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Gates Revisits Past at Missouri Base

By Airman 1st Class Stephen Linch, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo., Nov. 20, 2007 – In a homecoming of sorts, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited here today to meet with local community leaders and members of Team Whiteman.

Gates first came to the base as a second lieutenant in 1967 when he was assigned to the 351st Strategic Missile Wing, which controlled 150 Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missiles scattered throughout a 16,000-square mile area in west-central Missouri.

The secretary returned at the request of Whiteman’s Base Community Council, an organization of more than 350 people representing 17 communities surrounding the base, designed to identify common interests of civilian and military populations and work together on issues of mutual concern.

“Being here in the ‘Show Me’ state means coming full circle from Air Force second lieutenant to secretary of defense,” Gates said. “I was commissioned Jan. 4, 1967. I married my wife, Becky, in Seattle on Jan. 7, and a few days later reported for duty here at Whiteman as a brand new second lieutenant.”

Before speaking to a crowd of more than 175 military and community leaders at the base’s consolidated club, Gates presented a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal to a Team Whiteman airman for his actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It was the greatest honor I will probably receive in my lifetime,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Shumate of the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron’s explosive ordnance disposal flight. “This would normally be awarded at the squadron or wing level, so to be awarded at the Department of Defense level by the secretary of defense is indescribable.”

During a luncheon, the secretary spoke highly of the base community council, an organization stemming from the Minuteman II missile days when base operations occurred throughout a wide area of central Missouri.

“I travel to Afghanistan and Iraq periodically, and I am occasionally asked by troops whether the people back home support them,” the secretary said. “I tell them ‘yes’ because of organizations like yours. To everyone here from the BCC, please accept my heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful ways you have volunteered to help this military community.”

Following his speech, Gates fielded questions from among the council members regarding current events in Iraq and Iran.

“The security situation (in Iraq) has certainly improved, we have had some positive developments we did not anticipate,” Gates said. “It is clear that our men and women in uniform have brought (the Iraqi people) opportunities that are being seized in some areas (that) are not being adequately seized in Baghdad.”

When asked to comment on policy regarding Iran, the secretary said “another war is the last thing the Middle East needs.” He said economic sanctions and diplomacy are the best options now for dealing with Iran.

Air Force Col. Garrett Harencak, 509th Bomb Wing commander, assured Gates that the wing would continue to provide military might when called upon.

“As you all know, the B-2 is the world’s greatest strike aircraft -- because what you can’t see you can’t hit, and if you can’t hit it, you can’t stop it, and if you can’t stop it, that means there is no sanctuary for America’s enemies anywhere on this globe,” Harencak said as he presented the secretary with a model of the B-2 “Spirit of America” to conclude the luncheon.

“Just as Whiteman provided strategic depth and deterrence during the Cold War, so too do its platforms and people safeguard America today,” Gates said. “While consolidating gains in Afghanistan is a priority and Iraq remains at the forefront in the war on terror, the strategic deterrence and long-range, precision capabilities offered here – our only operational B-2 base – are critical to protecting America’s other national interests around the world.”

(Air Force Airman 1st Class Stephen Linch is assigned to 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs.)

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Robert M. Gates

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