Fort Riley, Kansas (CNN) - A wartime defense secretary, it seems, has to learn a lot about classroom size, health care co-pays, and squashing rumors.
Of course, there are more traditional questions, like: When will the United States military be out of Iraq and Afghanistan?
For an hour or so Saturday at Fort Riley, Secretary Robert Gates patiently fielded questions, and a few complaints, from military spouses.
He made a little news that made the locals happy: announcing he was asking Congress next week for authority to transfer some Pentagon funds to the education budget to help alleviate overcrowded classrooms at the post by building a new elementary school and renovating existing schools.
He also promised to look into an array of concerns and complaints about the military health care system, including a lack of mental health counselors and specialists.
And he said alternative treatments like acupuncture and aromatherapy were proving successful in helping troops deal with post traumatic stress, and perhaps should be covered in health plans for spouses.
He made a joke at the top about how he didn't think he needed to tell the spouses to speak their minds, and he wasn't disappointed.
One asked about a rumor that after Sept 1, when US troop levels are scheduled to fall to 50,000, troops deployed in Iraq would no longer get augmented combat pay.
First he has heard of it, Gates said.
Another pointedly asked when the wars would be over, so that she could plan when she might see her husband more than every other year or so.
Gates acknowledged the strain of nearly a decade at war, but also said he hoped the spouses appreciated the significant turnaround in Iraq, from which he said US forces are "on our way out with our heads held high."
In Afghanistan, he said he had agreed to support President Obama's timetable of beginning a U.S. withdrawal next summer – July 2011 – to send a message to those in Afghanistan who were not urgently working to improve their own security forces.
But he added those troop levels most likely "are not coming down really fast" and the U.S. troops would be in Afghanistan at least several more years.
Still, Gates said the Army hoped by late 2011 to be "close" to its goal of having soldiers get two years at home for every year deployed overseas.
In the long term, Gates said the Army's plan envisioned five to 10 brigade combat teams deployed at any given time.
Today, there are 25 deployed.
I am sorry the military has to fight so much, but what did they sign up for? It sure wasn't to train indefinitely in California or Hawaii. Just do what you promised and shut up.
There is no moderation in war. I am a vietnam vet – we didn't moderate in that war.
The lack of mental health care for returning soliders is criminal. No family member or friend can possibly understand what this soldier has seen, experienced, or had to do.
Their lives can be permanently destroyed without immediate help. Many resort to suicide besides they have no one that understands how they feel and no way to cope with the real world again.
Bush fraudently sent these soldiers into war and we need to do everything we can to help these people.
Everything Gates is quoted as saying sounds good to me, except the whole acupuncture and aromatherapy thing – that's just plain wasteful spending. Placebos are cheaper and just as effective.
Both the Dept of Defense and Veterans Administration is wasting resources by hiring a large number of Social Workers. These people have good intentions, but they do NOT help in the care of Veterans, they only make the water murky and are used to placate and stall services that are deperately needed. The Va is overstaffed with Social Workers and understaffed with Medical Professions including MD's, Specialists and actual caregivers that treat patients. Veterans are getting lip service NOT care.
Maybe spouses and their families should think twice before making an often life-long commitment to the US miltary and its "gung ho" attitude towards wars, wars and more wars!
Frankly, I have no sympathy for military spouses and officers. They KNEW what they were getting into when they enlisted. When they are told to go do their job why are we all called to be sympathetic? When my boss has me do an unpleasant task at work I don't call a news conference to plead for sympathy from the public and try to shorten the length of my duty somehow. These are PAID MILITARY PERSONNEL. They do a job – that is their career. Sure when you sign up you hope it will be easier rather than hard but hey – that's life. Get used to it like the rest of us.
Gates is one of the few repos that seems to understand both the wars.And what is good for the county. He seems less interested in playing politics than in getting things done.
This drives me crazy. Why are we still in these awful wars? They are so without merit but we're still going to continue on for "several more years." I'm 25 and it's hard for me to remember a time when our country was actually at peace.
not happening. the army simply doesn't have the force structure to support the extended requirements of engagement. something has got to give...
These people will come back from fighting over there, and be given the same lousy treatment as every other veteran of every other war the US has been involved in. No medical benefits, no post-combat support, and no respect beyond platitudes and lip service in the media designed to win administrative positions.
I am a dem and a vietnam vet i do not trust robert gates make sure we get out of irac and af as soon as possible