BAGHDAD, Iraq — Diplomacy took a back seat for an hour or so Friday when Secretary of State Colin Powell visited with troops at the U.S. Embassy during a surprise visit to Iraq.

The retired Army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in Baghdad to meet with leaders of Iraq’s transitional government, but he also took time to meet with military members.

“He praised the military for their efforts,” said embassy spokesman Pete Mitchell. “It was very well received.”

The troops agreed.

“Marines love having him around,” said Gunnery Sgt. Lance Chwan of the embassy’s Marine Corps security guard detachment. “It lets them know that people appreciate them at the top of the food chain.”

Army Master Sgt. Salvatore Buccellato said that Powell spoke for seven minutes before wading into the crowd for handshakes and photos.

“He said we have a very important job,” Buccellato said. “We’re making history and we should remember what we did here.”

Buccellato said he really appreciated the visit but wished Powell could visit troops outside Baghdad.

“This produced a lot of morale,” he said. “It would produce a lot more in the forward areas.”

Buccellato added that he and Powell share a few things in common: the same hometown of New York City and Vietnam service with the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal).

This was Powell’s first visit since sovereignty was passed back to the Iraqis.

“He genuinely wanted to be here,” said Army Lt. Col. Tony Cusimano, who works with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. “His words were from the heart. [They] touched me, moved me.”

“To see the faces on the soldiers and Marines, they were enthralled,” Cusimano said.

Lt. Col. Robert Richins of the 1st Cavalry Division’s Governance Support Team said it was the second time he’s seen Powell in a combat zone.

“I told him, ‘Thanks for supporting us like you did when I was in Somalia,’” Richins said. Richins said that Powell remembered his April 1993 visit there as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell’s words to the troops weren’t all serious, though.

“He also made a joke [about service in Iraq] … that there’s going to be a lot of ‘BS-ing’ out of this,” Buccellato said.

“[Powell said] over the years … the stories may grow,” Richins added. “He said he did it, too.”

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