By Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
Delaware National Guard
Delaware National Guard
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (11/22/11) -- As part of the Governor's Delegation Program, a 2004 initiative which allows state governors to visit deployed service members overseas, the Governor of Delaware embarked on a world wind trip to spend time with deployed Guard members from his state.
Meeting a Delawarean recovering from war wounds at a military hospital in Maryland, getting a tour of several expansive military facilities in Southwest Asia, seeing massive human trauma in a military hospital in Afghanistan and meeting Delaware National Guard members serving in combat zones has filled the week for Gov. Jack Markell.
The trip which started on Nov. 14 had Markell, along with Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, visiting the Pentagon to meet with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for briefings, the initiation to their Pentagon-sponsored trip to Southwest Asia.
After leaving the Pentagon, Markell visited with wounded soldiers getting physical and occupational therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
There he met three Delawareans whom he called "impressive and inspiring," and observed the amputee center. Markell said that one Delawarean he met, a Soldier, had undergone 31 surgeries to his arm. "He is so devoted to his service," Markell said.
Adding, he saw troops courageously doing the therapy and learning to walk. "It is certainly a reminder to all of us of the danger to all who are serving."
By Nov. 15 the governors were at a military camp in Southwest Asia, where Markell dined with a couple Delawareans then headed off to visit the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at another location.
On Nov.16 the governors flew to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and spent the day visiting the base and talking with people. That evening Markell participated in a video interview via satellite, talking about his experiences, conversations and impressions after his first two days overseas.
"I've met, literally, people from all over the country. The morale is high. They are proud to be here. They are proud to show off their capability, they are proud to show off what they're doing," he said.
“They are very clear and cognizant of the dangers but they take their work so proudly." He added, "Members of the military from Delaware and from around the country are doing a spectacular job."
The main impression I have here is just one of incredible devotion, capability, skill, loyalty and patriotism on the part of the folks who are here from all over the United States."
The first stop at Bagram Air Base was a visit to the military hospital, where the governor said he had an incredible experience. "A few hours earlier a Soldier came in who had lost both legs. And it just made it all so real, to see the dedication of the people in the field and the dedication of the people in the hospital," Markell said, adding he would not forget the scene of the injured Soldier.
The governor then visited Delaware service members deployed in support of U.S. military operations. He met several with several Airman, including Air Force Colonel Mike Feeley, deputy operations group commander, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, who is deployed from his home station position where he is commander of the 166th Operations Group of the 166th Airlift Wing, in the Delaware Air National Guard.
Asked why he came to the combat zone, Markell said, "There is no more pressing issue first of all than to make sure that all Americans thank the members of the military who are working so hard and so bravely on our behalf, and also important that when they come home, we not just thank them, but that we also hire them in jobs because we certainly want to put our veterans to work."
"I really appreciate the opportunity to be here, especially to thank the people from Delaware and certainly including the people from the Delaware National Guard.
"I've said often that the proudest part of being governor is to be the commander-in-chief of the Delaware National Guard. All of us back home should be so proud. We've got a couple hundred people in Afghanistan now and of course there are other Delawareans here as well."
Markell said he wanted people "to realize how real this is every single day," and talked about families. "A lot of these people are leaving spouses and kids for many months on end, not just from Delaware, but across the country." The governor said via satellite, "It seems so far away, but these are our neighbors, our coworkers who are literally putting themselves at risk on our behalf."
He spoke of the members of the Delaware National Guard who have deployed. "We've had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds over the last several years and while everybody back at home goes about their work, they're living under very difficult conditions, putting themselves at risk, really fighting on our behalf and on behalf of the country."
Addressing the conflict in Afghanistan, Markell said, "Obviously this is a mission that started 10 years ago after 9/11. It's one that obviously the president has indicated an interest, as have others, to wind down, when possible," and the governor added that troops are being withdrawn.
He also talked about the work of the Connecticut troops whose job it is to operate entry control for many vehicles coming onto the Bagram Air Base to keep the population safe from harm, and all of the U.S. forces on duty he saw in Southwest Asia and in particular in Afghanistan. "Every single person I talked to in [Southwest Asia] and Afghanistan has very much believed in what they are doing.
"They are focused on doing their job in an excellent fashion every minute of every day. You know, these men and women, there isn't much of a social life here. They're basically working all the time," he said. "A lot of times they'll have an opportunity to go to the gym on a daily basis, but otherwise they're working. They take it seriously, they're proud of it, and they're going to keep doing it until they are told otherwise."
Seeing Delawareans was a highlight for the governor.
"They had maybe a couple hours notice that I was coming. They asked me to get in touch with family back home which I certainly look forward to doing. Most importantly, it is important for them to know that they are remembered -- that people back home are thinking about them or praying for them," he said. "I bring them, especially the folks in the National Guard, the greetings and good wishes of [Maj.] General [Frank] Vavala, [the adjutant general, Delaware National Guard], who is just thinking about them and advocating for them every single day."
"I can't wait until they come home, safely, that's what it's all about.
"These are not just great Soldiers, and Airmen, and folks from the Navy and other forces. These people have amazing skills," Markell said. "One of the things I love about visiting the people of the National Guard - 2,500 of them from Delaware - their skills are tremendous and we can do so much with them back home building the economy, building jobs, helping them build careers. That's of course what I'd love to see them doing. In the meantime they have a mission to do and they're doing it incredibly well."