Desert Sand in Iraq, Sandbags in Iowa, and . . .

A congressional delegation will have to wait to see the famed giant rock statues of Easter Island.
A congressional delegation will have to wait to see the famed giant rock statues of Easter Island. (La Tercera Via Associated Press)
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By Al Kamen
Friday, June 27, 2008

Thousands of National Guard troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others have been rushed to the flood-ravaged Midwest.

Hundreds of their top state and national leaders were also away from home this week, deployed to protect the Eastern Caribbean from infiltration by our enemies.

Yes, it's the Adjutants General Association of the United States Spring Conference on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, aptly titled "Guarding Paradise With Culture and Spice."

The week-long gathering of the top brass -- with a separate agenda for spouses that includes much touring, boating and shopping -- is being held at the spectacular Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, with great golfing opportunities and other luxury amenities for the bargain government rate of only $260 a night.

Don't worry: There are half-day meeting sessions on the schedule, allowing plenty of time for all to relax and enjoy the beauty of the islands they are protecting.

By one estimate, the total bill to taxpayers for lodging, per diem and travel should easily top $1 million. (The National Guard budget shortfalls these days exceed $10 billion.)

Well, paradise can always use protection. Next year's meeting is in Jackson Hole, Wyo. In June.

No Go

Bad news on the travel front. We had planned a Four-Loop rating for a spectacular congressional delegation to be led by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to Easter Island and the Galapagos during the upcoming Fourth of July recess.

It's unclear how Easter Island -- one of the most isolated places on Earth, at 2,200 miles off Chile in the Pacific -- is essential to foreign or domestic policy considerations. But who cares? What a fantastic conversation starter! Amaze your friends, confound your rivals with tales and photos of those extraordinary large stone statues, the "moai," for which the island is famous.

Alas, when we called for reservations on the military jet, Shelby's office told us he "has canceled the trip due to scheduling conflicts and will be at home during the recess."

The initial itinerary, we had heard, was just about perfect. It centered on three days going to and from the island with a stop in the Galapagos. But apparently there were problems getting reservations on the Galapagos for the delegation's preferred night. There are, after all, just so many codels the hotels can accommodate.

If it's rescheduled, we'll try to reserve some spots.

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