Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed journalists today on the state of the American military at a conference sponsored by Heritage and the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs. (Full text of Gates’ remarks are available at the Pentagon website.)

Gates has maintained a consistent focus since his first day on the job: Taking care of men and women in uniform and winning the Long War. He cited the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) as one such example. Although it many complained about the Pentagon’s $20 billion price tag, it has done wonders to protect U.S. soldiers in the field. In 150 attacks, U.S. troops suffered only fatalities.

Gates said he was concerned about the notion of “Next-War-itis” — the tendency to want to skip the wars America is currently fighting. He argued the close fight is key to preparing for the future. Taking care of soldiers is the best way to keep them in the military over the long term. Winning is also the best deterrent against future threats.

This is the second longest war in American history since our Revolution, and the first to be fought with an all-volunteer force since independence. To be sure the stress is real. There are metrics that need to be watched – such as the number of waivers granted to new recruits, suicides, as well as incidents of divorce and other signs of wear on military families.

Gates noted that in the years to come, the Air Force and the Navy would be the country’s main strategic deterrent. That comment may come as cold comfort to folks both inside and outside the Pentagon who worry about long-term funding demands to maintain a trained and ready force and modernize for the future.