Special to American Forces Press Service
May 8, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited the only battalion-sized U.S. unit operating in this southern Afghanistan province yesterday. Gates spent about an hour at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, about 80 miles west of Kandahar City, and he awarded six valorous medals to soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division's Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
"Having [Gates] award these medals means a lot," said Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Roszko, a Charlie Company squad leader from Bronx, N.Y., who earned a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions following a roadside-bomb attack. "It shows someone knows what we are doing out here. Our achievement is appreciated more than we realized."
After awarding the medals, Gates took a moment to talk to the soldiers and airmen. He started by thanking them for their service as the only U.S. military unit that falls under Canadian command.
"Thank you for what you have done to help the Canadians," he said. "I know they have taken a lot of hits. Your being down here has been very important to them. I want to thank you, above all, for volunteering to serve our country and volunteering to serve here. You are clearly making a huge difference."
He also assured soldiers he is working hard for their safety.
"I just want you to know that I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you," the secretary said. "I have been doing what I can to get you what you need to be successful in your mission and for you to come home safe," noting the number of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles on the base, a troop-protection asset he championed. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Hurlbut, a Killeen, Texas, native who commands the battalion, expressed gratitude for the work Gates did to speed the process of getting the vehicles to the combat theater.
"Though [Gates] was only able to stay for a short time, it was a good opportunity to talk with him," Hurlbut said. "I used the opportunity to thank him for his help with procuring the MRAPs we use every day. His efforts have saved countless soldiers' lives."
Before leaving, Gates took time to personally thank and present each of the 253 soldiers and airmen at Ramrod with a coin.
The servicemembers assist NATO in providing a permanent presence in southern Afghanistan. In their year in Kandahar province, they have reduced Taliban movement of supplies through the area, decreased bombings on the major highway and built rapport with local residents through constant interaction.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jill Lavoie serves with the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)