Bucks County Congressman spends Christmas with the troops in Afghanistan; extends thanks and unequivocal support from the homefront
Ten years ago, on Christmas Day 2007, then-FBI Special Agent Brian Fitzpatrick was deployed to Iraq as an Al-Qaeda Interrogator as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A decade later to the day, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) returned to the region to spend Christmas Day with United States troops serving in Afghanistan - ground zero in the global fight against terrorism.
“To go back to the region a decade later as a member of Congress was really something special because I got to thank the troops for all they are doing in Afghanistan ... and extend the love and unequivocal support that the people back at home have for them,” said Fitzpatrick.
During his five day trip to the Middle East, which included visits to several bases in Kuwait; the Joint Special Operations Command in Amman, Jordan; and several bases in Afghanistan, including Kabul and Jalalabad, he and a bipartisan delegation including Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), David Cicilline (D-RI) and Iraq War veteran Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), met with General John Nicholson Jr., Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and in Fitzpatrick’s case, spent time with Pennsylvania troops of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Fitzpatrick said it’s often easy to forget that there are thousands of women and men serving the country in battlefields and barracks across the globe, including combat danger zones like Afghanistan. “We owe a debt of gratitude to these brave servicemembers who stand ready to protect our freedom, even when it means being deployed overseas during this special season.”
As Fitzpatrick sat down with the troops to Christmas dinner, he recalled how much it meant a decade earlier when members of Congress visited them in Iraq.
“The fact that they were willing to spend time away from their families because they recognized that we were away from our families, in the middle of the desert and in a very tough circumstance, meant a lot,” he said.
“And to have the decision-makers, the policy-makers show up and ask us questions and care about what our responses were and allow our answers to factor into the decisions that they were making on the House floor, was very impactful to us because we had a voice,” said Fitzpatrick. “I never forgot that feeling and being able to go back 10 years later to the day and be on the other side of that table and be the one posing the questions to the troops about how they are doing, what is working and what isn’t and what support they need from us, it was really a special moment.”
In sharing with the troops, Fitzpatrick said he was especially struck by how young they are and the incredible work they are doing.
“They are 18 and 19 years old and they are so smart, so courageous and they are doing such incredible work. And they are doing it in a very dangerous part of the world,” said Fitzpatrick, a fact that was not lost on the delegation. The day they were there an ISIS suicide bomber attacked the base.
“It’s a reminder of the threat these men and women are under every single day,” said Fitzpatrick. “Afghanistan is still a very volatile region; it’s still very much a war zone. And it’s just a short distance away from the planning location of the terror attacks of 9/11. What really struck me is how courageous these young men and women are, how smart they are and how patriotic they are. They love their country. It just meant so much to them that we were able to pay them a visit and say thank you.”
The reward for Fitzpatrick was “seeing them light up like a Christmas Tree” as they talked about home. “You can imagine the circumstances they are living under. They are working seven days a week. They are in tough working conditions. It’s very emotionally stressful for them. They are away from their families. It’s a holiday. They miss their families. And to get to talk with them about home, it was just a nice refreshing change for them. And it was obviously special for me given that I worked alongside of them a decade ago.”
Fitzpatrick, a member of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees, said the bipartisan trip also served as an important examination of the nation’s counter-terrorism efforts, force posture and threat dynamics in the region.
During his visit, he had the opportunity to speak directly with military generals and governmental and diplomatic officials about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and throughout the region.
From those conversations, Fitzpatrick reported that General Nicholson “feels very optimistic” about the progress they are making in Afghanistan in what Fitzpatrick describes as a “very tough organic situation on the ground with the various tribes, the various regions and forces at play. But he does feel that if they are given time ... they can train the Afghan forces to stand up on their own and can reconcil with other forces in the region to make decisions for the Afghan people.”
Fitzpatrick said what he learned from his trip to the Middle East will help shape what he brings to Congress during the coming year.
“As we enter a new phase in the War on Terror, it is crucial that Congress continue to work with our military and civilian partners to keep our homeland safe and to defeat the threat of terrorism; this mission will play an important part in shaping this strategy,” said Fitzpatrick.