The latest batch of governors to visit U.S. forces in Iraq stopped by the White House Wednesday (April 19) and offered an upbeat assessment of the troops' condition and morale.
President Bush and Cabinet officials met over breakfast with the four governors - Jeb Bush (R) of Florida, Tom Vilsack (D) of Iowa, Mitch Daniels (R) of Indiana and Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia - after their six-day trip over the Easter weekend to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A majority of the nation's governors now have visited American troops in the Middle East since U.S. and coalition forces overthrew Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in April 2003. In seven trips, 26 governors have now gone to Iraq, including 17 since the start of the year.
Florida's Bush, the president's brother, told reporters after the meeting that the trip gave him a chance to meet the meet "the most dedicated patriots I've had the privilege of meeting - not just from Florida, but all across the country."
Vilsack said he was struck by the commitment of an Iowa National Guard medical team in saving the lives of U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians and detainees alike.
"There may be disagreements on policy, but no one can disagree with the fact that we have extraordinarily brave, competent and dedicated individuals in the armed forces, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq," Vilsack said.
Daniels said he was impressed with the "sheer proficiency" of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also praised the way National Guard troops worked with full-time soldiers, and how the men and women of different branches worked with each other.
Manchin said meeting with provincial governors in Iraq reminded him that "there's nothing free in the word 'freedom' - nothing at all."
The four governors met with President Bush and top Cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Manchin, Bush, Daniels and Vilsack - like the other governors who have gone abroad - traveled under a veil of secrecy. Their trip was kept secret until after they arrived in the Middle East on Friday. Even then, when speaking to news media back home, they couldn't tell reporters where they were going next or how long they would be gone.
While in Iraq, Daniels said here, soldiers suggested the state could help them by making it easier to renew their drivers licenses or reducing taxes on veteran benefits.
Daniels also swore in 13 Indiana National Guard members who decided to re-enlist for another six years and awarded a Purple Heart to a soldier who returned to work the same day he was shot.
Vilsack signed a law Monday (April 17) making Iowa the ninth state in the nation restricting protesters who try to disrupt military funerals. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures , 22 other states have considered similar proposals because of anti-gay protesters from a Topeka, Kan. church who have interrupted military funerals across the country.
Daniels said all four governors got along well. "We had more laughs and more fun going through this than I would ever have foreseen. … Unfortunately, as we just reminded each other, what happens on the road stays on the road."