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Gates Meets with Fort Hood Soldiers, Family Members

By Heather Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 28, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with soldiers and family members here yesterday to present Purple Heart medals and get a first-hand look at issues and concerns he usually sees only on paper.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with Army spouses during a Nov. 27, 2007, visit to Fort Hood, Texas. U.S. Army photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates began his morning by joining soldiers for breakfast at the Eagle’s Nest, a 4th Infantry Division dining facility. Over scrambled eggs, bacon and grits, Gates discussed Army issues with the soldiers.

After breakfast, the secretary met with 30 Army spouses representing the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 13th Sustainment Command and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to hear their issues and concerns. The spouses were selected for the meeting based on their active roles in their units’ family readiness groups, Col. Diane Battaglia, 3rd Corps public affairs officer, said.

The meeting was Gates’ first with spouses, he said. “I look forward to hearing from you,” he told the group before his closed-door meeting. “The nation owes each of you a great debt of gratitude.”

Spouses were able to ask questions of the defense secretary during the meeting.

On most of their minds was the deployment length and cycle.

“The first majority concern was how long the 15-month deployments would last,” said Sheree Weller, the wife of Capt. Shane Weller, a pilot with 1st Aviation Combat Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. “He gave us a good time frame.”

The spouses at the meeting said they felt the defense secretary adequately addressed and answered their concerns and questions.

“I had four questions,” Mariah Murdoch, wife of Maj. Timothy Murdoch, rear-echelon commander of 1st Cavalry Division’s Special Troops Battalion. “Every question was answered before I could ask.” Gates addressed other concerns she had not even considered, she added.

“He talked about incentives for family members other than spouses,” she said. One incentive would be the possibility of soldiers being able to pass Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits on to their children. The secretary emphasized that can’t happen overnight, she noted. “He made it abundantly clear there is a lot of bureaucracy involved,” she said.

Both women agreed Gates was prepared to answer their questions and concerns.

“Every question posed, he had already considered,” Weller said. “I felt he was listening.”

Weller again met with Gates, albeit briefly, during the 1st Cavalry Division Purple Heart and volunteer recognition ceremony following the spouses’ meeting. She was honored for her volunteer efforts for the First Team.

At the ceremony, Gates presented 12 Purple Hearts to division soldiers and certificates to the volunteers.

Gates wrapped up his two-day trip to the area following the ceremony. He had been a guest of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce at a Nov. 26 dinner reception. In his speech, he addressed the progress being made in the global war on terrorism and the need for the passage of a supplemental war spending bill.

In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Gates addressed the troop surge and improved security in Iraq.

(Heather Graham is news editor for the Fort Hood Sentinel.)

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