Governors spend Easter downrange with soldiers
CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan — Four American governors visited Afghanistan’s capital Monday to meet with troops and local leaders and to assess progress in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, both Democrats, visited Kabul on Monday after spending Easter Sunday with troops in Iraq.
During their time in Afghanistan, the governors also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, local governors and American military leaders and servicemembers.
On Monday morning, the four sat down to an informal breakfast at Camp Eggers with servicemembers from their respective states. During the breakfast meeting, servicemembers, many of whom were National Guardsmen, talked with the governors about their jobs, their concerns, their home states and their families.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of National Guard Bureau, said 26 other governors have made similar visits.
“It’s so powerful,” Blum said of the trips. “You don’t have to be in Afghanistan a long time to understand the challenges the mission faces.”
During such trips, he said, governors meet with American and local officials, active-duty servicemembers and National Guardsmen in an attempt to understand what conditions military personnel face. To that end, Blum said, the governors take housing on military bases and eat at military dining facilities.
“Some of the governors have gone on patrols with their troops,” Blum said.
Bush said he’d been able to learn much from his visits to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My conclusion is, the cause is right, what we’re doing is right, and it will require a long-term commitment,” he said.
All four governors reiterated a common theme.
“We’re behind you,” Vilsack told the crowd of about 50 servicemembers. “We love you, we honor you and we’ll support anything it takes to make this a free and prosperous nation.”
Bush said he offers to bring personal messages home to servicemembers’ families.
Troops asked him to relay “everything from, ‘Tell my wife I’m OK,’ to ‘Tell my dad I’ll be back in six months.’”
Servicemembers at the event were universally supportive of the governors’ visit.
“I think this is great, for them to take time out of their busy schedules to come and give us extra moral support,” said Sgt. Maj. Walter Jarrett, 48, an active-duty soldier from Kissimmee, Fla.
Spc. Ruth Wilburn, 24, a member of the Indiana Army National Guard from Madison, Ind., said she enjoyed talking to her governor about what’s going on back home.
“His visit was very important to me because he’s actually doing work in my town now, building a bridge,” she said.
Iowa Army National Guardsman Sgt. 1st Class Tim McCollum, 40, of Des Moines, said the visit “showed that the governors came here to show their support for their troops that deployed. I think they really appreciate what we’re doing here and know what we’re going through, unlike the people back home.”
And Air Force Maj. JD Duvall, 36, a native of Chesapeake, W.Va., and one of only two West Virginian servicemembers in attendance, said he got something unique out of the experience: a box of Montecristo cigars, bought by his father and delivered personally by Manchin.