TACTICAL ASSEMBLY AREA "RIPPER" -- It is a dusty, dun-colored tent city parked on a barren, flat, windblown plain, lacking both vegetation and recognizable terrain features. Without a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver, it is impossible to know where you are or where you are going. It is also the temporary home of the fabled 7th Marine Regiment -- the "tip of the spear" for the First Marine Expeditionary Force in the upcoming battle for Baghdad.
The Marines here in this arid southwest Asian desert are blissfully unaware of the political machinations at the United Nations that have held them for more than a month, poised like a diver prepared for a plunge at the end of the board. And they couldn't care less about the protestations of the "Blame America First" crowd in San Francisco or other European cities. They do know that the French have "wimped out" once again and are quick to remind the hoards of visiting journalists that it's OK because, as one Marine put it, "the French have always been there when they needed us."
Despite the delay in getting done what they came here to do, these young warriors revere their commander in chief. And whether the nice folks at the United Nations or the critics in Europe or the antiwar activists in the United States like it or not, they have a refreshing certainty about their mission -- Saddam Hussein and the need to evict him from Iraq. This isn't because they are "poor, uneducated, minorities," as some liberal politicians have recently alleged in propounding a reinstitution of conscription. The all-volunteer troops here are predominantly white, middle-income Americans. Minorities are, if anything, under-represented in these units, and nearly 100 percent are high-school graduates.
Their "mission focus" isn't because they have been "brainwashed" by their superiors. During a briefing by an intelligence officer, the troops asked penetrating questions and got honest answers about what lies ahead -- and what it all could mean to the rest of the region. And it's not because they are "bloodthirsty," as a foreign journalist described them to me. In fact, none of the soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines with whom I have spoken over the last several days told me that they are here "itching for a fight."
What has apparently been missed by many of the media elites here covering the preparations for a gunfight in Iraq is the fact that no one who has ever really been to a war ever really wants to go to another one. And a remarkable percentage of these young men already have combat experience.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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