It’s one thing to have a chance to thank and meet our service members. It’s another to meet them where they serve. Especially when it’s in Baghdad.
How they do it is, they introduce you to men and women from your home state. So I met some fellow Xavier grads. John Kline — Colonel Kline — is a Marine, so the Minnesotans he met were excited to show him an MRAP. Martha Roby always seems to meet someone from Montgomery, Alabama. She already tweeted some of those photos.
One person who really gets a kick out of these interactions — and everything, really — is my colleague Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Ileana is South Florida all the way. Big heart, big personality.
“Little did I know,” she said, “that I would come halfway across the world and the first person I meet is a University of Miami Hurricane.” (Here, she makes the ‘U’ sign, of course.)
“His parents live in my district, actually. But it’s great to be a ‘Cane, even when — especially when — you’re serving overseas. It shows that there’s always a little bit of home, no matter how far away you are, no matter how tense the situation. And it just ties it all together, how important our mission is of keeping our country safe.”
Visiting Baghdad does put it all in perspective.
Iraq is a young democracy, but as I told the country’s leaders, we were a young democracy once too. It took us many false starts to get it right — and we’re still working on it. And we didn’t have to come of age in nearly as tough a neighborhood.
When I go to Iraq, I remind them of this, and I tell them we’re here for them, but more importantly, so are our bravest Americans.