Wounded Warriors, Other Gates Priorities to Continue in Next Administration
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2009 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pleased by “great progress” in improving care and support for wounded warriors, but believes these developments “are still not good enough” and plans to implement more, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.
Morrell said the Jan. 20 administration change won’t deflect Gates’ focus on key initiatives he championed during the current administration. These include getting more mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to warfighters and overhauling the acquisition and procurement system.
But particularly high on his radar screen, Morrell said, is improved care for wounded warriors. Problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center arose just months after Gates assumed his post in December 2007, and he ordered an all-out overhaul of the system.
“I think you will see this take even more of the secretary's time in the coming year -- years, whatever it ends up being -- than even it has over the past couple of years,” Morrell said. “And I can tell you, it's occupied a significant portion of his time.”
Gates “is not done in that realm,” Morrell said. “He has many more things he wishes to accomplish. He thinks we've made great progress but … [believes it is] still not good enough. And so look for more in that realm.”
Another top Gates priority – getting more MRAPs to the combat theater – will continue into the next administration with an emphasis on getting more of the vehicles to Afghanistan, Morrell said. About 1,100 MRAPs are currently in Afghanistan, and more of these as well as the new, lighter models are likely to be needed in the future, he said.
Gates moved the MRAP program into high gear, creating the first major equipment procurement to go from concept to industrial production in less than a year.
The MRAP program “is now almost an institutionalized program,” Morrell said. “And in fact, we have nearly built all the MRAPs that have been identified as needed.”
Similarly, Morrell said, the ISR effort will remain a top priority, although he conceded that with Gates’ emphasis, it already has become “pretty well institutionalized.”
Gates announced in April that he had created a task force to give the ISR issue the same emphasis as the MRAP program.
“My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield,” the secretary said during an April speech to Air War College students. “While we have doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough.”
That’s changing, Morrell said. “There are now people who appreciate, as the secretary does, how important this is to our warfighters,” he said. “And so I think they are committed to seeing his vision through to reality.”
Gates will continue his efforts to improve defense acquisition and procurement while dealing with major budget issues, Morrell said.
The next defense budget will go to Capitol Hill shortly after the Obama administration takes office. Other issues on the horizon include the Quadrennial Defense Review, a new National Defense Strategy and a new nuclear posture statement.
“So there are a lot of budget and policy matters that are going to eat up a lot of his time, but have the potential to really impact the direction of this department for years to come,” Morrell said. “I think you'll see, in the first several months of this administration, a great deal of the secretary's time devoted to dealing with those issues.”