U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Kew Gardens) quietly slipped away on a congressional field trip to Afghanistan earlier this month.
The recently elected freshman congressman was whisked away to the war-torn nation, which the U.S. military has been operating in for just over a decade, in order to give him a first-hand look at the area where he will be flexing his legislative muscle.
In a rare occurrence for a lawmaker only elected in September, Turner sits on three congressional committees where the Afghanistan war plays a key role: Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security and Veterans.
“This was more introductory,” said Turner, after he had returned to Washington, D.C., following the five-day trip which began Oct. 14?. “There is enough to do back here, but it’s a good idea to get some firsthand knowledge.”
It was no sightseeing trip.
Turner’s trip included Kabul, the country’s capital, and four other stops in smaller cities and bases, including Bagram Airfield. In each place and along the way he received briefings from the military and CIA and watched Afghan troops being trained. He also visited a military outpost to see the outreach efforts and the day-to-day life of special operations troops.
“They have it worked it? so they are not wasting a lot of time here,” he said of his schedule. “We were hopping from one spot to the other.”
In-between information sessions, Turner ate military grub with soldiers from the New York City area.
“I don’t know if my memory is fading, but it seems a hell of a lot better than the stuff I remember,” said Turner, a veteran who was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and served two years on a military base in Louisiana.
Turner is also no stranger to the open road. He is driven by wanderlust and has traveled to all seven continents on more than 50 trips out of the country for both business — Turner was a high-level television executive — and pleasure. Some of those trips to places like Oman and Egypt prepared him for the chaotic environment on the streets of Kabul, but he saw progress in some areas.
“Afghanistan will be stable enough, self-sufficient enough, that al-Qaeda or other groups would not be able to have training facilities so they could launch international strikes from the territory as they did in 9/11,” he said.
The United States invaded Afghanistan shortly after the 2001 attacks. By a federal mandate, the troops will almost totally withdraw by 2014, according to Turner.
But America also administers aid, and Congress does not always agree with the U.S. Department of State, the congressman said.
“Congress has a slightly different take than the State Department,” he said. “We’re interested in foreign aid and how it’s spent, and not only humanitarian aid, but in other areas leveraging some aid for our interests.”
But Turner’s favorite part of the trip was visiting with the GIs, who he compared with an unflattering assessment of the Zuccotti Park protesters.
“Their morale is terrific, they are focused, professional and they have a great sense of camaraderie … it was very encouraging — in sharp contrast to some of their other generation hanging around Wall Street now,” he said.