In a telephone interview Wednesday from Bagram, Afghanistan, Sandoval said the military base learned a soldier stationed there had been killed. In what has become a tradition on military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a ramp ceremony was to be held later that night, and Sandoval planned to attend.
The ceremony is a final salute to fallen warriors. Soldiers and base personnel line a tarmac as an escort accompanies the coffin onto a military cargo plane for the journey home.
Sandoval is in the Middle East at the invitation of the Pentagon to visit with troops in the region. He is traveling with the governors of Utah, Tennessee and Kentucky.
On Wednesday, he met with members of the Nevada Army National Guard 422nd Signal Battalion. The governor attended deployment ceremonies for the troops in Las Vegas and Reno before they left on their mission in January.
“The 422nd are in great spirits, very proud of their mission here,” Sandoval told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“They were extremely happy to see me and I was more happy to see them,” he said, adding that all are “eager to get home, but at the same time so proud to be serving their country.”
Sandoval said he’s relished sharing jovial banter with the troops and the camaraderie that comes with snippets and reminders of home.
Sandoval said he met a soldier from Elko, and the two talked about the Star Hotel, a family-style Basque restaurant. “I told him I’d be there over Labor Day and he said, ‘Don’t tell me that!’” Sandoval said.
Another soldier salivated when they talked about the famous “Awful Awful” burger from the Little Nugget in downtown Reno.
“He said, ‘You’re killing me,’” Sandoval said.
The gubernatorial delegation arrived in the Middle East on Tuesday and visited troops in Iraq before spending the night in Kuwait. They boarded a plane at 6 a.m. Wednesday and flew to Kabul, then made a stop in Kandahar before arriving in Bagram to spend the night.
“We’re covering a lot of ground,” the governor said. “The topography is almost identical to the state of Nevada. If you didn’t know, you’d think you were flying between Reno and Las Vegas.”
Traveling on C-130 cargo planes and Black Hawk helicopters, the governor is outfitted in protective military gear.
“It’s a pretty sobering moment when you put the body armor on,” he said.
As commander in chief of the Nevada National Guard, Sandoval said the experience has been awe-inspiring and has deepened his own sense of duty.
He’s also committed to help provide troops with the little things that make their life more bearable by rallying residents to send cards, notes and care packages — small gestures that mean so much in a far-away, war torn land.
“It’s extremely humbling to be over here,” Sandoval said. “It is the opportunity of a lifetime to see the men and women who serve our country.”