It wasn't supposed to be this way -- packing up for an eighth trip to document the war in Iraq. The war I'm going back to was supposed to be over by now. I've said as much in this column and on the air in hundreds of broadcasts for FOX News Channel while embedded with U.S. and Iraqi troops. But it's not over.
At this time of the year I should be running through a mall with my wife of 38 years, Christmas shopping for our eight grandchildren. Instead, I'm running through an equipment checklist with my field producer, Andy Stenner and combat cameraman, Mal James.
Essential personal gear has changed remarkably little in the nearly four decades since I started packing up for war. Each of us carry a 45-pound flak jacket with four ceramic plates, a Kevlar helmet, desert tan combat boots, four pairs of socks, four green T-shirts, two sets of field clothing, flame-proof Nomex coveralls and gloves, a poncho-liner, ballistic eye protection, CamelBak water bag, first-aid kit, web belt, shaving gear, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, tiny blue-lens Sure-Fire flashlights and extra batteries. All of this is jammed into our backpacks.
Broadcast equipment -- cameras, computers, satellite telephones and transceivers, solar panels, charging devices, power inverters, connectors, tools and seemingly miles of multi-colored wires -- are all carefully stowed in five hard Pelican cases. We've packed up and moved this stuff so often in Iraq and Afghanistan we can now offload all 375 pounds and 44 cubic feet in less than a minute from a helicopter on a dusty LZ in the middle of the night, and be ready to "go live" from a gunfight a quarter-hour later.
When our combat coverage team left Ramadi, Iraq last December, there was reason to hope that things were going to turn out all right. The Iraqi people had pulled off a largely peaceful and remarkably successful election. A democratically elected government -- the first in Mesopotamia's long history -- was expected to take charge in Baghdad and bring political reconciliation, stability and economic recovery. But it didn't.
In February, Sunni terrorists destroyed the famous Golden Mosque in Samarra -- a revered Shia shrine. Within days, the Mahdi Army -- Moqtada Al Sadr's private Shiite militia, supported -- some say directed -- by Tehran, was back on the streets killing Sunnis. By last August, when thermometers along the Tigris and Euphrates pegged the dial at 130 degrees, it was apparent that things weren't working the way they were supposed to in Baghdad, or elsewhere.
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.