By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service (Part 1 of 4)
It’s 110 degrees in the shade, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is answering questions from about 200 soldiers at a bleak U.S. installation near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in mid-June.
At the end of the session, he tells them he has one more thing to say: “I’ve come out here to thank you for the last time for your service and for your sacrifice. More than anybody except the president, I’m responsible for you being here. I’m the person that signed the deployment papers that got you here. And that weighs on me every day.”
It’s tough for the secretary to get through this statement. He steps away from the microphone, and there are tears in his eyes. The soldiers in the audience — from the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade — are moved, as well. Gates receives prolonged applause. As he hands out commemorative coins to the troops, they thank him for his service and all he has done for them.
“I’ve told friends that I would be more than happy if the only legacy I took away from this job is those kids out there in the field knew they had someone who was looking after them, all the time,” Gates said in a recent interview with American Forces Press Service during his last trip to visit deployed troops.
Gates will retire as defense secretary June 30. The U.S. Senate has confirmed CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to take his place.
It has been a sacred trust for the secretary to ensure the troops fighting the nation’s wars have what they need to succeed.
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