Gates Urges Americans to Remember Servicemembers, Families in Prayers

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 20, 2006 – New Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, here on a surprise pre-Christmas visit, today urged Americans to remember military members and their families throughout the holiday season.
“I hope that everybody at home here at the holiday will remember that all these men and women are away from their families,” he said during a news conference at Baghdad’s Al Faw Palace, which serves as headquarters for Multinational Corps Iraq.

Gates noted the troops rely on each other during tough times, “but it’s not like being home.”

“So I hope that everybody will remember (the troops) in their prayers and be thinking of their service,” the secretary said.

Gates arrived in Iraq today, less than 48 hours after taking the oath of office, to meet with U.S. military commanders and diplomats and with Iraqi leaders.

“I’m also here to thank directly on behalf of the president and, I think, on behalf of the American people, our servicemen and -women here in Iraq who have sacrificed so much to serve our country,” he said.

As president of Texas A&M University, his job before being appointed defense secretary, Gates said he often received e-mail notes from “Aggies” now serving in the military. He said he was able to glean some insights into troops’ concerns from those e-mails.

Gates said the letters generally revolved around three main themes. “The first was they would obviously like to come home, but second, they don’t want to come home until their mission’s accomplished. They feel very strongly about the mission," he said. “And the third was, they also don’t want the sacrifice of their buddies to have been in vain.”

Younger troops, especially, are extremely committed to the mission here, Gates said, so the best way to support the troops is to accomplish the mission in Iraq.

“I think that the priority is accomplishing the … objective of an Iraq that is sustainable but can defend itself, that can govern itself so that at the proper time we can withdraw a lot of these troops and send them home,” he said. “I think that’s their goal as well.”

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is accompanying Gates on this trip. He also praised servicemembers serving here.

Pace thanked troops “who are delivering for our country in every way that we’ve asked them to and beyond, and especially to their families, who are missing their loved ones today.”