WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump needs to visit troops deployed to overseas combat zones soon, out of respect for their sacrifices, says a top defense lawmaker.
“I think it should be done,” said Senate Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., in a roundtable with reporters on Wednesday. “It’s not just to get an idea what is going on, but to personally thank the men and women of the United States who are exposing themselves to great dangers for the country.”
Reed’s opinion came in response to comments from the president earlier this week during an Associated Press interview where he was asked why he hasn’t yet scheduled a visit to Afghanistan or Iraq, to meet with U.S. troops deployed there.
“I will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary,” Trump said. “I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here … I’m doing a lot of things. But it’s something I’d do. And do gladly."
“Nobody has been better at the military ... I have done more for the military than any president in many, many years.”
Trump has made frequent visits to stateside U.S. military bases during his first term in office, often praising service members for their sacrifices in the ongoing wars overseas.
But after nearly two years in office, he has yet to visit a combat zone, something that his predecessors made a point of doing early in their presidencies.
Former President Barack Obama traveled to Iraq in April 2009, just a few months after taking office, as part of an extended overseas tour. His first trip to Afghanistan didn’t come until his second year in office.
Former President George W. Bush visited Iraq in November 2003 — about eight months after the start of that conflict — but did not travel to Afghanistan for the first time until 2006 because of security concerns surrounding a potential presidential visit.
Reed, who has visited both countries more than a dozen times in the last 16 years, called the visits “something the commander-in-chief should do.” He also called the first-hand experience of seeing the warfighters and talking to commanders on the ground “indispensable” in formulating national security strategy.
Earlier this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., led a delegation of Republican lawmakers on a trip to Afghanistan for his last official overseas trip before retiring at the end of the year.
“I wanted to thank the men and women who continue to sacrifice every day in the war against global terrorism,” he said in a statement after the trip. “This conflict — the sacrifices being made — matter.These brave soldiers have served, many on repeat deployments, and America stands firmly behind them in our gratitude.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas — who in the past has downplayed the importance of Trump making an overseas combat zone visit — traveled with Ryan and called the event a rewarding, informative visit.
"After my visit to Kabul, I am more convinced than ever that we have the right team in place to capitalize on the momentum we are starting to see as a result of the President’s South Asia Strategy,” he said in a statement.
“Our priority must be to continue to provide the necessary support to achieve these ends. It is the only way we can reliably defend America from the dangerous terrorist organizations that continue to operate in Afghanistan.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.