CAMP BABYLON, Iraq -- A bipartisan delegation from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gave soldiers and Marines supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom a chance to talk to someone from home Aug. 20 at Camp Babylon, Iraq.
The visit, part of a 10-day tour planned to include seven countries in the region, was topped-off by a lunch, during which the members of congress sat and talked with constituents serving in Iraq.
"It's good to see someone from your home state," said Sgt. Lokai Laughter, a member of C Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and a native of Flagstaff, Ariz. "I feel like a piece of my home has come here."
The piece of home came in the form of Sen. John S. McCain, R-Ariz., who among other things, served as naval aviator during Vietnam, where he was prisoner of war for five years and a half years.
"He's got a lot of things to talk about," said Laughter of the senator.
For those away for the last few months, any news from home is good news.
"He gave us lots of good information about what's going on back home," said Lance Cpl. Ashley R Kascniak, a member of Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, First Marine Division and Kingman, Ariz. native. "He told us about (Arizona State University) and the new quarterback. He said the hockey team was doing real well."
Representative Harold Ford, D-Tenn., even offered to check on a soldier's family when he returned to the states.
"He asked me about my family, took names of my sisters and brothers and said he'd look them up once he got back home," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Malone, a member of the 19th Support Center, which is supporting the Multinational Division that will assume authority of southern Iraq once the Marines depart. "It feels good, because me and my family are very close. It feels good to know someone is concerned about them as well as me."
"I was very pleased, not just with his general concern about us and our welfare," said Malone, an Oakland, Tenn. native, referring to Ford. "He was really pleased with us and happy about our presence here."
Many of the members of Congress were impressed with the situation in the Marine area of operations, as well as the general morale of the troops. The rest of the congressional delegation included Sen. Maria E. Cantwell, D-Wash.; Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C.; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. and Sen. John E. Sununu, R-N.H
"The Marines have done an outstanding job in this part of Iraq, obviously, because it's probably the quietest," McCain said. "They've still got a tough job. There's shooting still every night, and we've got a long way to go, but I'm very proud of the job that they have done.
"I think that we've had a good look at the challenges that we face here, the status of morale, which is good amongst the troops, and a better assessment as to what the mission requires."
"Remarkable, the morale of all these young men and women," Ford said. "It's been interesting to see the progress that you all have been able to make. I think if more Americans were able to witness and hear firsthand accounts of what you're doing - why it's important - it would put a different perspective back home."
Ford said he has come to the belief that the work here will take a long-term commitment.
"There's no doubt that our commitment is going to have to be longer than some believe here, and certainly longer than many in America believe," Ford said. "If we leave now, in a lot of ways, all of the work that we have done up to this point would really be useless and rendered ineffective because all of it would be rolled back quickly by Saddam and all of his forces.
"I'm proud of the work that's been done, and want to see what more we can do in Washington to ensure that you're supported, and that we're able to bring the kind of openness and fairness to this country that we want to bring."