MODERATOR: (In progress) – the secretary of defense, the Honorable Robert Gates. (Applause, cheers.)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: (inaudible) what you have done here in Argandhab and in the Kandahar area is absolutely amazing. I visited some of you last summer right after you carried out the (inaudible) operation. What you have accomplished is extraordinary because over the last year essentially you have ejected the Taliban from their home territory. And if we can hold this territory and expand the bubble, then I think by the end of the year we can turn the corner in this conflict.
So I just – I want to thank you for all you’ve done, for the success you’ve had. And I want to take a few minutes – I realize how much you enjoy standing out in the heat, although there is a little shade – but take a few minutes and take whatever questions or comments you might have. And then, I’d like to get an individual picture and hand out some coins to each one of you.
(Q&A period inaudible)
So before we line up, let me just say one more thing: I just want to – I’ve come out here to thank you for the last time for your service and for your sacrifice. More than anybody except the president, I’m responsible for you being here. I’m the person that signed the deployment papers that got you here. And that weighs on me every day that I’ve had this job for four and a half years. And so I’ve taken that – I’ve considered myself personally responsible to make sure that you had to what you needed to complete your mission, to come home safely, and if you’re hurt, to be Medevaced as fast as possible and get the best possible care.
I just want you to know I think about you every day. I feel your hardship and your sacrifice and your burden and that of your families more than you can possibly know. You are, I believe, the best our country has to offer and you will be in my thoughts and prayers every day for the rest of my life.
Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)