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American Statesman - Perry Stirred by U.S. Work, Iraq's People, History

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Perry Stirred by U.S. Work, Iraq's People, History

Governor, packing a camera and body armor, finds Texans everywhere he goes.
Gov. Perry and others preparing to board a C-130 aircraft

By Mike Ward
Thursday, January 26, 2006

He's traveling across Southwest Asia in a C-130 again, just like when he was in the Air Force three decades ago. He's visiting war zones and wearing body armor.

But via satellite phone Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry said he's been most struck during his continuing tour of war-torn Iraq by the steady success of the U.S.-led efforts to restore democracy — and the fact that almost everywhere he goes, he meets Texans.

"I'm not surprised that every corner I turn, there is a Texan there: soldiers, contractors, other people," Perry said. "I walked into the U.S. Embassy, and there was a young man who was an intern in my office four years ago, now the administrative assistant to the ambassador. I've seen people who I met as they were leaving Fort Hood.

"Texas has always been a state that has believed in putting service first . . . and I've seen that here."

Perry and the governors of Arkansas, Wyoming and Wisconsin arrived Monday as part of a weeklong tour sponsored by the Pentagon. He visited Kuwait, and stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also on the schedule before the group returns Sunday.

Media reports have raised new questions about the success of the American efforts in Iraq.

But Perry, who flew C-130 military transport planes in Saudi Arabia and Iran during the 1970s, said he has been most impressed on his first trip back to the region by the determined resolve and success of the ongoing U.S. efforts in Iraq and with the country's grandeur and remarkable history.

"I was stunned at how much available water there is here," Perry said. "And the architecture. The largest mosque in the world is being built in Baghdad. . . . And the incredible history: biblical sites, the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, places where Alexander the Great walked, the (Tower of) Babel, the Garden of Eden."

Perry said he's not offered to sit at the controls of the C-130s —"I know my place" — but he stood on the flight deck Tuesday as the military pilots landed and took off from Baghdad International Airport. Tuesday night, he slept in one of Saddam's former party palaces, just across from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The body armor? "I'm in a combat zone. But I'm not particularly worried about my safety. I'm in the very capable hands of the United States military."

Even so, aides in Austin said it is the first time in perhaps six years that Perry has been without his state bodyguards.

Meanwhile, the governor is shooting movies with a handheld camera his staff gave him months ago.

"I downloaded 160 still shots and 35 minutes of video so far," he said. "Last night, I videoed my room in the palace so I can show it when I get back. It was an amazing place, an opulent edifice that unfortunately was not used for the good of the people."

Perry's taking in Texans at work in Iraq as well as Iraqi people and sights.

"This is a war zone, and there are a lot of evil people out there," he said. "But from the 48 hours that I've been here so far, I can tell you that (the insurgents) are not going to be successful. If Iraqi people truly want to take charge of their destiny, there is clear indication that the U.S. effort is on the right track. . . . This isn't just about a short-term commitment. It's about rebuilding a country. I'm even more of a supporter of this effort than I was when I got here.

"What is happening here is truly amazing."

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