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Gwinnett Daily Post - Woodall reflects on Middle East

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Location: Lawrenceville, GA

Congressman speaks to troops, takes tour of military hospital

After nearly a decade of the global war on terrorism, last week was likely a typical one at Bagram Airfield in the Parwan province of Afghanistan.

But despite the years of tragedy for American casualties in the Middle East, every troop saluted as one man's body was loaded onto a plane to be mourned back home, recounted U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.

It was an inspiring moment for the freshman congressman, one of five to visit the Middle East during last week's legislative recess.

"That had a huge impact on my understanding of what's going on there," said Woodall, the Lawrenceville Republican who was elected last year to replace longtime incumbent John Linder.

While Woodall had served as a longtime aid to Linder, he had not visited the region since the war on terror began. Flying into Kuwait, he spoke to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, meeting with both U.S. and foreign officials. On the way home, he toured a military hospital in Germany.

"It is a really hopeful feel on the ground that this is something we've done right," Woodall said of bringing stabilization to Iraq.

The congressman said troops had a passion for establishing a peaceful zone so that local leaders could forge a new government, instead of Americans forcing the change.

"It's the model we've got to have if we're going to get those troops out of there," he said, adding that troops in Afghanistan are now able to pair with local troops on missions, which had been occurring in Iraq for a few years.

At Camp Leatherneck, a Marine Corps base in a remote region of Afghanistan, Woodall said he was impressed by the improvements in building peace. There, troops still find an average of two to four IEDs a day, but they are able to detect them before anyone is hurt.

"(The troops) can see the progress that has been made, and they just want to get the ball over the finish line," Woodall said. "When that happens, we'll be able to pull out those troops and not leave a country in shambles."

During last year's campaign, Woodall said he only fielded a question or two about foreign policy, but with the recent unrest in Libya and other countries in that region, the topic now comes up at every town hall meeting.

"I certainly worry about American forces being the police force of the world," he said, adding that he believes that President Barack Obama should make a case for troops to remain in Libya, especially with talks now about sending soldiers to Syria. "We're stretched so thin. ... I am unpersuaded and think we are asking enough of our men and women in uniform."

Most of all, though, the congressman said he was inspired by the tenacity of the American troops and inspired by their dedication to peace.

"That was a trip that was able to touch on all of the hot spots. I'm absolutely better equipped with answers," he said. "It was an inspiring trip, and it was a tremendously educational experience."

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