HMM 268 Forward Operating Base -- On Wednesday evening, President George W. Bush addressed the nation, alerting the American public that the "opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign" to liberate Iraq had begun. Our president, who has displayed such strong leadership in these challenging times, showed focus and determination. Since Sept. 11, 2001, he has consoled a grieving nation, assembled a global coalition to fight the war on terrorism and shown the world that the path to peace does not travel through Kofi Annan's United Nations.
Now, more than 200,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, joined by a coalition of international partners, is poised to begin the Baghdad Urban Restoration Project -- the next step in the war on terrorism.
Understandably, the spouses, family members and friends of these brave young Americans are concerned for their safety. Their fears are fueled by scattered reports that the troops are unprepared and ill-equipped for the mission that lies ahead. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among those 200,000 troops assembled in the Middle East are the Marines of HMM-268, a medium helicopter squadron with whom I am "embedded." To accommodate the desires of our hosts, as well as preserve operational security, we're allowed to describe our location only as an advanced operating base in the vicinity of the Iraqi border.
Their mission is to carry Marines in the assault, conduct medivacs of combat casualties, and insert and extract reconnaissance units well inside Iraq. Their equipment, maintained by skilled mechanics of the Red Dragon Squadron, has been running in the incessant sandstorms that, like a Midwestern twister, provide little warning of their arrival and allow almost no visibility to navigate the featureless desert.
And while I have been to some far-away places in difficult and extreme climates, these sandstorms are like nothing I've ever experienced. They literally blanket the place with a fine dust that obscures and covers everything. It adds an additional challenge for the Marines who must try to protect -- and then clean -- the sophisticated computers, jet engines and firing weapons that are covered and coated with sand.
About a third of the Marines I have encountered in the units I've visited here are combat veterans. None of them wanted another war. But now that we've got one, these are the people we want fighting it. The Marines I am with have been here for two months. They have participated almost daily and nightly in training with some of the most sophisticated equipment and weaponry the world has ever seen. They are smart, fit and ready.
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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