By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 8, 2009 - During his last stop on a whirlwind two-day visit through Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates brought encouragement and assurance of support to 10th Mountain Division soldiers who have been deployed here since January. "What you are doing out here is really important," Gates told an assembly of 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers at this high-altitude outpost in Wardak province.
Gates recalled the historical lessons the United States and the world learned when they turned their collective backs on Afghanistan after the Soviets were ousted in the late 1980s. Four years later came the first, failed al-Qaida attack on New York's World Trade Center. Next came the catastrophic 9/11 attacks in 2001.
"We paid the consequences for [abandoning Afghanistan] in 2001," Gates told the soldiers. "We won't do that again. You all are here to make sure we don't do that again."
Gates offered the soldiers assurance that he will continue working "to get you what you need to be successful."
"I have two goals," he said. "One is for you to be successful in your mission, and the other is for you to come home safely. My job is to get you the equipment and all the assistance that I can to help achieve those goals."
Gates passed on thanks to the troops, and asked them to pass along his appreciation to their families as well.
"I know that your being here imposes a sacrifice on your families, and that they have to cover for you while you're gone," he said. "So when you e-mail them or talk to them the next time, tell them ... that I thank them for all they have done to make your service possible."
Soldiers here welcomed Gates' words and his recognition of the work they are doing.
Army Spc. Sandra Rivera, a truck driver from Fox Company who frequently goes "outside the wire" to deliver supplies to even-more-remote combat operating bases, said she sees her job as serving her battle buddies, but that she has a bigger cause as well.
"I definitely think that when you make a presence known somewhere, it drives the enemy out," she said. "I see what we are doing here as trying to make a difference."
Army Sgt. George Pacheco of the brigade's 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, was more definitive about the success of his third deployment, and his second to Afghanistan. "We are making a great impact on the people around the FOB," he said, adding that he hopes Gates takes away from his visit "the morale and the spirit of the soldiers here."
The soldiers are working to help to give the Afghans a chance to live in a peaceful, stable country, he said. "We're out here to give them that opportunity."
Army Sgt. Charles Muller, an armorer who deployed here in December in advance of most of the brigade, said he was gratified to hear Gates promise to get troops what they need to do the job. His wish list includes better body armor and more repair parts – "mostly things to help us maintain our vehicles" in the harsh environment.
But Muller said he was happy just to see the secretary come to visit the troops. "It was very nice of him to come," he said. "It shows he cares about us and our situation."
During his visit here, Gates re-enlisted eight soldiers and met with provincial, district and tribal leaders.