Diedrich: Herseth’s trip endangers troops

Heather Mangan

Heather Mangan

Larry Diedrich, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House, said U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth’s recent trip to Iraq drew attention to the soldiers, which could have put them at risk.

“Don’t put our soldiers at risk,” he said.

Diedrich and Herseth will face off in the November election for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House.

Russ Levsen, spokesman for Herseth’s campaign, said the trip was arranged by the U.S. Army for members of Congress.

“For Larry Diedrich to say that meeting with troops, and listening to their concerns, somehow puts them at risk is completely irresponsible,” Levsen said.

Diedrich said that if he was elected to represent South Dakota in Congress and had the chance to go to Iraq, he would only go if he wouldn’t be missing any key votes. He would only go overseas if the congressional activity was low or they were in a recess.

Diedrich said it’s OK for politicians to visit combat zones, but only if they are careful where they go.

“In somewhat of a limited fashion, it is OK,” Diedrich said.

Herseth was one of five representatives who visited Iraq from Sept. 23 to Sept. 26. Reps. Mark Udall (D-Colo.); Tom Osborne (R-Neb.); Ernest Istook (R-Okla.); and Scott Garrett, (R-N.J.) were also on the trip.

The delegation visited with Texas National Guard members and heard their concerns.

“All the soldiers were very appreciative that we would take the time – firsthand – to experience what they were doing,” Herseth said.

She was unable to speak to South Dakota National Guard members because of their location, but she did meet some soldiers from South Dakota who were part of units from other states. She said it was exciting to see other South Dakotans in a country on the other side of the world.

“It’s a small world, especially for South Dakotans,” Herseth said.

Herseth said it was good for her, as a politician, to see the physical stress American and Iraqi soldiers live through.

“It meant a lot for me to see some of the conditions our service men are facing,” she said. “It reaffirmed my desire to be as supportive as I can be as a congressperson.”

Herseth said the trip showed her what Americans need to do in Iraq.

“Our responsibility is to give them what they need to complete their mission,” she said.

Herseth is not the only South Dakota politician to visit Iraq since the war began. Tom Daschle visited with South Dakota National Guard troops this summer. However, some of the soldiers felt that he had more political intentions.

“I thought it was more of a political move,” said Jill Winckler who is part of the South Dakota National Guard 740th Transportation Co. that was stationed in Iraq for more than a year.

Winckler, a sophomore business economic major from Yankton, said that she believes most politicians go over to Iraq for good public relations, but that some visit Iraq because they truly care about the soldiers.

“Some people think it makes the troops feel they are concerned about us,” she said.

Comedian Tom Green also visited the 740th in Iraq. Although Winckler doesn’t always think it is a good idea for politicians to visit troops, she said it is encouraging when it’s an entertainer.

“Basically, we didn’t have a life and that was a great way to boost our morale and it was exciting. I think it helped a lot of people,” she said.

In Iraq, Herseth and the other delegates received a number of briefings about the situation there. Herseth said the group heard from military officials about economic issues; the conditions of the Iraqi people and the soldiers; the current and improved treatment of Iraqi detainees; what can be done to stop attacks; and the January Iraqi election.

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is in charge of Iraqi prisons, briefed the delegation on the prisons in Iraq and gave them a tour of the Abu Ghraib prison.

The congressional representatives were in a briefing in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad when it was attacked. A rocket was launched into the embassy complex approximately 500 meters from where Herseth and the others were having their meeting, according to the Associated Press

“We weren’t aware of the impact,” Herseth said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.