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Bush Baghdad Visit Catches Troops by Surprise

By Sgt. Jeff Lowry, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2006 – President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday caught the troops here unawares. But most were thrilled their commander in chief made the perilous trip.

Bush visited Baghdad to congratulate Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Iraq's new government and to thank the troops for their hard work and dedication.

"Baghdad and Iraq is a front in the war on terror. It is a part of our mission to help make sure that the world is a better place. I truly believe the work that you're doing here is laying the foundation of peace for generations to come, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart," Bush said in his address to the troops in a former Saddam Hussein palace.

The surprise visit caught most troops off guard. "Dangit! I bought into it," said Indiana National Guard Spc. Laura Asher referring to the post exchange and several other shops closing prior to the president's arrival.

"My friend told me the president is here, and I said, 'No, it's a teleconference,'" said Asher, a 798th Area Support Medical Company combat medic.

Bush's publicized schedule had called for a videoteleconference from Camp David, Md., with Iraq's prime minister.

"I was so excited," said Asher, a Valparaiso, Ind., native, who immediately called her father following Bush's speech.

While many troops were surprised, they also said they admired the president for coming to visit them and Maliki.

"This place is pretty 'hot' (because Iraq is a combat zone)," said Army Capt. Christopher Swatty, a Civilian Police Assistance Training Team technical liaison. "It's encouraging to see him come over and say hello."

"I think it shows he cares a lot about Iraq, what's going on here," said Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Virgilio, a 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine, rifleman. "His visit shows he cares about us."

Many other troops agreed.

"Due to the dramatic shift in events -- the final three seats of the new Iraqi government being filled and the death of (terrorist leader Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi -- (Bush's visit) shows Iraq and its government that Bush is standing behind his words," said Army Spc. Tashina Venters, a Coalition Press Information Center coordinator.

(Army Sgt. Jeff Lowry is assigned to the 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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