KABUL, Afghanistan (Nov. 25, 2012) -- The Army's second highest ranking civilian and military leaders met with American and NATO leadership at regional commands, hospitals, forward operating bases, and support units throughout eastern and southern Afghanistan, and thanked service members, civilians, and contractors for their hard work and sacrifice during a three-day visit, Nov. 20-23, 2012.

Joseph W. Westphal, undersecretary of the Army, and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, vice chief of staff of
the Army, visited Afghanistan to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions and status of the gradual withdrawal of troops and equipment. They also recognized exceptional soldiers and civilians, thanking them for their hard work and sacrifices, especially during this Thanksgiving holiday.

"Managing the enterprise from the Pentagon is one thing," said Westphal. "You have to get out into the field in order to understand what's going on, how things are shaping-up, and where things are moving. Talking to the troops, both military and civilians, who are on the ground you get a better sense of what is happening."

"Additionally, it's Thanksgiving and we have thousands of Soldiers and civilians throughout Afghanistan who are going to spend Thanksgiving away from the families and friends," Westphal continued. "We need to come out here and tell them how much we appreciate what they do every day."

While in International Security Assistance Force's, or ISAF's, Regional Command -- Capital in Kabul, both Westphal and Austin met with leadership at the International Joint Command, spoke to troops about the future of the Army at ISAF's headquarters, learned about the successes of developing and increasing the capacity of the Afghan National Security Force at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, and learned about the lawful work of Special Operations Joint Command to track down the bad guys in Afghanistan.

At ISAF's Regional Command -- East in Bagram, Westphal and Austin met with doctors, nurses, and staff at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and learned that 90 percent of combat injured patients who come through the hospital return to duty.

They also inspected and learned about the processes of the retrograde facilities of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade and retrosort yard of the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

While visiting troops in Regional Command -- East Westphal awarded Pfc. Ashley M. Beltinck with the Combat Medical Badge for providing medical care under fire.

During their visit to Zangaband, with Combat Outpost Sperwan Ghar, Austin had the honor of awarding the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third highest military decoration for valor, to Army Capt. Brian Kitching of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion Armored Regiment, from Lincoln, Neb. Kitching was awarded the Silver Star for actions taken while leading his platoon during a hostile engagement with the enemy, resulting in the unit sustaining heavy casualties.

"Being awarded the Silver Star by General Austin was a humbling and bitter sweet experience," said Kitching. "Bitter sweet in the sense that we sustained some casualties during that operation, but humbling in the sense that General Austin is a role model of mine, and it was truly an honor to have him present me with the medal."

Speaking to Soldiers gathered for an awards and re-enlistment ceremony at Pasab, Austin said, "Any time you are recognized [it] is special, especially when it's in front of your peers. That makes it more special. Being recognized in front of your peers in a combat zone is a tremendous [honor]."

Following a re-enlistment ceremony, Austin spoke to the Soldiers.

"We are thrilled to be here and spend Thanksgiving Day with you," he said. "We are grateful for all of the things you continue to do for our country. You do important work, you do critical work, and you are making a tremendous difference for this region of the world, for this country, and that difference will remain forever."