FORT HOOD — Heather Ketchmark, an Army spouse, was so honored to meet former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday that she presented him with a memorial coin dedicated to her fallen brother.
Her brother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Bowles, was killed March 2009 in Afghanistan and was the last service member to come home under the military’s former policy of banning photos of flag-drapped coffins, Ketchmark said.
When Ketchmark was flipping through Gates’ new book, “Duty,” earlier this month, a photo caught her attention. She flipped the page, and saw her brother’s name.
“It was very humbling,” she said.
Ketchmark, along with her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ketchmark, were the first in line Thursday as Gates signed copies of his controversial new book at the Clear Creek Main Exchange.
Nearly 70 soldiers, veterans and others were waiting in line when the two-hour book signing started at 11 a.m.
“My dad served 30 years in the Army; he texted me about the book signing,” said George McMaster, 22, a Copperas Cove resident.
McMaster and others went through the line swiftly as Gates signed copies of his book, which has drawn national headlines for his sharp criticisms of Congress and the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan.
The book is a memoir of his service as the defense secretary from 2006 to 2011.
In a phone interview with the Herald on Wednesday, Gates said he hopes soldiers will read the book.
The book describes “what was going on … at the 30,000-foot level in terms of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gates said. “And what was behind the decisions that I made that affected their lives.”
Gates said he “very strongly” supports keeping a force of 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as a reactionary force after this year. “I think it sends an important message to the Afghans that they are not going to be abandoned again.”
Before Thursday’s book signing, the last time Gates visited Fort Hood was as defense secretary. He also was in that role on Nov. 5, 2009, when 13 soldiers were killed in a mass shooting.
Gates said he wanted to attend the hometown funerals of all those who died in the Fort Hood shooting, but he “didn’t want to be a disruptive element and interfere with the families mourning.”
He did go to the funeral of Spc. Frederick Greene in Tennessee. Greene, considered a hero for his attempt to charge the shooter, was shot 12 times in the attack.
“It was the only funeral of a soldier I was able to attend, other than Arlington,” Gates said.
Plenty of veterans lined up Thursday to have Gates sign a copy of the book. Vietnam veteran Milton Caudle, 70, drove from Cedar Park for the event.
He heard about the signing a couple of weeks ago when bought a copy of “Duty.”
“I like reading anything about history or people of importance,” he said.