Fact Check

Barack Obama in Afghanistan

Barack Obama 'blew off' U.S. soldiers during a July 2008 trip to Afghanistan?

Published July 25, 2008


Claim:   Barack Obama "blew off" U.S. soldiers during a July 2008 trip to Afghanistan.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, February 2009]


Hello everyone,

As you know I am not a very political person. I just wanted to pass along
that Senator Obama came to Bagram Afghanistan for about an hour on his
visit to 'The War Zone'. I wanted to share with you what happened. He got
off the plane and got into a bullet proof vehicle, got to the area to meet
with the Major General (2 Star) who is the commander here at Bagram. As
the Soldiers where lined up to shake his hand he blew them off and didn't
say a word as he went into the conference room to meet the General. As he
finished, the vehicles took him to the ClamShell (pretty much a big top
tent that military personnel can play basketball or work out in with
weights) so he could take his publicity pictures playing basketball. He
again shunned the opportunity to talk to Soldiers to thank them for their
service. So really he was just here to make a showing for the American's
back home that he is their candidate for President. I think that if you
are going to make an effort to come all the way over here you would thank
those that are providing the freedom that they are providing for you. I
swear we got more thanks from the NBA Basketball Players or the Dallas
Cowboy Cheerleaders than from one of the Senators, who wants to be the
President of the United States. I just don't understand how anyone would
want him to be our Commander-and-Chief. It was almost that he was scared
to be around those that provide the freedom for him and our great country.

If this is blunt and to the point I am sorry but I wanted you all to
know what kind of caliber of person he really is. What you see in the news
is all fake.

In service,
CPT Jeffrey S. Porter
Battle Captain
TF Wasatch
American Soldier
(married and father of 6 children)


Origins:   Tales of prominent Democrats snubbing or acting rudely towards military and security personnel (and tales of those personnel responding in kind) have been a common form of political rumor over the last few decades, so it was probably only a matter of time before an example of such popped up during the 2008 presidential election cycle.

The above-quoted account of Senator Barack Obama's supposedly "blowing off" military personnel in Afghanistan started hitting our inbox almost immediately after the senator's visit to that country during his July 2008 trip to the Middle East. According to an Army spokesperson (as quoted in the New York Daily News) the details recounted in that message are false:

The latest chain e-mail smear against Barack Obama: He "blew off" troops at an Afghan base to shoot hoops for a publicity photo.

The e-mail claims Obama repeatedly shunned soldiers on his way to the Clamshell — a recreation tent — to "take his publicity pictures playing basketball."

"These comments are inappropriate and factually incorrect," said Bagram spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, who added that such political commentary is barred for uniformed personnel.

Obama didn't play basketball at Bagram or visit the Clamshell, she said. Home-state troops were invited to meet him, but his arrival was kept secret for security reasons.

"We were a bit delayed ... as he took time to shake hands, speak to troops and pose for photographs," Nielson-Green said.

In a follow-up blog entry, the Daily News reported that the e-mail's author has recanted his original message:


his e-mail, the Task Force Wasatch "battle captain" beefed about the Illinois senator supposedly breezing into Bagram Airfield this week and blowing off G.I.s on his way to a staged photo-op to play basketball.

"I swear we got more thanks from the NBA Basketball Players or the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders than from one of the Senators, who wants to be the President of the United States. I just don’t understand how anyone would want him to be our Commander-and-Chief. It was almost that he was scared to be around those that provide the freedom for him and our great country," the captain wrote.

Now the Bagram captain is dialing back, having signed the viral e-mail with his name, rank and unit — a possible violation of military regulations barring political statements. This morning, he sent [us] a new statement (punctuation corrected):

"I am writing this to ask that you delete my email and not forward it. After checking my sources, information that was put out in my email was wrong. This email was meant only for my family. Please respect my wishes and delete the email and if there are any blogs you have my email portrayed on I would ask if you would take it down too. Thanks for your understanding."

