By Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Swart
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 9, 2008 - First lady Laura Bush visited troops here yesterday during a brief stop on her third trip to Afghanistan, giving words of praise and encouragement to servicemembers for their efforts and results. "From overseeing hospitals to responding to [improvised explosive devices], your efforts are critical to our mission in Afghanistan," Bush said. "On behalf of President Bush and a grateful nation, thank you very much for your service to the United States of America. Every day, you risk your lives to protect the freedom that we hold so dear."
Bush spoke to a crowd of several hundred in a large hangar and shared a few observations about the signs of progress that she had seen in Afghanistan throughout the day. "As you go about your daily duties, you are brining opportunity and security to the people of Afghanistan," she said.
The first lady made a number of stops during her day-long visit to Bamyan province, Kabul and Bagram Air Base.
In Bamyan, Bush visited a police training center, where she met a female police trainee. The trainee told Bush that seeing Bamyan's female governor had inspired her to try out for the police force. Bush added that the female police officer's story, as well as her own observation of women studying the new Afghan constitution, were vivid reminders "of how far this nation has come since the Taliban's reign."
"Women were not even allowed in school, and there was no democratic constitution to be studied," she said.
She also visited an orphanage in Bamyan and saw a road-construction project.
"All of these encouraging stories and all of these terrific things I saw today have been made possible by your efforts, and the efforts of the U.S. military," Bush said.
Bush then met with members of a New Zealand-led provincial reconstruction team, who greeted her with a traditional war dance, complete with spears and war paint. "I can only imagine what the Secret Service thought, but their performance truly highlights the international makeup of security forces here in Afghanistan."
The first lady is en route to Paris later this week, where she said she plans to address an international conference for Afghanistan reconstruction. Before closing her remarks here, she took the time to thank military families for their sacrifices in support of the Afghanistan mission.
"When you e-mail or call them tonight," she told the Bagram servicemembers, "give them our love, and tell them I know what the burden of worry is on your family members, and I understand it, and I thank them."
She then spent several minutes greeting, shaking hands and taking pictures with servicemembers before boarding a military aircraft to her next destination.
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and of NATO International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command East, described Bush to the cheering crowd during her introduction as "someone who has been an advocate to you and has been a friend of military families for a long time."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Swart serves in the Combined Joint Task Force 101 Public Affairs Office.)