Gates, Mullen Support ‘Stand up for Heroes’
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 17, 2011 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke for the need for enduring support for service members at a fundraising event for wounded warriors and their families.
The Defense Department leaders spoke before a crowd of about 800 who gathered in the Ronald Reagan Building here for the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s ‘Stand Up For Heroes’ event.
“I would like to thank Bob and Lee Woodruff for all they’ve done and continue to do for our wounded warriors and their families,” Gates said.
Families of the wounded have sacrificed and suffered much, the secretary said, adding, “America is grateful and eternally in your debt for the care and support you provide every single day to our heroes.”
Gates told the wounded veterans in attendance, “I am continually amazed by your grit and your resilience.”
When he became defense secretary and first thought of visiting wounded men and women in uniform, Gates said, “I wasn’t sure I could handle it, or what I would say. Seeing firsthand the incredible sacrifice … I frankly wasn’t sure I could keep it together.”
Gates said people kept telling him, “They will lift you up.”
“And you have,” he said. “More than you can possibly imagine.”
When he became secretary, Gates said, he pledged to provide the best-possible care for those wounded in combat.
“I am confident with the commitment and help and advocacy of military leaders like Admiral Mullen and his wife, Deb, our local communities, and organizations such as the Woodruff Foundation, this Department of Defense and this country will do what is necessary to continue to fulfill our obligation to our wounded heroes,” Gates said.
At the heart of the volunteer force is a legal, social and sacred contract between the United States and the people who serve in its military, Gates said.
That contract, he said, is “an inviolable promise, that when young Americans step forward of their own free will to serve, they can do so with the expectation that they and their families will be properly cared for.”
That promise is carved in stone within President Abraham Lincoln’s memorial, Gates noted.
“His words echo through time,” the secretary said, “calling on us today to care for ‘him who shall have borne the battle.’”
“The debt owed by all Americans to those of you who have given so much can never be fully repaid,” Gates said. “You have my deepest gratitude and respect for all that you have given. Know that I, along with many others here tonight and all across the country, will be an advocate for you for the rest of my days.”
Mullen also emphasized the need for Americans to remember what service members and their families have contributed to the nation.
“We are grateful not only to the men and women who wear the uniform, but the families who have made so much possible and made such a difference in so many lives,” he said.
“We live in a time where so much is changing,” Mullen said. He noted that since Bob Woodruff, an ABC News correspondent, was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, there have been significant improvements in battlefield medicine and support to wounded veterans and their families.
Still, there are “many, many who are sustaining these wounds, visible and invisible,” the chairman said.
“We have to figure out a way to make sure we are with them, in support, for the rest of their lives,” he said. “We can never forget what they’ve done … the sacrifices that they have stepped forward and made for our country, so we can be who we are.”
Mullen thanked the Woodruffs, who established the foundation after the newsman’s injury, for their dedication to helping wounded veterans and their families.
They “have chosen not to walk away,” the admiral said. “They set such a great example for so many to follow, … making sure we never forget those who have given so much.”
Mullen also paid tribute to Gates and his wife, Becky Gates, as a “very special couple.”
Gates will retire from his position at the end of this month, Mullen said, adding that his dedication as defense secretary “could not be matched, and could not have come at a more appropriate time.”
“I can tell you, firsthand, that there’s nobody, no one I have met, who is more dedicated to those of us in uniform than Bob Gates,” the chairman said. “He had been ferocious in his defense of us; he has been ferocious in seeking solutions to very difficult problems.”
“We will miss you, and we are forever grateful for all you’ve done,” Mullen told the secretary and his wife.