Gov. Sonny Perdue on Tuesday visited Georgia National Guard units fighting in Iraq.
While in Baghdad’s Green Zone, Perdue spoke by telephone with reporters in Georgia about his trip.
“All in all the spirit and morale of our troops is palpable,” Perdue said. “They feel there is light at the end of the tunnel and they feel like they’ve made a difference. I feel like they have, too.”
It is the second time Perdue has visited Georgia National Guard troops in the war zone. During a six-day swing through the Middle East and Afghanistan in 2005, he helped serve Thanksgiving dinner to members of Georgia’s 48th Brigade in Baghdad.
The Department of Defense regularly organizes small groups of governors to visit Iraq and Afghanistan to meet with officials from those countries and to greet troops for their home states.
Perdue traveled this week with the governors of Mississippi, Oregon and Wyoming. All, he said, met with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq.
“It’s a much different scenario than when we were here in ‘05,” Perdue said. “The violence has gone down significantly.”
The change is evident from driving through the city, he said.
“You see people driving around, lights on in the shops and a sense of normalcy that applies to this part of the world is very apparent,” he said.
Perdue arrived earlier Tuesday and spent the day in briefings and visiting troops in the Green Zone, including a luncheon of grilled chicken, steak, vegetables and baked beans. On Wednesday, he said, the delegation will travel to forward operating bases and “get out among the countryside.”
Before leaving for Iraq, Perdue met with wounded Georgia soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, including a Peachtree City native and West Point graduate who lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.
“My heart just rose seeing the pride he had and the spirit,” Perdue said. “No bitterness, and no vitriol there about his condition. It was just a young man, a graduate of West Point, who had served his country and he was looking forward to getting his prosthesis and getting out and running again.”
Before leaving Washington, Perdue also met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In his briefings with American leaders, he said, he shared his concern over “deployment fatigue,” not just so much among the guardsmen and women serving long stretches at war, but among their families and employers back home.
“That’s not what they felt like they signed up for,” Perdue said Tuesday. “Sometimes multiple deployments create a real burden on employers. They have to be concerned about the months-long absences these deployments bring.”
The governor also said he received assurances that the enough National Guard troops will remain at home to fulfill their domestic role as well.
“They very well know the domestic role, first and foremost, for the guard is to protect the homeland,” Perdue said. “And they’ve assured us we will have adequate troops at home should disaster strike.”
From Iraq, Perdue will travel to Dubai for the Dubai Air Show, where a number of Georgia firms are vendors and where he said he will meet with potential economic devleopment prospects.
Asked if he was also visiting Afghanistan, as he did in 2005, Perdue said he could not answer but noted that there are “gaps” on his schedule between Iraq and Dubai. That could indicate he will visit the other war theater but that the Pentagon has advised against making that visit public.
But speaking about the effort in Afghanistan, Perdue expressed hope that President Barack Obama and the Pentagon will send a “surge” of troops there, a strategy he said was proven successful in Iraq.
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