Tenn. Gov. Haslam visits bases in Iraq, Kuwait

By Lucas L. Johnson Ii

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 2:20 p.m. MDT

In this picture provided by the U.S. Air Force, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, left, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, second left, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, fourth from left, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pose for a photo at Joint Base Balad, Iraq on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. The governors are traveling throughout U.S. Central Command to meet with servicemen from their states.

U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman Jeffrey Schultze, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says a tour of U.S. bases in Iraq and Kuwait has furthered his appreciation for soldiers posted there and performing under "difficult and dangerous" conditions.

The Republican governor said in a conference call with Tennessee reporters on Tuesday that he was asked to join the tour with Govs. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Steve Beshear of Kentucky and Gary Herbert of Utah because of the large number of Tennesseans in the National Guard and regular Army.

He said there were between 30 and 100 Tennesseans at each of the bases he has visited so far.

Haslam said he has been struck by the difficult working conditions in Iraq. For instance, he said it was 130 degrees in Baghdad, which exacerbates the already strenuous environment.

"The working conditions are incredibly hard — the work they're doing is difficult and dangerous," he said.

As for the heat, he said, "Somebody described it to me, and I think it's a pretty good description; it's like ... turning your hair dryer on high and putting it in your face, and then living like that all day long. That's about what it feels like."

Haslam said the Pentagon briefed them about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started Monday. He said they were told not to eat or drink in front of Iraqi ally soldiers while they're fasting, and aircraft aren't supposed to fly an hour and a half after sundown.

"You realize you're working in a very different environment and very different culture," he said.

When asked by reporters if any soldiers were talking about the U.S. debt situation, Haslam said they're mostly focused on their task at hand and thoughts of home, such as family.

"When you're away from home for almost a year, you just miss home," said Haslam, adding that he heard about the U.S. Senate passing the bill to raise the nation's borrowing limit while in a mess hall.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that while the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going down as U.S. forces withdraw over the next few years, the latest debt agreement will demand defense cuts — and nothing is off the table.

Haslam's predecessor, Phil Bredesen, visited Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 as part of a Pentagon program designed to give state leaders the opportunity to see their National Guard troops in action.

Haslam visited Ali Al Salem Air Base, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and in Iraq, Joint Air Base Balad, Taji Air Base, Camp Victory Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport, which is also a military base.

The governor, who's scheduled to return to Tennessee this weekend, said the military asked him not to divulge his next stops on the tour. The trip is paid for by the Department of Defense.

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