Gov. Bill Ritter is in Iraq visiting Colorado National Guard troops at
the invitation of the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, part of a
fact-finding program that allows governors to experience conditions in
the Middle East first-hand.
Gov. Ritter toured and stayed overnight in the International Zone in
Baghdad, and also met with troops from the 332ndExpeditionary Fighter
Squadron, which includes about 225 Colorado National Guard members,
and the 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, which also includes
Colorado National Guard members. Gov. Ritter visited several military
installations, neighborhoods and a local hospital in Iraq.
"These men and women are serving under very difficult conditions,"
Gov. Ritter said during a conference call fromKuwait this morning.
"But their morale is high and they seem very heartened that I'm here
on their turf, on their territory, to gain a better understanding of
the work they are doing. It's extremely helpful for me, as the
commander in chief of the Colorado National Guard, to be on the ground
to see the conditions they are serving in and how they are making a
Hundreds of Colorado National Guard troops are currently deployed to
Iraq, Kuwait and other areas in the Middle East, more than at any
other time in recent Colorado history. Colorado Air National Guard
members have logged more than 5,000 combat hours and flown more than
500 consecutive combat sorties without failure since 2003.
"The Guard troops I've talked to wanted to convey their love and best
holiday wishes to their families and everyone back home," Gov. Ritter
said. "They also wanted to express their gratitude for everything
their neighbors are doing to help their spouses, from shoveling
sidewalks to helping with chores around the house."
Gov. Ritter is traveling with South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and Rhode
Island Gov. Donald Carcieri. The trip included meetings with U.S.
military and diplomatic officials such as Gen. David Petraeus, the top
U.S. commander inIraq; Maj. Gen. Dennis Hardy of U.S. Central Command;
Patricia Butenis, the U.S. Embassy's chief of mission in Iraq; the
deputy prime minister of Iraq; and local government leaders as well.
Butenis hosted a dinner for the governors at her residence.
"We really appreciate Gov. Ritter taking the opportunity to visit our
deployed Colorado National Guard men and women," said Colorado
National Guard commander Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards. "Although being
deployed over the holidays is difficult for our Guard men and women, I
know it means a lot to them for their governor to make the effort to
visit them in theater. His visit will certainly be a special memory
for our Colorado Guard members."
Gov. Ritter began the week on Monday with briefings by U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in
Washington. More than 30 U.S. governors have visited Iraq as part of
the Department of Defense program.