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Gates Visits Troops in Washington State

By Rachel Young
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEWIS, Wash. , July 8, 2008 – Fort Lewis soldiers received a visit from Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week, as he spent yesterday and today talking with soldiers, airmen and their families.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Army Col. Harry Tunnell, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, look into a Stryker transport vehicle while on a tour of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, on Fort Lewis, Wash., July 8, 2008. Defense Department photo by U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt Jerry Morrison

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

Gates, who lives near Mount Vernon, Wash., when he is not at the Pentagon, stopped by Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base for a visit on his way back to Washington, D.C., after the Independence Day holiday.

Gates visited wounded warriors at Madigan Army Medical Center, talked with Army Rangers, McChord airmen and some Fort Lewis spouses, including a few who had just given birth at Madigan.

“It’s been very useful,” Gates told reporters this morning after receiving a briefing in the Intelligence Operations Facility. “The conversations with NCOs and their wives are always instructive, and I’m always impressed with their dedication and their commitment.”

Gates praised Army spouses for their commitment and affection for the military, saying that theirs might be even stronger than that of their soldiers.

The secretary also received a briefing from Army Col. Harry D. Tunnell, commander of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and Stryker soldiers from 4th and 5th brigades, 2nd Infantry Division, about their vehicles. Gates, accompanied by Army Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of 1st Corps and Fort Lewis, and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, military assistant to the secretary of defense, toured four Strykers: a commander’s vehicle, an infantry carrier vehicle, a mobile gun system and an engineer squad vehicle.

While receiving his briefing on the mobile gun system, Gates got a fresh-from-the-battlefield perspective from Capt. Christopher Lilley, a vehicle commander and platoon leader in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, part of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Lilley and his soldiers returned from Iraq last month, where they were the first to use the mobile gun system in combat. Lilley said he was pleased to be able to share his knowledge with the secretary of defense.

“It was very nice,” he said. “I think he saw the point we were trying to get across to him, ... how important this vehicle is for the infantry commanders and also the infantry to have this weapon system at their hands to help them out and support them in their mission and provide the security and firepower that they need.”

A senior official explained that Gates visits troops often to get a feeling for what is on their minds.

“We do this as much a possible,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

Gates finds it useful to gather troops and spend time talking to them and allowing them to ask candid questions, Morrell said.

(Rachel Young is a reporter with Fort Lewis’ Northwest Guardian.)

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Robert M. Gates

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Fort Lewis, Wash.
McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

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