Weekly Columns

As many Arkansans celebrated Independence Day gathered with family and friends, I spent the week in the Middle East participating in series of high level meetings, classified briefings and visited with Arkansas troops stationed in the region to thank the men and women who make the holiday possible. 

I had an opportunity to visit with Arkansas troops serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In Turkey at the Incirlik Air Base, I was able to meet with Malinda Schoolfield from Bytheville and Andrew Williams from Cabot. In Kabul, Afghanistan I celebrated Independence Day with several Arkansans: Master Sergeant Jason Campbell of Calico Rock, Specialist Tim Van Brunt of Greenwood, Specialist Ricky Gwin III of Greenbrier, Lieutenant Colonel David Pinkston of Batesville, Staff Sergeant Matthew Rigg of Green Forrest, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Young of Sherwood, Colonel Tammy Hutchins-Frye of Cabot, and Andy de Kunffy of Conway. 

I wanted them to feel a little piece of home while I was there so we talked a lot about Razorback football. I always want to make sure that our troops serving abroad have everything they need to complete their mission and return home safely. This is especially important in the age of sequestration. In Afghanistan, we discussed the impact as well as the effort to accelerate peace talks, so that we can bring our men and women home. 

The situation across the Middle East remains very volatile. The U.S. is trying to facilitate peace negotiations between President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The events in Egypt were unfolding in real time while our delegation was in neighboring countries. Our meetings and briefings in Afghanistan, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provided important firsthand knowledge. 

The escalating conflict in Syria is straining the entire region in terms of both its own security and its ability to help refugees who have sought safety in nearby countries. And of course the entire Middle East remains concerned about a nuclear Iran. While there are no simple solutions, there is a great deal of need for U.S. leadership in the region.

In order to for legislators to make important decision about our role in the region, we must be able to make informed decisions. Our delegation included five of my colleagues Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). We were joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in Afghanistan on the Fourth of July. 

Visiting with commanders and those on the frontlines gave me invaluable insight to the needs of our troops. These men and women are sacrificing for us, and meeting with them was a real honor. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers while they serve abroad.