After Conde was hit, he continued fighting and ultimately, in addition to the weapons, six terrorists were captured and taken off the streets of ar-Ramadi. Conde, because of his grievous wounds, could have had a ticket home, yet he decided to stay with this battalion as a squad leader. I asked him why. "There was no other choice for a sergeant in the Marine Corps," Conde explained. "You have to lead your Marines."
But it's not all fighting here in ar-Ramadi, the provincial capital of the largest province in Iraq. In fact, the Marines are doing all they can to avoid it. They take to the locals the message that when dealing with the Marines, you can have "no greater friend, or no worse enemy." All week, Marines have conducted information operations designed to remind the people of ar-Ramadi that we are here as friends. The information operation was an exchange with the locals about water purification systems, electricity and improvements for schools. It also resulted in locals giving the Marines more information about terrorists in the neighborhood and their hideouts.
Jeffrey Craig, a platoon commander, said the reason for these operations is "to speak with the people who don't normally want to talk to us and give them information about why we're here, what we're doing, and reasons to believe in the coalition and the future of Iraq."
Another Marine told me he believes that as a result of the information operations, there are Iraqis who are friendlier to the United States. "People come out of their houses, they smile at us and they say things like, 'Hello, America.'" It's a mission to instill in the people of Iraq a hope for freedom and a belief in the chance for democracy.
By day, Marines are conducting these information operations, playing soccer with Iraqi children and helping the locals in ways that they can. By night, they go back into neighborhoods where they've been hit before, armed with intelligence, and kick down the doors of bad guys house. It's a gut-churning experience because you don't know if the guy on the other side of the door is going to meet you with an improvised explosive device or an AK-47.
But the Marines do it -- far from home, in the dark of night, after working all day, and while everybody else is tucked safely in bed. These 18, 1, and 20 year olds, who are part diplomat, part warrior, are taking the terrorists off the streets one by one. They have already seen more death and destruction and have had more responsibility than their civilian peers will ever have. And they do it all with grace, modesty and courage.
After one raid this week, I asked PFC Thompson, an 18-year-old hero, if he was worried going into the raid since it was in a spot where two Marines were previously killed. "A little bit," he said, "but I knew that with my Marines by my side, that everything would be OK."
It's the kind of wisdom and confidence that some of our liberal political "leaders" in Washington would do well to display from time to time.
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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