Rep. Lee Zeldin is spending the holidays in the Middle East, traveling to countries within the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
Zeldin is leading a four-member bipartisan Congressional delegation on the trip, his third consecutive year in the region during the holiday season.first
The delegation arrived in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve and after a classified diplomatic and military briefing had dinner at the residence of U.S. Ambassador John Bass. They had breakfast on Christmas morning with troops in Kabul.
“Just a few hundred feet from where we were, there was an ISIS suicide attack,” Zeldin said in a U.S. Army video interview.
On Dec. 26, the delegation traveled to Kuwait, where they met with the ministers of defense and foreign affairs before meeting with deployed troops. Zeldin also visited Camp Arifjan where he shared a holiday lunch with deployed New Yorkers, and met with the leadership of the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve and U.S. Army Central. Afterwards, he visited Al Jaber Air Base where he joined the Marines stationed there for dinner, including several NY-1 residents, following a briefing from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
The visits are important opportunities for the representatives to gather information that enhances their ability to carry out their functions in Congress, Zeldin said.
“Meeting with our ambassador and the leaders of foreign governments…learning from the strategic and tactical standpoints, meeting with members of a battalion who are on the front line of freedom,” Zeldin said. The experience is invaluable, he said. “There is nothing better than being able to hear firsthand while we’re here and to be able to bring that back to our colleagues.”
But Zeldin, a U.S. Army veteran and active member of the Army Reserve since 2007, said his “highest honor” is to be able to “personally thank all of our deployed men and women abroad for their tremendous sacrifice on behalf of a very grateful nation.” Zeldin was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2006.
“For many of our deployed military and diplomatic personnel, this isn’t their first holiday season away from their loved ones,” Zeldin said. “Being able to visit New Yorkers stationed abroad, let them know how much they are appreciated, and receive their critical feedback from the ground, is the absolute least I can do to make sure they know how much countless Americans are thinking about them, praying for them, and [are] filled with enormous gratitude for their incredible sacrifice.”
Zeldin is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in which he serves on the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee and the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee.
In 2016, Zeldin was a member of a congressional delegation that visited Afghanistan during Christmas. He visited U.S. troops in Iraq over Christmas in December 2015.
Other members of the congressional delegation this year are Rep. David Cicilline (D, RI-1), Congressman Mike Coffman (R, CO-6), and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-8).
Correction: This article has been amended post-publication to delete a reference to the length of Rep. Zeldin’s deployment in Iraq, sourced from an article in the military publication Stars and Stripes, the accuracy of which is disputed by the congressman.