Malloy Visits Troops In Afghanistan
By Susan Haigh
November 17, 2011
HARTFORD - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy continued his surprise overseas mission on Wednesday, visiting service members stationed in Afghanistan as part of a Department of Defense program for governors.
The governor's visit was kept secret until Wednesday for security reasons. He was in Kuwait on Tuesday.
In a telephone conference call from Afghanistan, Malloy said he has been able to meet with several Connecticut residents during his trip, including regular service members and members of the Connecticut National Guard. There are about 120 guard members stationed overseas, most of them in Afghanistan. That number is expected to grow to 800 to 1,000 by the end of 2012.
"I certainly wanted to understand what our troops are facing when they're called up and when they're sent to Kuwait or to Afghanistan, and I think it's part of a support for them. It's also part of a learning process for me," Malloy said. "It's an important opportunity, I think, which the DOD is making available to governors."
Malloy's office announced Tuesday that the governor had met with service members in Kuwait, including soldiers deployed from Connecticut. He is expected to return home by Friday.
Malloy said he could not provide any detail about where he was in Afghanistan for security reasons, but said he was flown in at nighttime and had visited the Kabul area and the Bagram Air Field, which is near Kabul. He said he had dinner Wednesday with about 20 members of the Connecticut National Guard's 103rd security forces squadron, which is based at Bradley International Airport.
"These are amazing patriots that I have the opportunity to break bread with, or have a conversation with, or tell a joke to," said Malloy, who said he felt a sense of responsibility to understand what Connecticut service members and National Guard members "are doing, how they're doing it, how they're being treated and what their spirits are."
The governor described Kabul as a larger city than most people would imagine. He said it is growing and investments are being made. But he acknowledged that security was still tight.
"There's reason to be hopeful. On the other hand, you can't look at the history of the region, you can't examine the religious, the ethnic, the regional and tribal differences and say, 'Gee, this is going to fix itself,'" Malloy said. "You have to be worried, and you have to be hopeful."
Malloy said he was in Washington, D.C., before heading overseas and that he had a chance to talk with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a number of deputies. He said he also met with Craig R. McKinley, who is chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"I had some serious discussions with him about the future of our Bradley operation and the National Guard there and what their mission is and will evolve to be," Malloy said. He also spoke to the secretary about the importance of continued funding for the Joint Strike Fighter program for Connecticut aircraft maker Sikorsky and efforts to continue building two submarines per year. Panetta is scheduled to visit the Groton submarine builder, the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard, on Thursday.
Malloy said Connecticut will face "serious consequences" if there are deep cuts in the Pentagon budget. A dozen lawmakers in Washington are charged with producing a federal deficit-cutting plan by Thanksgiving. If they fail to reach a deal or if Congress rejects their plan, that would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts, and up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon.
"And that's why I'm invested in arguing our case," Malloy said.
Malloy said Connecticut is a "very large supplier" to the nation's military. During his trip, the governor said he flew on a Black Hawk helicopter, manufactured by Connecticut-based Sikorsky. He said he also posed for a photograph in Kuwait next to a Whelan alarm and lighting system. Whelen Engineering Co. Inc. is based in Chester, Conn.
He is traveling with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as part of the DOD's Governors Delegation Program, which the agency began in 2004 to allow governors to visit deployed service members overseas.
"They invited a large number of governors, two of us could go on this particular trip," he said. "I have to tell you, I'm proud to be able to make the trip."