By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 12, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates delivered a tribute to servicemembers' courage, dedication, adaptability and patriotism to the Daughters of the American Revolution's Continental Congress, yesterday. "Whenever I meet with troops, I am impressed by their resilience, their good humor, their courage, and their determination in the face of personal sacrifice," Gates said to the more than 3,000 members of the group in Constitution Hall, here. Gates was the featured speaker at the organization's national security night.
It is important to remember that, when Americans talk about national security, it is the men and women in uniform who make the discussion possible, Gates said. Servicemembers carry out the policies of the United States, and they "shoulder the burdens of this complex and dangerous world," he said.
The war on terror is the longest war the United States has fought with an all-volunteer force since the American Revolution. "Frankly, our military, our government and our country were not prepared for such a long and grueling conflict," he said. "Despite this, our troops have persevered and overcome incredible obstacles.
"Often, they live in Spartan quarters, work in combat theaters and face the uncertainties of non-traditional war in an era when any mistake -- even the perception of a mistake -- can be transmitted around the globe in seconds.
American troops serve not only as warriors, but as diplomats and development officers as well, the secretary said. "In the face of these challenges, they have maintained a steely resolve," Gates said.
And they are staying with the missions. All services are meeting or exceeding their recruiting and retention targets. "High retention rates continue to be nothing short of remarkable, especially when considering that those most likely to re-enlist are those most often deployed," Gates said.
The courage of those serving cannot be doubted, Gates told the group. The country has awarded five Medals of Honor; 38 Distinguished Service Crosses, Navy Crosses or Air Forces Crosses; nearly 700 Silver Stars, and almost 5,000 Bronze Stars with valor devices, the secretary said. "Each represents a story of bravery and sacrifices so great they are almost impossible to comprehend -- from men and women who have fallen on grenades to save comrades to others who have sprinted through firefights to save a buddy," he said.
The troops and their commanders exhibit adaptability that is key to winning a counterinsurgency fight. In 2006, coalition forces forecast a bleak future for Anbar province in Iraq. Al-Qaida in Iraq just about ruled the province's capital of Ramadi. "When all hope seemed lost in Anbar, the unit in charge of Ramadi dramatically changed its tactics -- moving out of heavily fortified bases and into combat outposts in the middle of the fight," Gates said. "Through heavy fighting, through great sacrifices, they won Ramadi back from al-Qaida. Many of the tactics successfully employed there would be replicated across Iraq."
Gates also spoke of the sacrifices military families make, calling them the "unsung heroes" of the war on terror. Families, too, are affected by multiple deployments around the world. "Words cannot describe how grateful our troops are for their wives and husbands, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers -- the network of love and support that carries on in their absence," he said.
Those wounded in the nation's service deserve the best the country can give, Gates said. He said the American people may disagree about the war, but they still support the troops. "You ... see it in efforts by the Congress to make sure our wounded have all they need to make the transition to the next phase of their life," he said.
Americans also see this appreciation through bipartisan legislation President Bush signed last week that greatly increases the benefits of the G.I. Bill for troops and their families.
Gates said it is "deeds, not words" that count. American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are performing those deeds to ensure the nation's safety and protecting U.S. allies around the world. "In both principles and deeds, our men and women in uniform embody the best our country has to offer," he said. "We are truly blessed to have among us citizens of such tremendous and awe-inspiring courage."