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Defense Secretary Sends Holiday Message

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2007 – Citing the many gains achieved by the military over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thanked America’s men and women in uniform for their service in a holiday message released today.

“The holidays offer a special time to remember our many blessings as Americans – perhaps chief among them are the dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who protect our nation,” Gates wrote in his message. “Since assuming this post a year ago, I have been awed and humbled by our men and women in uniform who are carving for themselves a noble place in American history.”

Gates noted that the year began with the deployment of tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq in a concerted effort to reduce violence. Since then, violence has declined sharply and former enemy strongholds are being transformed into communities of hope and possibility, he noted. “While it is premature to declare victory, we must protect our hard-earned and hard-fought gains and redouble efforts to defend our long-term interests in this region,” he wrote.

Significant progress has also been made this year in Afghanistan, where the United States and its allies have inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban, launched a comprehensive, nationwide reconstruction effort, and strengthened civic institutions, Gates said.

In the past year, the Defense Department also began expanding the Army and Marine Corps to relieve stress on the force, Gates noted. Mobilization policies have been revamped to provide more stability and predictability for National Guard and Reserve troops, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles became the military’s highest acquisition priority, and the department has begun to fix the problems with outpatient medical care for wounded troops, he said.

“At home and abroad, I have met with small groups of service men and women – from junior enlisted to field grade officers, from active duty to Guard and Reserve – to hear their questions, concerns, and aspirations unvarnished and uncensored,” Gates wrote. “I am grateful for their candor, their questions – and their advice. These exchanges have frequently shaped my thinking and influenced my decisions on everything from day-to-day military operations to enhancing the quality of life for servicemembers and their families.”

The United States is now in its seventh year of war, and troops and their families are sacrificing much, Gates noted. “This holiday season, many of those in uniform are on repeat deployments or have had their tours extended,” he wrote. “Many will miss midnight Mass or have already missed Hanukkah’s Festival of Lights. Many will not hear the squeals of delight from their children on Christmas morning. Many will sing neither carols nor hymns.

“Instead, they serve halfway around the world to honor a pledge they made to the country they love,” Gates said. “Please keep our troops in your thoughts and may God forever bless them and this wonderful nation we call home.”

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Robert M. Gates

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