SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: I wanted to take the opportunity to visit this base because I really appreciate the contribution that the Georgian troops have made to the mission here in Afghanistan. Your performance has been outstanding. You have -- you've paid a high price out here, had many wounded and many killed in action. But the price that you've paid indicates how valued you are in the effort to try to bring stability to Afghanistan.
I had the opportunity to visit with some of your wounded in Germany. And as you know, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Tugushi was one of those that was wounded and is now in the United States receiving treatment. Colonel Tugushi was visited by President Obama at the Bethesda Hospital. And Colonel Tugushi gave me a letter and asked me to read it to you.
"Greetings to the soldiers of the 31st Battalion. It has been an honor to serve with you. You are Georgian heroes. As President Saakashvili said, Georgia stands on your shoulders. The armed -- your pain is Georgia's pain. The armed forces of Georgia, serving together with international forces in Afghanistan, are making a large contribution.
"It is a great honor to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in one of the most troubled regions of Afghanistan. It is a very great experience for Georgia. Unfortunately, I could not complete my service with you. But I am proud of all of you -- those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. You are all heroes who will go down in Georgian history. I wish you a safe return to your families and continued service in the armed forces of Georgia. God bless you.
"Signed, Colonel -- Lieutenant Colonel Alex Tugushi."
Colonel Tugushi expresses my feelings with regards to your service here in Afghanistan. This has been an international effort. There are 50 nations that are involved with ISAF here in Afghanistan. You are an example of that international partnership fighting for stability in Afghanistan. For that reason, I wanted to come here to your base to thank you for your sacrifice.
My understanding is you're going to be adding another battalion of soldiers here to this outpost. I can't tell you how much we appreciate your service to your country and to Afghanistan. Because of your sacrifice and the sacrifice of many other of your fellow soldiers, Afghanistan is on the right path to stability. And when Afghanistan is able to govern and secure itself, it will be because of your sacrifice and the sacrifice of good soldiers like Colonel Tugushi.
As secretary, I'm very proud of the men and women who serve my country in uniform that put their lives on the line every day. But I'm also very proud of all of you in the Georgian Army who put your lives on the line every day as well. Someday when this mission is completed, history will record the brave efforts and fighting of the Georgian forces that were here in Afghanistan. You have justly earned that place, not only in Afghanistan's history, but Georgia's history as well.
May God bless you. May God bless Georgia. May God bless the United States of America.
Now, if I could, I would like to greet each of you. I'll give you a coin representing the secretary's office in the -- in the office of the Department of Defense, and I would like to thank each of you individually. We'll take a photograph and try to get you a copy of that picture so you will have a memento of this day when the secretary of Defense visited your base.
OK? Let's do it.