By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Army spouses wanted to know if they could continue to expect 15-month deployments and who better to ask than Robert Gates, the U.S. secretary of defense.
Gates was at Fort Hood Tuesday morning to eat breakfast with soldiers at Eagle's Nest Dining Facility, meet with 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command, 4th Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division spouses and attend the 1st Cavalry Purple Heart and volunteer recognition ceremony.
Gates was accompanied by Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli and his wife, Beth, at the ceremony. Chiarelli, former commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq and the 1st Cavalry, is senior military assistant to the secretary.
Gates was in town by invitation of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce's governmental affairs committee and the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, where he spoke at a dinner on Monday night.
Representatives from Gates' office said he wanted to meet with spouses and post officials and asked each unit to nominate those who were active in their units to participate in the roundtable.
Sheree Weller, who was later honored as a 1st Cavalry volunteer, and Mariah Murdock both attended the session with Gates. Weller's husband, Capt. Shane Weller, is a pilot who is deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry's Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment.
Murdock's husband, Maj. Timothy Murdock, serves as the rear commander for the division's Special Troops Battalion. This is Timothy's first time serving as a rear detachment commander and it presents a whole different set of challenges, Mariah said, and it's easier being deployed.
Both women prepared questions for Gates and said they were not nervous to meet with him. Weller said she was looking forward to the session and said she wishes she could have contacted more spouses to find out what is on their minds.
"It's a privilege and honor, and I want my questions to reflect the hearts of all the women here," she said.
Weller said she wouldn't get the opportunity again and she didn't know what would come of the roundtable, but she wanted to ask questions from which everyone could benefit.
Gates said he has found that in groups like this, he can find out about the issues that he usually just deals with on paper. It is helpful in going back to fight the bureaucratic battles to get good things done, he said at the beginning of the session.
Gates answered the questions as best he could, Murdock said later. The spouses weren't afraid to ask him tough questions, mostly focusing on deployment lengths and the time soldiers got at home between tours and training.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7547