MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker returned early Friday morning from a secret whirlwind trip to Kosovo, where he visited the Wisconsin National Guard troops stationed there and escorted about 30 soldiers home from the republic in southeastern Europe.
"I think some people were surprised we still have forces in Kosovo," he told reporters in Milwaukee.
Walker said the troops were in good spirits and were proud of the work they had done, which included clearing a roadblock in an area where shots were fired.
The governor said he had been meaning to visit the troops for a while. Soldiers get a morale boost when governors visit them in person, he said, because they're reminded that their work is appreciated and recognized by Americans back home.
Walker's office kept the trip a secret until Thursday afternoon, citing security concerns.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, who joined Walker in Kosovo, said there had been about 160 Wisconsin troops stationed in Kosovo. About 30 of those came home this week, and the rest are approaching the end of their nearly yearlong deployment.
Walker said he flew back with some Wisconsin aviators and shared a beer with them during a layover in Ireland.
In 1999, then-President Bill Clinton sent troops into Kosovo to fight an ethnic cleansing campaign masterminded by the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. The U.S. led a NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia that stopped the brutal Serb forces' crackdown on the Albanians.
Small numbers of soldiers have remained in Kosovo since then. The Wisconsin troops who are coming home now were deployed last year as part of a peacekeeping mission with several other countries.
Walker said he had planned to visit Kosovo in May, but joked that "other things" got in the way, a reference to the recall election he survived in June. He said he'd be interested in other trips, such as visits to troops in Afghanistan, but those arrangements were trickier because of a more fluid military situation.
The Republican governor arrived in Kosovo on Wednesday morning and left late Thursday. He said he was asleep on the plane when Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin and President Barack Obama spoke Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, and that he hadn't seen their remarks.
He also commented on the tepid national jobs report released Friday. U.S. employers added a disappointing 96,000 jobs in August, and although the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, that was only because more people gave up looking for jobs.
"Even at 8.1, it's still the 43rd month in America that we've seen unemployment about 8 percent," Walker said, adding that those numbers are "disappointing."
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