ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:
Speaking to a group of 200 soldiers in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Gates drew Army cheers of “Hooah” from the crowd when he eased their concerns about the government shutdown and said “first of all, let me say you will be paid.”
Gates’s comment came during a question and answer session when one of the soldiers about how the government shutdown might affect them. He then joked, “as a historian it always occurred to me the smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first.”
Turning serious he explained to them how if there is a government shutdown, days the troops in the field would get half a paycheck for this pay period, but get back pay in the future.
“But in all seriousness, based on some stuff I read this morning, if the government shuts down starts on the 8th and goes for a week, you’d get a half a check. If it goes from the 15th to the 30th, you wouldn’t get a pay check on the 30th but you would be back paid for all of it. So that’s the deal and I’m, you know, frankly, I remember when I was your age I did a lot of living from pay check to pay check and so I hope this thing doesn’t happen.”
Later speaking to reporters Gates explained that if the shutdown goes through the 30th then they’d miss a paycheck. But he explained how a shutdown would affect their families at home more than it would those serving in the field.
“Now they get paid in rear, obviously, so over time they won’t lose anything, but you all know as well as I do, a lot of these young troops live pretty much paycheck to paycheck. And I start to think about the inconvenience that its going to cause these kids and a lot of their families, even half a paycheck delayed can be a problem for them so I hope they work this whole thing out.”
Gates also told the group of soldiers this would likely be his last trip to Iraq, another indicator that his timetable for stepping down from his post might be this summer.
“I don’t know how many trips I’ve made to Iraq and this will probably be my last one. I just wanted to come and say thank you," Gates said, adding that “working with you all has been the greatest privilege and the greatest honor of my life.”