LANSING (AP) – During three whirlwind days in the Middle East, Gov. Jennifer Granholm served Thanksgiving dinner to soldiers, rode on a C-130 transport plane with a Lansing-based battalion heading home and told troops repeatedly that Michigan residents are thankful for the job they’re doing.
Then she came home Saturday afternoon and began calling families of the Michigan National Guard troops she’d visited and passing along the soldiers’ words.
“I’ve got this whole handful of scrawled messages. – `Tell my son to get a haircut. Tell them to send some great northern beans. – Tell them I love them,'” Granholm said during an interview yesterday with The Associated Press. “It was a very moving experience.”
Granholm took off Tuesday evening for Qatar with fellow Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Republican govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Sonny Perdue of Georgia. The four were invited to the Mideast by the U.S. departments of State and Defense, and met with U.S., Iraqi and Kuwaiti leaders as well as soldiers during their stay.
“The troops are concerned about the moral support of the American people. And for that, I was grateful to be there to assure them that the troops have 100 percent of our support, certainly in Michigan. I know other governors were giving their troops that support as well,” Granholm said.
The governor met largely with Michigan soldiers assigned to Kuwait and Iraq to do maintenance and construction, deploy supplies, track down insurgents and make sure routes are clear of IEDs – improvised explosive devices – and other dangers.
Nearly 1,700 of the 2,149 National Guard soldiers and airmen from Michigan currently on active duty are serving in Kuwait or Iraq, the governor’s office said.
Most of the units there now haven’t suffered casualties. But the 125th Infantry Battalion from Saginaw, in Iraq since July, hasn’t been so lucky.
“They’ve lost two soldiers in the past month, so they’ve been badly hit,” Granholm said. “They are really in the middle of things.”
The 1073rd Maintenance Co. of Greenville and the 107th Combat Engineer Battalion from the Upper Peninsula are due to come back in January, the governor said. She expects them to be as jubilant as the 119th Field Artillery Battalion from Lansing, whose soldiers were on the same C-130 transport plane she was riding Friday night from Iraq to Kuwait.
“They were ecstatic about coming home,” she said, adding that the soldiers should be in Lansing by this weekend. “When the plane took off, they were whooping and hollering.”
Granholm declined to say whether she supports calls – mostly by congressional Democrats – to set specific dates for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. But after her talks with military leaders there, she said it appears likely some troops will leave Iraq next year.
“It is important to have an exit strategy that does not destabilize the region, but that brings our men and women home safe,” she said. “When they (U.S. troops) start to turn over regions – and they have – of Iraq fully to the Iraqi security forces, and that goes well, that will be an indication that the time has come for us to withdraw. And I think that will happen hopefully in 2006.”