In a surprise conference call with reporters back home, Sandoval said he left Nevada on Monday and arrived in Baghdad early Tuesday after a brief stopover in Ireland.
Sandoval said he was impressed with the “courage and fortitude of the men and women of our armed forces.”
“The morale here is extremely high,” he said. “The soldiers from Nevada were extremely happy to see the governor of their state and it was very gratifying for me to give them hugs and let them know we are deeply grateful for their service.”
In Iraq, Sandoval visited Joint Air Base Balad, Taji Air Base, Camp Victory Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport. When he arrived, the temperature was 125 degrees, he said.
He also visited with troops at Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. For security reasons, Sandoval said he could not reveal his upcoming itinerary or say whether it included a stop in Afghanistan.
“I can’t talk about where I’m going from here,” he said.
He will be back in Nevada this weekend. In his absence, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is serving as acting governor.
Roughly 300 to 400 Nevada National Guard members are serving in the region, and untold numbers are serving there with other branches of the military.
Sandoval said he has met with soldiers from Las Vegas, Elko, Lovelock and Reno.
“They love their jobs. They’re all eager. They’re all fit. They’re well taken care of,” Sandoval said, adding he was impressed by the “depth of their loyalty.”
“They really are mission oriented.”
Top commanders briefed the gubernatorial delegation that also included Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Sandoval said. They also met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon before departing for overseas.