By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 7, 2011 – “I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today at the conclusion of his final trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary.
NATO service members saluted Gates during a short ceremony at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command today.
Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of ISAF Joint Command, thanked the secretary for his many contributions to the mission. In turn, the secretary thanked the men and women from many different countries who came together to build the corps-level headquarters.
Rodriguez said Gates’ efforts have helped to wrest momentum from the Taliban, and that the secretary’s contribution includes more than the surge that brought 30,000 more American service members into the country. He also provided the resources needed, including “the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms that are pouring in here every day,” the general said.
Gates championed the mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles that had saved countless lives on the ground in the country. The vehicles –designed to protect occupants from roadside-bomb blasts while navigating over Afghanistan’s rough terrain -- were delivered “against all odds, and contrary to many who said it couldn’t be done,” he said.
“Fortunately for us,” the general added, “Secretary Gates doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Gates also ensured the resources were available so troops wounded in any part of the country would be able to receive world-class care within the first hour after being wounded – the so-called “golden hour” that greatly increases their odds of survival.
While Gates met with coalition and Afghan leaders during his three-day visit, his main purpose was to meet with American troops. He said he wanted to take “my final opportunity to look each and every one in the eye and thank them for their service and their sacrifice before I retire at the end of this month.”
The secretary said it was fitting that his final address in Afghanistan was at ISAF Joint Command, because the headquarters has done so much to turn the coalition effort around.
“Two years ago, this headquarters building was a gym used for basketball games,” he noted, and commanders ran the regional commands as separate entities, with each engaged in designing and implementing their own campaign plans with little integration or information sharing. To fix that, he added, he sent Rodriquez – his senior military assistant at the time – to build and lead the new command.
“Rod tirelessly built this command from scratch, along with some members of my personal staff,” Gates said. “In less than a year’s time, this command has made it possible to synchronize operations, set priorities and maintain 24-hour situational awareness. That’s made possible all the gains we’ve made in the past year.”