WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I've got the best job in broadcasting. My "day job" is to host "War Stories" for Fox News Channel. My "additional duty" is to cover young Americans in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, I get to hang around with heroes.
No sane person who has ever been to a war wants to go to another. I first saw the carnage of combat as a rifle platoon commander in Vietnam. And I've been an eyewitness to the bravery and horror of war in Lebanon, Central America, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel and now Iraq. There is nothing glorious about war. But thankfully, there are those in America still willing to fight when the cause is just. And when they do, their efforts deserve to be reported accurately. That's why I went to Iraq.
I went with the preconceived notion that I'd already seen the "best of the best" in uniform -- those with whom I had served in combat. I was wrong. Having lived with them for the entire war, it is clear: There have never been brighter, better trained, better equipped soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines than those now serving. The credit goes to the NCOs and junior officers who held the military together during the budget cuts, social engineering, fruitless deployments and lack of training in the 1990s.
In the combat arms -- infantry, artillery, armor, airborne, Special Ops -- they are all male, since current law forbids putting women into these units. But that doesn't mean that young women who serve in combat support units, like Jessica Lynch, can't easily find themselves in harm's way. But your typical young American in the helicopter and infantry combat units that I covered look like this.
On average, he's 19.6 years old -- about six months older than his grandfather who served in World War II or Korea. He isn't old enough to buy a beer, and if he were home we would call him a "boy." But because he's at war, we call him a soldier or a Marine. He was a high school athlete who also worked part-time and, unlike many of his peers, he's never drawn an unemployment check and never wants to.
A few times a week, he writes to his sweetheart back home and hopes that when the mailbag arrives he'll get a letter from her -- and his mom -- though he'd never admit to the latter. If he gets a care package from home with disposable razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, beef jerky, toilet paper and baby wipes, he'll share them with his squad and be a hero for a day.
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.