Gov. Dannel P. Malloy surfaced in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the latest stop on a Department of Defense trip that secretly took him to Kuwait on Monday night to visit U.S. troops. He is expected to return to Connecticut on Friday.

The governor conducted a telephone interview with a pool of Connecticut reporters from the Associated Press, WTNH-TV and WNPR radio. The rest of his intinerary was one of the topics off limits.

Susan Haigh of AP reports that Malloy has been to the Kabul area and to the Bagram Airfield, near Kabul. In keeping with the DOD’s general approach to security for the trip, Malloy could not give his exact location.

“I’ve been able to meet with a fair number of Connecticut citizens. Some of them are regular service and obviously we have National Guard,” Malloy said. “I actually had dinner with about 20 representatives of the 103, which is based in Bradley. And I’ve met a number of folks from the 103 in a couple of different places in my travels. I’ve also run into Connecticut citizens who are serving in the regular Army, Navy or Air Force.”

About 80 members of the 103rd Civil Engineering and Security Forces Squadrons of the Air National Guard, based at Bradley International Airport, were deployed to Afghanistan in July. Before leaving Monday night, Malloy met in Washington with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Craig R. McKinley, who is chief of the National Guard Bureau.

“I had some serious discussions with him about the future of our Bradley operation and the National Guard there and what their mission is and will evolve to be,” Malloy said.

His stop in the Persian Gulf state of Kuwait, where some U.S. troops are expected to be based after leaving neighboring Iraq, was brief, about 20 hours. He visited two large bases and met a Connecticut man working at the port.

“He specifically came back from the port so he could meet with his governor,” he said.

So, why should a Connecticut governor travel to Kuwait and Afghanistan?

“As governor, I have to take charge of the national Guard, and I’ve worked with them and there are a number of National Guard troops as well as regular Army Connecticut citizens, regular Army, Navy and Air Force here. And I’ve had an opportunity to meet with a number of them at all of our stops,” he said. “It’s pretty rewarding.”

Malloy said he oversees both the sending off and coming ceremonies, as well as attends funerals for Connecticut service members.

“I certainly wanted to understand what our troops are facing when they’re called up and when they’re sent to Kuwait or to Afghanistan, and I think it’s part of a support for them, it’s also part of a learning process for me,” Malloy said. “It’s an important opportunity, I think, which the DOD is making available to governors.”

Malloy is traveling with Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware under a program created in 2004 to put elected officials in contact with troops serving overseas.

“They invited a large number of governors, two of us could go on this particular trip,” he said. “I have to tell you, I’m proud to be able to make the trip.”

Defense issues always are relevant for a Connecticut governor, he said.

“The reality is, is that Connecticut is a very large supplier with respect to our defense and that is, with respect to goods and services. And obviously, we have been called upon, since 9/11, to send our best and brightest to sacrifice on behalf of their fellow citizens and for the last 10 months, those people have been working for me, as the governor of the state of Connecticut.”

Malloy said he feels a “sense of responsibility to understand what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how they’re being treated and what their spirits are.”

“I think it’s important that American leaders, whether they happen to be in municipalities, or state governments, or Congress or Senate, have an understanding of the sacrifices we ask people to make on our behalf,” he said. “And you can do it from a distance, but I happen not to be believer of that.”

Malloy with 103rd

Malloy in Afghanistan with 103rd Security Forces Squadron. (US Army photo.)

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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