WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It began in the middle of the night, like so many other battles I've experienced. Here in the United States, it was still March 19 -- but along the Iraq-Kuwait border, it was already the 20th. My hastily scribbled notes for that night, scrawled in my reporter's notebook using night-vision goggles, recorded what my video camera was capturing: "Aircrew Final Briefing ... fully-loaded Royal Marines waiting for liftoff ... heavy artillery fires to northeast of LZ," and the fateful, "Dash Two down in fireball. No survivors."
Inadvertently, my camera's night lens caught the event on videotape -- the horrible image of the first 12 allied deaths in OIF -- Operation Iraqi Freedom. Four U.S. Marine airmen and eight Royal Marine Commandos perished instantly -- just minutes after the war started -- when their CH-46 helicopter crashed en route to the Faw peninsula. For several hours afterward, I incorrectly believed that Griff Jenkins, my FOX News field producer and cameraman, had also been killed on the doomed bird.
Twenty days -- and more than 100 "news feeds" later -- Jenkins and I would cover the 5th Marines' final assault on Saddam's Palace, perched beside the Tigris in downtown Baghdad. The euphoria of the Iraqi people as they tore down the giant statue of the deposed dictator in Firdos Square was unmistakable. So, too, was the exhilaration of U.S. troops -- for the capture of the dictator's capital allowed us to remove the hot and heavy chemical-biological protective suits we had worn nonstop since the start of the conflict. Then, seemingly within hours, nearly all of the "embedded" journalists disappeared.
The mainstream media -- which had forecast "thousands" of U.S. casualties and predicted that it would "take months" to capture Baghdad -- apparently didn't need to see any more. Thus, Jenkins and I were the only broadcast coverage team accompanying the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor of the 4th Infantry Division as it advanced through Samarra and Tikrit to start reconstruction in that sector of Iraq. Since then, U.S. media outlets have increasingly depended on local "freelance" stringers for videotape and written reports on the war.
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.