PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with service members of Combined Joint Task Force-101 at Bagram Airfield March 7 where he thanked them for working alongside the Afghan people to make eastern Afghanistan a safer place for its residents.
"It was a tough winter, and it's going to be a tougher spring and summer, but you've made a lot of headway," said Gates.Gates said because it is he who signs the orders for each service member to deploy, he feels personally responsible for ensuring they have the resources necessary to be successful.After expressing his appreciation for their service, the Secretary took questions from the service members. When asked what keeps him up at night, he responded that it was his concern for troops."I think a lot about you people out here -- what you have to put up with, the conditions you live in, the sacrifices you make," he said.Several Soldiers from 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Falcon, were selected to attend Gates' visit and came away with not only a commemorative coin , but also with feelings of inspiration and positive memories of meeting a highly respected cabinet member.Two TF Falcon Soldiers, both on their first deployment, listened to the Secretary while standing a few feet from the podium."As a Soldier, it's very inspiring to see someone you only hear about," said U.S. Army Pfc. Tiffany Jones of Mobile, Ala., a human resources specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, TF Falcon. "It was an honor to meet him and shake his hand."The visit was a pleasant surprise for the Soldiers as only a small number of people were aware that Gates was coming to the bustling airbase, which is about 30 miles north of the capitol."I found out I was going just a few hours before," said U.S. Army Spc. Raecita Yazzie of Kirtland, N.M., a flight operations specialist with HHC, TF Falcon. "It's nice to know he really cares about what we're doing here."Before meeting with Soldiers from CJTF-101, Gates toured Craig Joint Theater Hospital where he visited with medical personnel and presented Purple Heart medals to three Soldiers from a Utah-based U.S. Army Reserve unit who were injured by a roadside bomb.(Information from a Department of Defense news release was used in this story)