NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam says his first experience visiting deployed service members from Tennessee in Iraq and Kuwait so far is proving to be an "incredible eye-opening experience."
"My main impression is a huge appreciation of the work that the men and woman are doing over here," Haslam said, speaking to Tennessee reporters on a telephone conference call today from an undisclosed Kuwaiti base on his unannounced trip.
"You might say that's something a politician would say but believe me, I mean it," Haslam said. "The working conditions are incredibly hard and the work they're doing is difficult and dangerous still."
He left the country on Monday with governors from Kentucky, Utah and Nevada on the U.S. Defense Department-paid trip. He said he has visited five to six bases and Baghdad.
Temperatures are hitting 130 degrees during the day, which he compared to aiming a handheld hair dryer running at full blast in one's face. Tennesseans serving the Tennessee National Guard and those serving in the U.S. Army appeared happy to see someone from home and peppered him with questions ranging from the economy to what he thought about the prospects of Tennessee football teams, he said.
Haslam is traveling with the governors of Nevada, Kentucky and Utah, all of whom were invited because of the large contingents of soldiers from their states serving in the Middle East.
On an issue closer to home, Haslam said he is relieved a debt-ceiling deal was approved by the U.S. Senate today.
"I haven't been able to go into the details, but I felt it was really important to come to a conclusion. ... Again, whether the deal they got to is the best deal ... I'm pretty out of touch."
Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.