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Gates pays tribute to Kansas service members
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivers a speech to McConnell Airmen and members of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce during the annual chamber meeting Nov. 12, 2012, Wichita, Kan. Gates, a Wichita native, took the Veterans Day weekend as a chance to speak face-to-face with the local community about his long career in public service and current national defense issues. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)
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Gates pays tribute to Kansas service members

Posted 11/13/2012   Updated 11/13/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

11/13/2012 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates returned to his hometown of Wichita, Kan., over Veterans Day weekend to speak to active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen from McConnell and members of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce Nov. 12, 2012, at the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center.

During the annual chamber of commerce meeting, Gates spoke about his experiences in the CIA, his tenure as secretary of defense and his views on the world and current events.

"I would argue the importance of . . . sustaining a strong, American defense in a turbulent world," said Gates. "I know defense has to play a part in getting fiscal responsibility back in Washington [D.C.], but in my view, we've already done that."

He balanced serious subjects, such as current overseas threats, with humorous insights to his career, such as the secretary of defense's plane being nicknamed "The Big Brisket" during his tenure.

"He's an awesome speaker and kept us really engaged and showed everyone a different perspective on things," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Collins, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Command Post console operations NCO in charge.

Gates used his long and varied career to explain current events not from a politician's standpoint, but from that of a leader.

Before assuming his position as secretary of defense, Gates was the president of Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, for more than four years.

Senior Airman Ryan Bippert, 22nd Operations Support Squadron wing scheduling journeyman, attended the university for the duration of Gates' tenure as president but graduated one semester after Gates left for Washington, D.C. He took his diploma to the after-ceremony to have Gates sign it.

"Seeing him full-circle and getting him to sign my diploma six years later was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," said Bippert.

While Gates spoke about his public service, he was humble about his accomplishments. When asked about what his legacy is, Gates responded simply.

"There's only one thing that really matters to me," said Gates. "Did those troops out there on the frontline consider that they had a secretary of defense that had their backs? Who would do whatever it took, spend whatever it cost to protect them, allow them to complete their mission and allow them to come home safely, and if they didn't come home safely that they were provided with the best care in the world? That's the only legacy that I care about."

Gates ended the speech and Veterans Day weekend with a word of thanks to the men and women serving in the military and stated his gratitude tp all in attendance.

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