Oliver North

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Liberals are, by nature, opportunists. While I was in Iraq, covering the U.S. Marine and Army units in Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was fascinating to catch American television broadcasts on my man-pack satellite video equipment.

If we were in a semi-secure situation, the troops would gather 'round the tiny screen and watch -- some for the first time in months. It was great entertainment -- observing the troops' reactions as liberal pundits like Barry Lynn, Peter Fenn and Alan Colmes explained that military victories in Iraq proved that critics were wrong about William Jefferson Blythe Clinton's tenure as commander in chief.

The troops would hoot and holler as Clinton defenders claimed their boy Bill hadn't harmed the military. "See," they argued, "our troops are just fine. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton were right to gut the military and slash defense spending. If Clinton was so bad for the military, why are we having such an easy time in Iraq?" they asked rhetorically. The rant usually concluded with, "The troops have all the equipment they need."

The troops do have equipment -- no question. But much of it is aging, outdated and difficult to maintain. The Marines with whom I was embedded in Iraq -- Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 -- were flying some of the same CH-46 helos that carried me and my mates into combat in Vietnam more than 34 years ago. With the exception of a few sergeants major, the squadron commander and I were the only people in those birds who were older than the helicopters.

The Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) that carried most of the Marine combat units hundreds of miles into battle were nearly all older than the troops inside them. The Marine C-130s that landed on highways in the middle of the night to deliver supplies and evacuate wounded were equally ancient. And while the Army and Marines had magnificent M-1 Abrams tanks, the M-88 Tank Retrievers, essential to recovering damaged armor, date back to the Vietnam era.

It's not just the Army and Marines. The USS Tarawa, LHA-1, was commissioned in 1976. The Navy's P-3 aircraft are the geriatrics of intelligence collection. And the word "venerable" inadequately describes the B-52s that fly the unfriendly skies over Afghanistan and Iraq.

The "wrench turners" who tirelessly and creatively keep these weapons, ships, planes and equipment working acknowledge -- off the record -- that they often have to use unorthodox methods.


Oliver North

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.