Vice President Mike Pence returned to his hometown of Columbus on Saturday aboard Air Force 2, just in time for Christmas.
The former Indiana governor and his wife, Karen Pence, arrived at 3:33 p.m., touching down at Columbus Municipal Airport. Pence held the leash of a family dog as he departed the plane and waved to onlookers. After mingling a bit on the tarmac, the Pences left the airport 13 minutes later in a black sport-utility vehicle, although their next destination was not known.
Pence’s mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, and two of his brothers, Greg and Ed, live in the Columbus area, along with their spouses. The White House did not announce the vice president’s weekend schedule ahead of his trip to Columbus. Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa A. Farah, could not be reached Saturday afternoon for details on his Christmas holiday schedule.
In a Saturday morning tweet, Pence sent out a Christmas message to the nation: “No matter your belief may you find renewed strength this season. For all who in the coming days will look to a manger & claim the promise announced on a Holy Night of peace on Earth & good will toward men — from the First Family, my family & families across America: Merry Christmas.”
A couple dozen people lingered in the Columbus airport terminal waiting room, including Kent Ziegler of Columbus, a 53-year Cummins employee and retiree who heard Pence would be arriving that afternoon as he and family members were finishing their lunch at Blackerby’s Hangar 5 restaurant in the terminal. They waited a few hours, concluding it was worth the wait.
Others in the waiting room were there to welcome family members who traveled to Indiana with the vice president.
It was Mike Pence’s fourth trip to Columbus since he and President Trump were sworn into office during the Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington, D.C. And it was the second unannounced trip for Pence in two days.
Pence secretly flew to Afghanistan on Thursday to meet with Afghan government officials, U.S. military leaders in the war-torn country and hundreds of U.S. troops.
Under heavy security, Pence landed at Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. base in the country, shortly after sunset and then arrived by helicopter in the capital of Kabul to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the The Associated Press reported.
Pence’s surprise pre-Christmas visit to Afghanistan was the first by either Trump or the vice president, and it came as the Trump administration charts a pathway to end the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
“We’re here to see this through,” Pence told Ghani and Abdullah at the presidential palace in Kabul, arriving after a helicopter ride through smoky, dark skies surrounding Afghanistan’s capital.
Later, at a rally-style event at Bagram Air Base, Pence told U.S. troops: “I believe victory is closer than ever before.
“It’s because of all of you that we’re safe. It’s because of you that we’re free. It’s because of you that freedom has a future in Afghanistan and America and all across the wider world,” Pence said.
Pence also received briefings from military leaders, including Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
The White House restricted the use of cellphones and internet communications for a small group of journalists traveling to Afghanistan with the vice president, citing security concerns. Pence was on the ground for about 6½ hours before they were allowed to report on his whereabouts and activities.
Prior to Saturday, his most recent trip into Columbus Municipal Airport aboard Air Force 2 was Oct. 20 to attend his son’s wedding celebration that weekend at Brown County State Park in Nashville.
The Pences’ first trip back to Columbus this year was the morning of May 28 to attend the Indianapolis 500. They flew into Columbus, then used military helicopters to get to the race track and back before spending time from late afternoon to early evening with family members in Columbus.
In addition, Pence made at least one trip to Columbus by car after appearing in Anderson for a Sept. 22 public event.
Each of his Columbus visits have included assistance from Columbus police and fire departments and the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, city and county department heads have said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.