Sandoval Says Eye-Opening Trip To Middle East Showed Pride And Dedication Of Nevada, U.S. Troops

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval figured the Nevada soldiers serving in Afghanistan appreciated his visit last week when they literally tore the organizational patches off their uniforms and offered them up as keepsakes on his trip to see the country’s military efforts first-hand.

Sandoval, back nearly a full week today, said his eyes teared up when the soldiers made such a heartfelt gesture.

“But it’s all about the soldiers, it’s not about me,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval talked today about his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

Traveling with the troops in C-130s and Black Hawk helicopters during an intense five-day trip that also included time in Iraq and Kuwait, and sometimes having to wear body armor for protection, Sandoval made the trip with three other governors.

Sandoval said he felt secure the entire time. He was invited on the trip in May from the Department of Defense but had to keep the news quiet for security reasons.

“It was a very aggressive schedule,” he said.

Sandoval spoke to the Nevada News Bureau today about the trip and his experiences.

He visited two bases in Kuwait, two in Iraq and four in Afghanistan, including Kandahar, where he met with members of the Nevada National Guard’s 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion. Sandoval attended their deployment ceremony in January in Reno and said he will be on hand when they return to Nevada.

Sandoval said as commander in chief of the Nevada National Guard it was important for him to see Nevada’s troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also wanted to show his respect and appreciation to Nevada’s soldiers for their service and sacrifice.

“But even more importantly to see how they live and see the conditions that they are in, the pressures that they are under, to see how proud they are to serve,” he said. “Certainly they are all looking forward to coming home, but they are very, very proud to serve their country. We can’t thank them enough.

Some of the patches soldiers gave to Gov. Sandoval.

“I met a young man from Dayton High School who’s a year removed from graduation and he’s working checkpoints in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan,” Sandoval said. “To see him personally and to see such a young man who is so proud to serve; and he’s right there on the front lines.”

Sandoval left Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, flying to Ramstein Air Base in Germany where he spent the night. While there, he visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest military hospital outside the continental U.S.

Sandoval said he met a wounded Las Vegas soldier as well as soldiers injured while serving in Afghanistan from the country of Georgia.

Gov. Brian Sandoval outfitted with protective vest and helmet while in Afghanistan.

“That was one of the moments that made a huge impression on me because there were three of them (who were) injured as a result of an IED (improvised explosive device),” Sandoval said. “And one of them had had a below-the-knee amputation. And he didn’t complain. His only statement was it is such a privilege for (him) to serve alongside the American soldiers.”

Sandoval said it was “pretty remarkable” to have breakfast in Afghanistan and then dinner in Germany.

Sandoval arrived back in Reno at 1 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, before learning of the horrific loss of troops in the helicopter shot down in Afghanistan.

The danger that the troops are in all the time was brought home for Sandoval when he observed a “ramp ceremony” in Bagram, Afghanistan, in which a fallen solider was honored before being brought back to the United States.

“And you watch as each of the soldiers goes on the back of this ramp of the C-130 and pay their respects and go off, and then to hear about that tragedy with the soldiers that lost their lives on that helicopter,” he said.

Sandoval is now busy writing letters and following up with the families of the soldiers he met and looking to coordinate some deliveries of items the soldiers say they would like to have, from DVDs to foot powder to decent razors.

“It’s the little things that really matter,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval with members of the 422nd Signal Corps. in Afghanistan.

Sandoval said he is also working to ensure that when the troops return, there will be college and job opportunities for them. There is a jobs program for returning veterans operated through the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. There is also free tuition available at Nevada’s university system for returning troops and Sandoval said he wants to make sure that continues.

“But I’ve given them my full commitment that I’m going to do whatever I can to help support them,” Sandoval said. “I told them to call me personally and I will be able to help them. Because I will do whatever I can for them, and even more so after seeing what they are experiencing and what they are doing for all of us.”

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says meeting the injured troops from the country of Georgia made a big impression:

081211Sandoval1 :24 the American soldiers.”

Sandoval says the trip was important to see the troops in person in theater:

081211Sandoval2 :18 thank them enough.”

Sandoval says he met a young man from Dayton working in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan:

081211Sandoval3 :21 the front lines.”

Sandoval says watching the “ramp ceremony” was a moving experience:

081211Sandoval4 :16 on that helicopter.”

Sandoval says he will do all he can for the troops when they return to Nevada:

081211Sandoval5 :18 all of us.”