Blunt takes time to visit U.S. troops

The governor is visiting Iraq and Afghanistan to show his support.
Thursday, May 25, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:48 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt is visiting Iraq and Afghanistan this week, meeting with Missouri troops to show appreciation and watching as Iraqi security forces train to manage their own country.

Blunt is joined by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, but they did not publicize the trip ahead of time. About half the nation’s governors have made similar trips.

Blunt, who is in the Navy Reserve, was deployed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks for about six months and was stationed near London. At the time he was Missouri’s secretary of state.

He said he may have technically been in a combat area with the Navy but never served in such a volatile place as Iraq.

“There are people in Iraq doing things on a daily basis that are far more dangerous than anything I ever did in the armed forces,” Blunt said from Kuwait during a conference call with Missouri reporters Wednesday.

He also said he could provide a different perspective than some other politicians who have toured the war-torn country because of his military background.

“I feel somewhat treated a little differently because of that. There’s an assumption I have a greater understanding of what they do,” he said.

Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said the federal State and Defense departments were covering the trip costs, but he didn’t know the amount.

The governors met with military and diplomatic leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday. They planned to stop in Pakistan today en route to Afghanistan, where a meeting with President Hamid Karzai was scheduled. The governors are to fly to Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday and return to the United States on Saturday.

Blunt said watching Iraqis train their own security force showed the country is moving in the right direction.

“If you see that training, you would believe the Iraqi security force is increasing its capabilities,” he said.

Currently, about 1,300 Army and Air National Guard members from Missouri are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guard officials said Wednesday.

Blunt said he hoped his visit would boost morale with troops, and that he was inspired to see the work Missourians are doing.

“They really are filling vital roles that make the war possible,” he said. “It’s good to get over and tell them they’re appreciated. They believe perhaps the national media doesn’t portray the war in the best light. That’s dispiriting for them.”

Blunt said troops generally told him they have what they need to do their jobs, but that they yearn for more old-fashioned letters from home — not just e-mail messages.

The opening stage of the trip, which began Monday with a military flight to Kuwait from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, was made under a reporting embargo requested by the Department of Defense. Pentagon officials said advance publicity about visits by high-profile U.S. delegations can inspire violence by Iraqi insurgent groups.

The governors also dined with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before leaving Washington.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was serving as acting governor while Blunt was away, Jackson said, but had no official duties planned and wasn’t expected to sign any legislation.

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