The new congressman for Yucaipa, former state assemblyman Paul Cook, returned Tuesday from a five-day congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates, according to his staff.
Cook, R-Yucca Valley, was elected in November to represent the newly-drawn 8th District, which covers more than 20,000 square miles and includes east Mentone, the mountain communities north of Redlands and Loma Linda, Death Valley, the Owens River Valley, and Mono Lake.
In Afghanistan and the UAE, Cook was part of a traveling delegation that included House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.
"The most important thing for me was to get out there and view the situation on the ground in Afghanistan," Cook said in a statement. "I wanted to talk to the troops so I could hear from them and know their assessment of the situation."
Cook, a retired USMC colonel, served 26 years in the Marines including combat tours in Vietnam. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The trip to Afghanistan and the UAE included a briefing with USMC General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., current commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Dunford assumed command on Feb. 10 of this year, according to Cook's staff.
Cook also met with Major General Mohammad Zaman Waziri, Afghanistan National Army Commander, Cook's staff said. Waziri will continue to oversee more of the ground operations, as U.S. troops continue withdrawal.
"The safety of our troops is always a top priority for me, as it was when I was in the Marine Corps," Cook said. "There is no such thing as complete safety, but I came away absolutely impressed by the progress and dedication of our armed forces in Afghanistan.
"Unfortunately, this news doesn't always reach the home front, and that's really a huge disservice to these brave men and women," Cook said. "I walked away confident of our military leadership in there, and I'm optimistic about a smooth transition as US troops continue to draw down."
The delegation also met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE, who Cook described as "one of our best allies in the region."
In November, Cook defeated Tea Party-backed candidate Gregg Imus, R-Blue Jay. Imus' supporters include the Mountain Area Tea Party and Redlands Tea Party groups.