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This week's schedule for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, who met with Azerbaijan officials on Monday, also includes stops in Singapore, England and Belgium. On Friday, he'll end his five-nation trip in Germany, where he'll visit with troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before delivering the commencement address to the Kaiserslautern High School graduating class.
This week's schedule for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, who met with Azerbaijan officials on Monday, also includes stops in Singapore, England and Belgium. On Friday, he'll end his five-nation trip in Germany, where he'll visit with troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before delivering the commencement address to the Kaiserslautern High School graduating class. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Defense Secretary Robert Gates will deliver the commencement address to some 120 graduates of Kaiserslautern High School on Friday.

“When I found out it was Secretary Gates, I was really shocked,” said Brittny Mejia, 18, the senior class secretary. “We’re a small school. This is a pretty big deal.”

Mejia and the other senior class officers — Katarina Jastrab, Chris Roman and Stephanie McFadden — sent a flurry of letters last fall to a wish list of high-ranking government officials, describing their school and inviting them to be their commencement speaker. They emphasized that the student body included children from both Army and Air Force families, and that many had experienced a parent deploying to war.

“The rationale was a lot of people in government come through Ramstein on their way downrange,” said Darren Bingham, a senior class sponsor who also teaches German and Advanced Placement literature at the high school.

The timing, in the case of Gates, was spot on.

Gates will be in Germany on Friday at the tail end of a five-nation trip that also includes visits to Singapore, Azerbaijan, England and Belgium, according to a Department of Defense news release. Gates’ meeting with NATO defense ministers concludes Friday in Belgium, after which he’ll fly to Germany, visit wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and speak at the Kaiserslautern graduation ceremony before heading back to Washington, the DOD release said.

Bingham said the school is expecting about 1,000 people, a crowd that includes graduates and their family members. The event, to be held in downtown Kaiserslautern, will not be open to the public.

Security will be tight, Department of Defense Dependents Schools and Air Force officials said.

Gates’ acceptance of the students’ invitation was known by a few about three months ago, Bingham said, but for security purposes, it wasn’t announced until a graduation meeting for parents last week.

“I’ve never in my years in DODDS seen a graduation speaker at this level before,” Bingham said.

svanj@estripes.osd.mil

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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