Governors Praise Troops Following Middle East Visit
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 19, 2006 Four state governors just returned from Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait shared glowing reports today about the operations they observed there, but reserved their highest praise for the men and women in uniform they met, including National Guard troops from their states.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack shares a meal with Iowa Army National Guard soldiers deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom during Vilsack's visit to Kuwait. Photo by Spc. Debralee P. Crankshaw, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The four governors -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin -- shared their insights during a breakfast meeting this morning with President Bush and a White House news conference that followed.
"I thanked them for sending a message from home that we ... care about troops, ... that we'll support our troops ... (and) that we appreciate the fact that people are willing to make sacrifices," the president said after the meeting.
The governors began their trip April 13 at the Pentagon, where they met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and received briefings about ongoing military operations. They arrived in Kuwait April 14, visiting an up-armor facility and sharing dinner with troops at Camp Virginia before flying to Iraq.
The governors attended Easter services with troops in Baghdad, then flew to Afghanistan for a reception with Afghan governors and a meeting the next day with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, joined the governors during the whirlwind trip as they toured facilities, watched the U.S. military in action, and met with military leaders and servicemembers from their own and other states.
Daniels told reporters today he was impressed by the "sheer proficiency" of the mission the military is carrying out in Southwest Asia. "One knows this, but until you see it firsthand and on the immense scale, (it's) very hard to express how well they do what they are asked to do," he said.
Manchin said the trip gave him a new perspective about people's drive for freedoms that Americans often take for granted. "There's nothing free in the word 'freedom,' nothing at all," he said.
The governors said they were most impressed by the troops and their commitment to the mission.
"They believe they are doing something important," Daniels said. "And so I simply will report on their behalf that they think this is a noble thing they're doing and are very proud of the contribution they're making-... to the security of our country and their loved ones at home ... (and) to the establishment of freedom in two lands that have been denied it for so long."
"Their spirits are high; they're committed to the safety and freedom that every American enjoys and should enjoy -- and hopefully (will) make the rest of the world free," Manchin said. "They're committed to getting the job done and they're working very hard. They're a dedicated group of people. And it was so good to see them being in such high spirits."
Vilsack praised the troops he met and shared a story about his meeting with Army Lt. Col. Robert Stavnes, a former ROTC instructor at the University of Northern Iowa who is now helping train the Afghan army. Stavnes told Vilsack he sees hope every day in the faces of children walking to school, particularly young girls who couldn't attend school under Taliban rule. "They are thirsty for freedom and thirsty for an education," Vilsack said Stavnes told him.
Regardless of one's politics, it's difficult not to be impressed by the U.S. armed forces, Vilsack said. "There may be disagreements on policy, but no one can disagree with the fact that we have extraordinarily brave, competent, and dedicated individuals in the armed forces, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.
The Florida governor shared his traveling mates' enthusiasm about the troops they met during the trip. "These men and women, whether they're reservists, guard or enlisted men and women, are doing heroic work," Bush said. "They're well-trained; they're well taken care of; their morale is high; they're totally focused on the mission. There is a strategy that they're implementing. It was inspirational."
He said the visit reaffirmed his commitment to the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and support for the troops serving there. "And I'd just like to reiterate what the other governors have said, that it is very important that we stay the course, that we provide support for these incredible people that are doing such a service for liberty around the world and protecting our freedoms here," Bush said.
Twenty-six other governors have made visits to Southwest Asia to meet with National Guard and reserve troops from their states as well as active-duty forces.
"It's so powerful that the governors visit their National Guardsmen," Blum told a Stars and Stripes reporter of the trips. Meeting with the troops, eating at military dining facilities and sleeping on the military bases give the governors a unique understanding of the conditions troops encounter and personalizes the deployment, he said.
"You don't have to be in Afghanistan or Iraq a long time to understand the challenges of the missions," Blum said. "The National Guard brings the face of all America to the theater."