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American Forces Press Service

Rumsfeld Visits Troops at Bagram, Kandahar

American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spent the morning today with troops from Combined Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan, awarding medals to aviators for valor in combat and answering servicemembers' questions during a town hall meeting.

Roughly 600 CJTF 76 troops attended the meeting, which began with Rumsfeld expressing his gratitude for their service in Afghanistan.

"I wanted to tell each of you personally that the American people are proud of what you're doing and grateful to you and your families," he said.

Then, Rumsfeld pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on three Army aviators for heroic actions during an April 11 battle with enemy forces in southeastern Afghanistan. Chief Warrant Officer Steven Burr, Sgt. John Irick and Sgt. Ryan Pummill were part of a UH-60 Black Hawk crew credited with fighting off an enemy attack, helping a U.S. Special Forces team on the ground below.

The secretary awarded Air Force Capt. Jason Thompson, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, the Air Medal for his actions during 20 combat missions this fall. Rumsfeld also oversaw the re-enlistment of two CJTF 76 soldiers, Staff Sgt. Joseph Villar and Spc. Eric Betts.

Troops asked Rumsfeld questions on everything from benefits to tour lengths. One Marine asked him about the recent decision to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"The recommendations were based on information from (leaders) here on the ground," Rumsfeld said. "The Afghan parliament has been seated, and the number of coalition troops keeps increasing, allowing us to pull out our troops."

After the meeting, the senior defense leader waded into a crowd of troops, taking time to personally shake hands, take photos and say "thanks."

Following his stop at Bagram, Rumsfeld visited troops from the 173rd Brigade (Airborne) at Kandahar Airfield. His stops were part of a weeklong trip to visit servicemembers stationed overseas during the holidays.

(From a Combined Forces Command Afghanistan news release.)

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