Wyoming governor back from Middle East visit

Published 3:06 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal is back in Cheyenne following his weeklong visit to the Middle East to show support for the state’s troops serving there.

Freudenthal and the governors of three other states traveled to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan last week. They met with troops from their home states as well as with top military commanders.

Freudenthal began the Department of Defense-sponsored trip Nov. 9 and returned to the state Sunday. He said he wanted to make sure that the more than 800 Wyoming National Guard Soldiers serving overseas are aware that they have support back home.

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The governor said he approached the military about making the trip because he wanted to see the Wyoming troops’ living conditions.

“They can come back and talk to me, but there’s no substitute for going over there to see it,” Freudenthal said. “Secondly, I wanted to make sure they understood that they’ve got a lot of support in Wyoming — that people care about them, that they love and support them.”

Freudenthal traveled with Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, and Sonny Perdue of Georgia. Freudenthal made a similar Middle East tour in January 2006, with stops in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“None of us seemed to be over there to discuss the fine points of foreign policy,” Freudenthal said. “It was really about the well-being, morale and attitude of the troops.”

The governors started their trip with a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon. Freudenthal said he and the other governors tried unsuccessfully to quiz him about the administration’s plans for the war in Afghanistan.

The governors then traveled through Kuwait to Iraq, and then back through Kuwait to Afghanistan. Freudenthal said he met with troops from Wyoming at every stop.

“Frankly, I thought their morale was good, both in Iraq and even in Afghanistan,” Freudenthal said. “Afghanistan is considerably more active in terms of being dangerous, I think. Iraq has kind of calmed down a bit. I don’t want to imply that they’re somehow over there playing checkers; it’s all pretty dangerous.”

Military officials emphasized to the governors that they had made progress in making vehicles safer by providing them with more armor. They also said they had come up with better ways to find improvised explosives that have been the cause of many military casualties.

“There was an emphasis on having the governors see things that related to the safety of personnel, both in the field as well as inside the bases,” Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal sent a memo to state employees Monday encouraging them to express appreciation to military people from the state who are serving overseas, as well as to their families.