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SECDEF Visits Bagram
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pins a Purple Heart medal on Spc. Steven Dawson at Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 7, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera)
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SECDEF visits Bagram, presents three Purple Hearts

Posted 3/7/2011   Updated 3/7/2011 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/7/2011 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Airmen and Soldiers here at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, March 7.

Accompanied by U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, Secretary Gates' senior military assistant, and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, the secretary took time to thank 455th Expeditionary Wing service members for their continued support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"It brings me a lot of pride to have the secretary visit, especially as a medic," said Col. Christian Benjamin, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group commander. "The most important reason for them to visit is the patients. They are the ones on the line making the sacrifice, but at the same time I like the opportunity to show off the tremendous work done by our staff enabling these heroes to get the care they deserve."

During his brief stop, the secretary received a walking tour of the country's most advanced hospital, stopping for capability briefs at the emergency room, intensive care ward and intensive care unit. The secretary took time while in the ICU to present three Purple Hearts to Soldiers who were being treated for injuries sustained during their deployment.

Staff Sgt. Steven Dawson, Spc. Gregory Miller and Quinn Jensen were deployed to the 744th Engineer Company at Camp Wright as route clearance specialists, when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.

Staff Sgt. Dawson, who is serving on his second deployment, explained the last 24 hours have been a daze.

"One minute we were clearing the route, then we were hit, transported here and now Secretary Gates is pinning a Purple Heart on my shirt," explained the Salt Lake City native, whose ankle was broken in eight places from the blast.

As the secretary pinned on Spc. Jensen's medal, Generals Kelly and Rodriguez stopped to shake each man's hand and ask them where they are from before wishing them Godspeed in recovery.

"It means a lot that they took time out of their schedules to come see us," said Logan, Utah, native Spc. Jensen. "It shows they genuinely care about us and those of us still out here."

Just before exiting the hospital the three senior military leaders thanked the medical team working on the Soldiers.

"A lot of visitors have come through, but as I look back at my year here I think the most meaningful have been the President and the Secretary," said Colonel Benjamin. "I think it is more meaningful when our senior leaders come to visit. Celebrity visits are fun and boost morale, but when we see the senior leadership our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines get that the Department of Defense understands the sacrifices here."

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