U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) recently returned from a nine-day fact finding mission to the Middle East during which he met with West Virginians serving there, talked to local leaders, asked questions and heard from U.S. commanders on the ground.
"One of the greatest responsibilities for me as your U.S. Senator is evaluating how we should deploy the brave men and women in our military, and I am so honored to have this sacred duty. My promise to them is that, before we put them in harm's way, I will always examine the facts of their mission, using sound and clear-eyed judgment.
"That is why I traveled to the Middle East last week -- to be on the ground where our troops are serving and to learn more about their mission.
"During my 9-day fact-finding trip, I traveled 17,000 miles, visited six countries -- including Pakistan, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel and Germany -- and held four meetings with West Virginians who are serving there.
"I met with seven Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Hamid Karzai, Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah. I also met with our top military commanders and diplomats, like General David Petraeus.
"My biggest takeaway is that I could not have been more proud of the brave men and women who are serving our country in the Middle East.
"I was so impressed by their skills, their dedication in tough conditions, their talent and their patriotism. Every West Virginian and American should be proud of their service. I'm telling you, no one could perform better than the U.S. military in any mission.
"As for what I saw and heard, it's my responsibility as a U.S. Senator to make sure that we're giving our troops the right mission. To be honest, I have deep concerns.
"Afghanistan is now the longest war in our nation's history and we've already spent hundreds of billions of dollars there. We face the prospect of spending hundreds of billions more in Afghanistan, when we face and need drastic cuts to our budget at home.
"The last time I was in Afghanistan was in 2006, and while I saw some pockets of progress on my most recent visit, I also saw some areas that haven't changed much. If anything, they've gotten worse. After a decade, hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of Americans who lost their lives or were injured, that is very concerning. If change hasn't happened in 10 years, when will it happen? How much will our country have to sacrifice -- both financially and in the ultimate sacrifice from our military?
"Based on what I learned, every American should also be concerned about issues of corruption in Afghanistan. I would like to see both Afghanistan and Pakistan demonstrate a stronger commitment to transforming this mission into one in which the United States plays a support role at the end of the day. I also believe now, more than ever, that benchmarks will be essential to making sure that the Afghans and Pakistanis are living up to their obligations.
"My main concern, above all, is that our troops are safe and they have what they need to return to their families safely. Here at home, we have to start having a serious discussion about the enormous cost -- both human and financial -- for our nation and the need for the Afghan people to take true control of their nation.
"Now, while I was traveling overseas, my work in West Virginia didn't stop. Members of my staff visited all 55 counties in our great state and held more than 80 events to reach out to people with "Commonsense Connections Week.'
"No one else has ever done anything like it.
"But for me, it's a basic function of government, and my staff truly embodied what "retail government" means to me. They made clear that we're here to listen and serve the people of West Virginia as best we can. They brought me your wonderful feedback on all sorts of issues, whether it's restoring fiscal responsibility, jobs or making sure we keep our promises to our seniors and brave men and women in the military.
"Please continue to share your thoughts, concerns and priorities with me. And if you're interested in more information on my trip, a full summary is available on my web site: manchin.senate.gov.
"Thank you, and God bless West Virginia and the United States of America."