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Government, Politics & Issues

Nixon completes a third trip to Afghanistan, visits Missouri National Guard troops

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 6, 2012 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is returning from his third trip to Afghanistan since taking office in 2009, telling reporters in an embargoed telephone interview that his primary aim was “to interact directly with Missourians’’ serving in the war zone.

“It’s always inspiring to see the values that our soldiers bring,” said Nixon, during a 12-minute conference call shortly after noon Wednesday, St. Louis time (Nixon emphasized that it was close to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Afghanistan-time.)

The embargo until Thursday morning indicated that his presence wasn’t to be publicized until after Nixon had left Afghanistan.

Nixon’s visit appeared to center on visiting with Missouri National Guard units, who technically are under the governor’s control when they are back in Missouri.

The governor said he visited units out of Springfield, Sedalia and Farmington, among others. He observed that he had been “inspired by the 24-7, can-do attitude” of the soldiers he met.

Unlike his earlier two visits, Nixon allowed that he had no opportunity to mingle with Afghan civilians or soldiers – a hint at the possibly heightened security, in the wake of a recent spike in Afghan attacks against UN coalition forces, including American troops.

Citing Defense Department restrictions, Nixon declined to say if any other governors were with him, or to be too specific regarding his travel schedule.

He did say that the trip began early in the week in Washington, where Nixon – and presumably, other governors – met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top generals, including Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard bureau and a native of Arnold.

Nixon said the Washington stop included a visit to Walter Reed Medical Center, where he met wounded soldiers undergoing medical treatment.

He said he arrived Tuesday in Kuwait, and spent much of Wednesday in Afghanistan.

During a question-answer session, Nixon sought to dispel any impression that a gubernatorial trip to Afghanistan was for show, not substance.  He emphasized the governor’s role overseeing the Missouri Guard units, and noted that the state budget includes some Guard expenses, including troop training.

With that in mind, Nixon said it was important for a governor to visit Missouri’s “citizen-soldiers’’ in war zones.

Referring to all three visits to Afghanistan, Nixon – on some lists of possible Democratic presidential contenders in 2016 -- added that he also enjoyed the chance “to see America’s power presented around the world.”

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