Press Conference with Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Red River Army Depot, Texarkana, Texas
SEC. GATES: Good afternoon.
I just finished touring Red River Army Depot, one of the military's largest maintenance facilities. I come away impressed by the skill and the commitment of the men and women who work here, and also by the fact that by refurbishing and resetting this equipment, ultimately they save the taxpayers many millions of dollars every year.
Their dedication to our troops could be summed up by a placard that the workers place inside each vehicle. It reads, we build it as if our lives depend upon it; theirs do.
Red River has always come through during times of war. During the 1940s, it ramped up for tank repair. Today, it provides lifesaving equipment for our fighting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Humvee production here has skyrocketed, from about 2 humvees a week in 2004 to an eye-popping 26 humvees a day in 2006 and 32 a day now. People may question whether or not the nation is on a war footing. Well, the people here at Red River Army Depot clearly are on a war footing.
Their success is possible, I think, only because of the strong bonds with Greater Texarkana. In fact, BRAC slated this facility for closure twice. Yet each time, the community saved it through vigorous lobbying, sending hundreds of people to Washington.
Enduring ties to the community are perhaps best illustrated by longevity and loyalty. In some cases, four generations of families have worked here. In closing, I want to extend my deepest respect and gratitude to the workers and the community for their tireless support of our nation's all-volunteer force.
Before taking your questions, I'd just like to take a minute to congratulate Lieutenant General Bill Mortensen, who will retire after 35 years of dedicated service to the Army. As deputy head of Army Materiel Command for the last three years, he has been responsible for everything soldiers touched, from the uniforms they wear to the vehicles they drive to the guns they shoot. His vision and focus have helped place and keep Army logistics on a war footing.
These facts don't tell the full story about this officer. He's a soldier's soldier, happiest with mud on his boots, surrounded by troops in the field, getting the mission done. And I'm told he's usually the smartest guy in the room and also the humblest.
Bill, please accept my warm wishes as you and your wife start a new adventure in North Carolina this August. Thank you for your fine and dedicated service. (Applause.)
I'd like to start by taking a question from the local press first, if I might.
Q Mr. Secretary, what significance will Red River continue to play in the war in Iraq and possibly Iran?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that as long as we're involved in significant combat operation in either or both places, Red River's going to continue to play a critical role for us. The amount of equipment that is coming back here to be refurbished, to be rebuilt, basically made new again, I think will continue to be a challenge. We have pulled down our National Guard stocks of equipment that we're going to -- that we are in the process of replacing. We will continue to need significant vehicles in the field. And so I see this being a continuing high priority activity for quite some time.
Q Just to clarify, sir, he asked "in Iraq or Iran." I think you heard him as Afghanistan.
SEC. GATES: I meant Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q Mr. Secretary, could you give us at least your initial thoughts on the discussions that are going on in the Pentagon that would give the U.S. greater command and control in -- particularly in southern Afghanistan? I realize there's no formal recommendations or any decisions yet, but can you just tell us what your initial thoughts are on it and whether you think this is a non-starter because of the sensitivities among the NATO nations?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think we have to take the sensitivities of our allies very seriously into consideration. And I think that, frankly, this is a matter that is going to be looked at over probably some period of time, partly because it requires consultation with our allies, particularly with our partners in Regional Command South. But I think we have some -- we need to look also at some of our own command and control arrangements. For example, does it continue to make sense to have two combatant commands involved in one country?
And so there are several aspects of this that I think need to be looked at. We're basically just trying to see how do you best provide for unity of command, how do you have the most effective operations possible in Afghanistan. But we won't do anything without prior consultation and agreement with our allies.
Q But you think that it does have at least some merit?
SEC. GATES: I think that it certainly is worth taking a look at.
STAFF: How about a local question? (Off mike.) Another local? Okay.
Q Mr. Secretary, as you know, April -- (off mike) -- was the worst month for U.S. troops in Iraq since -- (off mike). Does this latest upswing in violence, if it were to continue -- does that mark the end of the decline in violence that we've seen since last summer?
And why is General Petraeus -- why does he continue to be confident that the remaining combat brigades due to leave by July will, in fact, be able to leave?
SEC. GATES: You'd have to ask him that. I depend on his judgment on these matters.
I think that, as I've said before, I think that a reason for the uptick in April -- and I'm informed about every single one of these casualties -- is due in no substantial measure to a more ambiguous message coming out of Sadr, and as well as the operations on the periphery of Sadr City itself. Sadr has indicated in one or another messages that it was okay for his Jaish al-Mahdi and others to attack coalition forces, meaning Americans, principally. And that is different than the cease-fire that has been in place since last year.
So I think that -- I hope that the numbers of our casualties will go back down this month. I hope that there will be developments that will bring Sadr into the political process in Iraq in some way.
I also hope that the Iraqi mission to Tehran will be successful in persuading the Iranians that they need to change the approach that they're taking to the Iraqi government. They have a choice. They can either subvert it or they can work with it, but they can't do both.
Q Mr. Secretary, the clinical psychologist who's in charge of the Recovery and Resilience Center as Fort Bliss said yesterday that one way to destigmatize post-traumatic stress disorder is to make troops suffering from the disorder eligible for the Purple Heart. What do you think of that suggestion?
SEC. GATES: Well, I hadn't heard it until you-all reported it. It's an interesting idea. I think it's clearly something that needs to be looked at.
STAFF: One last one, sir.
Q Mr. Secretary, you talked about how U.S. casualties have gone up in part because of a mixed message from Sadr. But the statistics show that when the U.S. had less than 20 brigades, casualties were higher. Do you have any concern that perhaps one of the reasons for the uptick is that Iraq needs 20 combat brigades to sustain some level of stability as -- (of mike) -- casualties against coalition forces?
SEC. GATES: General Petraeus doesn't seem to think so, and I would defer to his judgment.
Thank you all. (Applause.)
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