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NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 18) - U. S. Navy Admiral Timothy J. Keating, on a first visit to Tonga since taking command of the U.S. Pacific Command in March, last night expressed his thanks and gratitude to Tonga who has a second contingent of troops deployed in Iraq.

Fifty-five of Tonga's 450-member Tonga Defence Services deployed on August 18 to provide security at the Multinational Force Iraq headquarters at Al Faw Palace. The deployment represents the first time a non-U.S. force has taken on the mission.

"This is a special journey for us," Admiral Keating told a reception at Tonga's Masefield Navy Base in Nuku'alofa, "we want to be sure you appreciate our gratitude for your support and the remarkable talents that your military possesses."

Admiral Keating said he observed the Tongan troops during a training exercise earlier this year in Mongolia, and "the reputation of your soldiers is well earned and richly deserved. I speak for hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform in the Pacific Command when I thank you for your unyielding support for the Coalition of the Willing."

The Admiral, who commands one fifth of U.S. forces worldwide, said that in strengthening the coalition of the willing in the Pacific, "size is no so important, as the commitment to the peace and security of our region and that is why we are here to say thank you for the friendship.

"We are dedicated to a more peaceful and more stable world where tyranny doesn't force us to make decisions to engage."

Admiral Timothy J. Keating presents a gift to Brigadier General 'Uta'atu.

Following a Beat the Retreat, and display of marching by the Tonga Defence Services brass band, Tonga's Brigadier General Tau'aika Uta'atu noted that the U. S. 1st Marine Division and Tongan military first served together during World War II, when they fought the Japanese together during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Tonga's first deployment to Iraq in June 2004 included 45 soldiers who provided security at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, Iraq. There, they worked under the operational and administrative control of the U.S. 1st Marine Division.

Brigadier General 'Uta'atu said the relationship between the two countries is based on their shared commitment to defending freedom and liberty.

"Even though Tonga is very small, we believe in the principle that we can contribute to regional and international security," he said.

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