 12th Battalion.  My question is, sir, I just want to know if -- is the POTUS ever going to release pictures of Osama bin Laden's lifeless body? 

                SEC. GATES:  No.  And I'll -- and I'll tell you the reason.  Well, at least, I hope not.  And that was the president's decision.  But I will tell you that both Secretary of State Clinton and I strongly commended that decision to him, recommended that decision.  And here -- here's the reason.  I have gotten from friends all over the country copies of the picture that was this iconic picture taken in the Situation Room while we were watching the operation.  And they have been photoshopped in every way you can imagine, including putting a -- you know, coming after the royal wedding, one of these had all of us in one of these big, wide-brimmed hats from the wedding.  Another had various football players seated at the table that had been photoshopped in.  Others had other politicians’ photoshopped in.  So this is all pretty harmless and humorous stuff. 

                But one of the things that I think concerns Secretary Clinton and I is the risk not only of the pictures themselves inflaming people who were bin Laden's adherents and radical extremists, but we were also worried about the potential for manipulation of those photos and doing things with those photos that would be pretty outrageous in terms of provoking a reaction that might in fact put our troops at greater risk in both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

                So I would -- I would tell you the primary reason I think that the president made the decision he did was not only to protect our troops, but also to protect other Americans who are living abroad -- our civilians, our diplomats and others -- because if these photos were misused, then the danger of them inflaming reaction we considered to be very real. 

                And so I think it was the right decision.  I realize the desire for closure on the part of a lot of folks who were -- who suffered losses on 9/11, and since then at the hands of this guy, and before.  But I think this was the right decision in this case. 

                Q:  Thank you. 

                SEC. GATES:  OK. 

                STAFF:  Thank you, sir.  OK, Marines and sailors, as you just heard the secretary so heartwarmingly express, he took time from his busy schedule to come down here and spend time with us.  You can tell that his head and his heart have been with you and with every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, for almost the last five years.  So he will depart here today.  You may not see him physically; more importantly, we may not see the likes of him for a while.  So please join me in a warm round of applause for his service to our nation, for our secretary of defense.  (Applause.)

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