Gov. Martin O'Malley, facing mild criticism of his Iraq trip from his likely re-election opponent, deployed a bona fide colonel - who happens to be his lieutenant governor - to defend him yesterday.
" Bob Ehrlich's comments were inappropriate and in some ways an affront to men and women who have gone to Iraq in uniform," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, an Army Reserve colonel and Iraq War veteran. Brown added that he is "bothered and very disappointed" by the criticism, "which really demonstrates his lack of understanding of the role and the relationship between the governor and the guard."
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said this weekend that he would not have made the trip during the 90-day period when the state's General Assembly meets in Annapolis.
O'Malley returned home Monday from visiting members of the Maryland National Guard and Maryland reservists. The trip was funded entirely by the Department of Defense, which regularly brings top elected officials to the war zone. No staff or executive protection accompanied the governor. The Defense Department did not return phone calls inquiring about the trip's cost.
"Everybody has their own style," Ehrlich said Saturday on his weekly WBAL show. "I just think governors belong in state capitals in session. That is all."
O'Malley left for Iraq around midday Thursday and was supposed to return Sunday. But the trip home was delayed when high winds prevented his plane from taking off after a German stopover on the return trip. He arrived at Andrews Air Force Base about 6 a.m.
Democrats and Republicans are expecting Ehrlich to announce his candidacy for governor by the end of this month, though Henry Fawell, a spokesman, would not confirm his boss's plans.
Fawell sounded like he was on the campaign trail yesterday, stressing that Ehrlich supports the troops but would not want to travel overseas "when the legislature is in session and the state is facing a $2 billion shortfall."
Brown shot back, saying that O'Malley, like the troops he visited, have no sway over the Department of Defense's timetable. "We don't pick and choose when we go," he said.
Brown, a colonel with the U.S. Army Reserve, was deployed to Iraq from September 2004 to June 2005 to deliver humanitarian assistance. He said that the visits offer officials an important window to conditions on the ground, but also provide a morale boost for the troops.
Seeing somebody from back home gives soldiers a psychological lift, Brown said.
"It is a hazardous environment. It can become tedious. It can be monotonous. A lot of anxiety. A lot of uncertainty," he said. "Even for soldiers who are not Marylanders, I bet a lot of them are saying, 'I wish my governor was coming. Where is my governor?' "