Governor Bob McDonnell has traveled to the Middle East as part of an official Department of Defense delegation visit to U.S. service members stationed in Kuwait and Afghanistan, including members of the Virginia National Guard. The governor's trip was at the invitation of the Department of Defense, which regularly takes elected officials to observe military operations and visit with U.S. troops abroad. The Governor is joined on this ongoing trip by Montana Governor Steve Bullock. For security reasons, details of the governor's trip were not publicly disclosed in advance. This is the Governor's first trip to Kuwait and Afghanistan.
On Monday morning, Governor McDonnell and Governor Bullock met with Lieutenant General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Director of the Joint Staff, and General Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, at the Pentagon for pre-trip briefings, as well as to discuss the current and future state of the U.S. military forces, both at home and abroad, with special emphasis on the National Guard. Governor McDonnell was joined by Major General Daniel E. Long, Jr., Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard. Following the meeting, the governors visited Walter Reed National Medical Center. There, the governors met with wounded service members and visited the Military Advanced Training Center, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of men and women recovering from injuries sustained in the service of their country. The visit also included a tour of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a Department of Defense institute that provides cutting-edge evaluation, treatment planning, research and education for service members struggling with mild traumatic brain injury and other psychological conditions.
The governors departed for the Middle East late Monday, arriving Tuesday afternoon at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. The delegation then traveled to Udairi Army Air Field, where Governor McDonnell toured the facility and held a town hall meeting with constituents from Virginia. Wednesday morning, following breakfast with the troops at the air base, the delegation traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan. While there, Governor McDonnell was briefed on operations and met with service members.
Speaking about the trip, Governor McDonnell said, "I was so incredibly humbled and inspired by the brave men and women I had the opportunity to meet at Walter Reed. Words cannot describe the trials they have been through on the battlefield, and the challenges they face as they work to regain their strength and recover. Visiting these soldiers prior to departing for the Middle East was a poignant reminder that every day someone's mother, father, brother, sister, husband or wife is voluntarily protecting us overseas to ensure our safety and freedom back here at home. For that, we are eternally grateful."
Governor McDonnell continued, "As an Army veteran, and the father of a daughter who served in the Army in Iraq, it is particularly meaningful to me to have had this opportunity to visit our troops serving in Kuwait and Afghanistan, including members of the Virginia National Guard. We are a little over halfway through the trip and already we have met so many incredible men and women who have volunteered to serve in harm's way to keep our nation safe and secure. It has been my honor to speak directly with them about the challenges they face and the mission they are living every day. On behalf of all Virginians, I have thanked our men and women in uniform for their selfless service in defense of the liberty and freedom we hold so dear. Freedom is not free, and the courageous men and women of the American military are heroes. We salute them."
Governor McDonnell is scheduled to return to Virginia on Friday. Additional details regarding the trip will be available following his return.
Governor McDonnell served 21 years in the U.S. Army, both active duty and reserve, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1997. His oldest daughter, Jeanine, served in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005-2006. Both Governor McDonnell's father and father-in-law served in the military.