In addition to the official military denials, the following Department of Defense video shows Senator Obama meeting, talking, and eating breakfast with U.S. troops in Afghanistan (and includes a brief interview with a soldier who noted that Obama "took time out of his schedule to come over and visit with us, not just at this camp but at other surrounding camps in Afghanistan"):

We also received a flood of messages from U.S. troops who encountered Senator Obama during his Middle East trip (in Afghanistan and elsewhere) and reported quite different experiences than what was claimed the original e-mail. The following is a sampling of the more printable ones:

BTW, we have been cleared to discuss it now, but I did meet Obama. He
came through here on Friday, his first stop in theater. He was with 3
senators and loads of secret service. One of the senators was from RI, and
we just happen to have one of the two people here from RI, so she got to
have lunch with her senator.

My folks and I spent about the last 4 days leading up to his visit jumping
through hoops to get radio comms, etc. straight. He went from the plane
to the chow hall and shook everyone's hand and ate lunch with a select
few. I did meet him and shake his hand. There was pictures taken, but
there were only a few who were allowed to take pictures, so I
don't know if I can a copy. He asked me where I was from and what I do
here. I told him I was in Communications. He then asked what part of the
Communications field, which I then replied I was an Operations Flight
Commander, I get into everything. :-) He laughed.

I guess the biggest thing about seeing him in person is he extremely
skinny. I guess he doesn't get time to eat. Ha, Ha.

There was a Civil Engineer NCO who told Obama his son was going to vote
for him. Obama asked him how old was his son, and he said 8! Obama ended
up flagging down one of scribes and got the guys home address so Obama
could write his son and thank him for wanting to vote for him.

I am an officer in Afghanistan and took photos of Obama greeting the troops. He was very cordial and likeable.

I don't know who this captain saw, but it wasn't the Barack Obama *I* just saw in Afghanistan.
Unlike most of the pols who breeze on through for nothing more than brief photo ops before leaving
he was warm, friendly & engaging (as much as security would allow) with the troops he met and he was
genuinely interested in us and our mission and how we could best serve our country. When
Obama went to Jordan a few days ago they said "The guy gets it. Sharp, aware and a very
good listener. He doesn't seem stuck in preconceived positions." Those are the qualities *I*'d like
to see in my Commander in Chief. While Obama was out visiting the troops, what was John McCain
doing ...?, playing golf with his rich cronies (Bush Sr.) in Kennbunkport and whining about how much
press coverage Obama was getting. Definitely *not* the qualities I want to see in my Commander in Chief.

Personally I think any officer who would publically gripe about not getting "thanked" for his service by a civilian is a
disgrace to the military.

CPT Porter wasn't even there. He claims Obama went to play
basketball with troops, which isn't true. Obama went to the Headquarters
buildings to have meetings with the Generals and then he flew to meet
soldiers at Jalalabad. CPT Porter lied and said that he played basketball
with troops at Bagram, when fact of the matter is - is that he got this
info from reading the newsheadlines that say he played bball in Kuwait. I
met Sen Obama and I've also submitted photos of him in Afghanistan for you
to view. He thanked me for my service and was forever grateful for the
sacrifices me and my family are making while I am out here.

I am disgusted to be serving alongside a liar like Captain Porter, I hope
he gets court martialed for lying.


The Salt Lake Tribune reported that it was unlikely the e-mail's author would face any disciplinary measures:

Utah Guard spokesman Hank McIntire said soldiers need to make sure they "separate their private views with what they say when they're in uniform."

"When you send out an e-mail, you just never know where it's going to end up," he said. "It's becoming more and more difficult to have a privately held opinion,
so you have to be doubly careful what you say and who you say it to."

McIntire said he did not expect Porter to face any disciplinary measures, noting that the captain appears contrite for having sent an e-mail with inaccurate information.

Last updated:   1 July 2009


    Cox, Matthew and Rick Maze.   "Officer: Part of Anti-Obama E-Mail Was Wrong."

    Army Times.   26 July 2008.

    LaPlante, Matthew D.   "Utah Soldier: E-mail About Obama Had Errors."

    The Salt Lake Tribune.   26 July 2008.

    Meek, James Gordon.   "Army Officials Refute Claim of Barack Obama Snub in Afghanistan."

    [New York] Daily News.   25 July 2008.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags