Calling it "one of the most profound experiences" in his life, Gov. Steve Beshear made surprise stops in Iraq and Kuwait on Tuesday to visit Kentucky soldiers.
Beshear said he told the soldiers that 4.5 million Kentuckians are praying for them.
"We have a lot of courageous men and women here who are doing a wonderful job of carrying out the duties and accomplishments that our country has set out for the Middle East," he said during a telephone conference call with state reporters.
Beshear said one soldier — Kentucky National Guard Warrant Officer Bruce W. Gentry, 43, of Shelby County — asked Beshear to tell his pregnant wife that he loved her and was looking forward to the birth of their child.
In an emotional telephone interview, Myrranda Gentry, 30, said she and her husband are expecting their first child together — a boy — on Aug. 31. They also have three children from previous marriages.
"It's pretty emotional to hear that my husband's words to the governor were that he loved me," she said, beginning to cry. "He may be at war, but he's thinking about me."
Beshear said he and three other governors were invited on the trip by the Pentagon in May because of the large number of soldiers from their states deployed to the Middle East. The federal government paid for the trip.
With Beshear were Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Gary R. Herbert of Utah. No other official from Kentucky accompanied him, Beshear said.
More than 2,600 Kentucky soldiers are deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, including the largest mobilization of Kentucky National Guard troops since World War II.
About 1,000 troops are deployed from Fort Campbell, as well as 140 troops from Fort Knox.
Nearly 1,500 Kentucky National Guard troops are serving in Iraq and Kuwait, including the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. The brigade, which consists of 1,467 soldiers from units in Louisville and southeastern Kentucky, deployed to the area this week.
In Kuwait, Beshear visited Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Arifjan. In Iraq, he met with troops at Joint Air Base Balad, Taji Air Base, Camp Victory Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport.
Beshear said he does not think any sitting Kentucky governor in recent history has visited Kentucky troops in a war zone.
Beshear and the other governors received a briefing early Monday at the Pentagon by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and then left for Kuwait. In the Middle East, the governors were briefed by Army Gen. Lloyd James Austin III, commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq.
Beshear said the danger soldiers experience hit him when he was issued body armor and a Kevlar helmet. He also noticed the searing heat in Iraq, which saw temperatures of 125 degrees Tuesday.
Beshear said his trip will continue Wednesday, but he declined to say where he was going because of security concerns. The governor said he would return to Washington, D.C., on Friday and planned to attend the Fancy Farm political picnic Saturday in Graves County.
Asked whether this week's visit would help his re-election efforts, Beshear said he had not thought about his campaign since arriving at the Pentagon on Monday morning.
"The welfare of these troops is a lot more important than politics," he said.
Beshear faces Republican David Williams and independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith in the Nov. 8 general election.