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Defense Secretary Gates Visits Soldiers in Afghanistan

100309-D-7203C-003.JPGIn a three-day trip to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited soldiers to get the “ground truth” directly from those in areas of conflict.

“These incredible young people, the enthusiasm they have, and they have some good feedback about partnering with the Afghans,” Gates said. “And talking to them directly always in some ways is more reliable than what you see on a PowerPoint slide.”

Among his stops were the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, where 22 names of fallen soldiers were read. The 17th Infantry is part of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 5th Stryker Brigade based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The unit was supposed to deploy to Iraq, but the mission shifted when President Barack Obama ordered more troops to Afghanistan.

Addressing how the area around Frontenac was a Taliban redoubt, Gates praised the soldiers for their efforts to endure roadside bombs and indirect and direct fire.

“You came into an area that was totally controlled by the Taliban,” Gates said to about 200 soldiers at the battalion headquarters. “You fought for critical battle space, you bled for it, and now you own it. And you demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination in making that happen.”

Gates said he wants to ensure that service members in the fight get the tools they need to do the job. He noted he has read a memo calling for improvements to the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle to make it more effective in Afghanistan, and he is overseeing the effort to get more all-terrain mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to the fight.

The secretary also met with young soldiers in Now Zad and Marines serving in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and visited Regional Command South leaders before taking a V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft to Frontenac. Gates said the young servicemembers he met are inspirational.

“They are resilient, they know what they’ve lost, and yet they seem very committed and very much with their heads in the game,” he said. “They know what they are here to do, and they are clearly prepared to do whatever it takes personally to make it happen. I was very impressed.”

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