By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking to almost 200 local military and civic leaders at an invitation-only dinner Monday night, repeated warnings that the failure of Congress to pass funding for the Iraq war could result in contract terminations and employee layoffs by the Army and Marine Corps.
Without saying who would be affected, or specifying where, Gates said action might be taken in the Army by mid-February and in the Marine Corps by mid-March.
"Since we're required to tell civilian contractors about such moves 60 days in advance, it means announcements would need to be made by mid-December," said Gates, speaking at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
"You can think of the American military as the world's biggest supertanker," he added. "It can't turn on a dime or be maneuvered like a skiff."
Gates told members of Congress last week that the Defense Department lacks sufficient funds and flexibility to cover all costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without passage of the spending bill.
At a speech earlier in the day at Kansas State University, his theme was that the defeat of terrorism would require greater use of "soft power" in the civilian fields of communication, economic assistance and political development. He called for improvement of U.S. strategic communications in a call for increased involvement in the fight against terror by the State Department.
The rest of his talk in Killeen was devoted to praise for the sacrifices of the troops stationed at Fort Hood and thanks to the community for steadfast support of the soldiers and their families over five years of continual deployments.
Introduced by Heart of Texas Defense Alliance President Bill Parry, who recognized Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, Fort Hood's senior mission commander, and Linda Odierno, wife of III Corps commander Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, currently in Iraq, Gates said this is his first visit to Fort Hood.
He recounted the role of the 4th Infantry Division, under Odierno's command at the time, in the capture of Saddam Hussein and the presence of Fort Hood soldiers during advances including the first Iraqi elections.
"And the service of military families begins with the words, 'I do,'" he said. "The military spouses have borne the burdens of service with grace and patience. I have two folders of condolence letters in my room to sign tonight," he said, "and I assure you that's the least pleasant part of my job. I'm grateful to the care team members who help those so affected to grieve.
"Acts of kindness are ingrained in the fabric of the society here," Gates said. "You've shown it seven days a week for five years. I assure you your aid and assistance haven't gone unnoticed."
He said retention rates in the Army have been "stunning" but that increasing the size of the service will be a challenge.
Responding to a comment from State Rep. Dianne White Delisi that the numbers of returning wounded soldiers seem to be less than before the troop surge, he said, "That situation has turned from dismal into promising. The numbers of wounded are down dramatically."
The secretary's visit was at the invitation of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce's governmental affairs committee and the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance. He had been invited to speak here several times before but said this was the first time his schedule permitted an appearance here.
Gates is scheduled to have breakfast with soldiers Tuesday morning on Fort Hood and participate in the 1st Cavalry's Purple Heart ceremony.
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7557