O'Malley opens 2-day trip to Iraq by meeting with troops

Governor calls Baghdad experience 'humbling,' 'inspiring'

February 26, 2010|By Robert Little | robert.little@baltsun.com

Gov. Martin O'Malley called a press conference from an unexpected location Friday: Baghdad, Iraq, where he arrived on an early morning flight as part of a Pentagon-sponsored tour.

In a conference call with reporters, the governor said he spent the day meeting and dining with troops and gaining insight into the war-zone lifestyle that should be useful in his role as leader of 6,300 troops of the Maryland National Guard.

"The reason I'm here is because it's important to the Department of Defense and it's important to our country that our governors stay engaged, given the number of National Guard troops" who are deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, O'Malley said.

It was an inopportune time to meet Maryland National Guard troops. Just 26 are in Iraq, all as "augmentees" for Army units scattered around the country. More than 400 Army and Air National Guard troops from Maryland are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the timing was not ideal either. Leaving Maryland while the General Assembly is in session "would not have been our first choice," he said, but the governor wanted to take the opportunity to visit troops nonetheless.

The two-day trip was arranged by the Pentagon, which often takes governors or other elected officials on trips to visit deployed troops. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver was traveling with O'Malley, and the two received briefings from Defense and State Department officials.

"It's not the sort of thing that we choose when the governor gets to go," Adamec said.

The danger in Iraq has declined considerably the past two years, and for the last six months American forces killed there were more often victims of accidents than hostile action.

In the conference call, O'Malley said he could not disclose his precise location or itinerary but said he had encountered a large number of Maryland-based troops, including a military intelligence battalion based at Fort Meade. He is expected to return Sunday to Maryland.

"They're doing important work at a time when our country really needs them to do it," O'Malley said. "It's really humbling and it's inspiring."

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