Gov. Linda Lingle spoke about her visit to Iraq yesterday during a press conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.

Visit to Iraq gives
governor new view

Hawaii troops there are excited
about their mission, Lingle says

Just back from her two-day trip to Iraq, Gov. Linda Lingle offered words of encouragement last night to about 500 soldiers headed to the country and gave her views -- which she also hopes to present at other community venues -- on what they should expect.

"The images you see in the general media are not very representative of what I saw," Lingle said in a press conference earlier in the evening. "This is just to give people ... a little bit of a different view, especially now, as America is there trying to help the country to create a democracy."

Lingle, who was accompanied to Iraq by five other state governors, said that even though her tour was short and stuck to a strict itinerary, she felt she got a "fair impression" of the nation and its problems.

"Is two days as good as two months?" she asked. "I do feel it gave us some idea."

The White House-arranged trip has been criticized as an election ploy and for its pre-arrival secrecy. But last night Lingle emphasized that the bipartisan group of governors that went on the trip were encouraged by President Bush upon their arrival in Washington, D.C., on Friday to say what they wanted to about Iraq and the occupation forces.

Lingle said Bush told the group, "Whatever your impressions are, that's what I want you to talk about."

More than 350 Hawaii members of the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion, along with another 200 soldiers from Alaska and Guam, attended Lingle's speech and a dinner last night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The group will join the 1st Cavalry Division next month for a yearlong Iraqi deployment.

"The Hawaii troops who are there are excited about their mission," said Lingle, who met up with a number of soldiers based in the islands during her trip. "They understand that what they're fighting over there is terrorism, and they make certain that we don't have to fight it here at home."

Lingle's trip to Iraq was kept secret before her arrival in the country, so much so that a spokesman for the governor lied about her whereabouts.

Russell Pang, chief of media relations, told members of the media Monday that the governor was in town and would be attending a wreath-laying ceremony with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, even though Lingle had left the state Friday night.

Lingle defended her office's secrecy yesterday, saying that reporters were "making a mountain out of mole hill" by questioning what she called a security measure.

"Not knowing where I was for 24 hours balanced against the safety of six governors ... I think was pretty decent tradeoff," she said. "I know you guys like to know where I am every second. That's because journalists don't like anything happening that they're not aware of."

Lingle's Iraq tour was the first of its kind since the American occupation began in April and comes as the U.S. military is carrying out a massive troop rotation, which will send 4,800 25th Infantry Division soldiers to Iraq on top of a number of Hawaii Army reservists, National Guard soldiers and Marines based in the islands.

Lingle said that a number of military officials she spoke with were "very thankful to have an available guard unit to go over there."

"They said how important the nonregular army is to them," she said.

Today, 78 percent of the troops in Iraq are active duty, while 22 percent are reservists. Once this year's rotation is carried out, 63 percent of Iraq's U.S. military force will be active, while 37 percent will be in the National Guard, she said.


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