It is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Marines who have been fighting here since April say that it is cooler now than a month ago, when temperatures reached 124 degrees. The bright sunlight is oppressive, and fine dust, the consistency of talcum powder, permeates everything. Terrain more than a few hundred meters from the Helmand River looks like desolate lunar landscape. In this climate, drinking at least eight liters of water a day is essential for survival.
According to Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, the commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1/6, nearly half the Marines in this unit were with us in Iraq. Some have made as many as five combat deployments. All of them are volunteers. Though the Marines don't have a body count, the Helmand provincial government credits the Marines with killing more than 400 enemy combatants in this Taliban stronghold. No one here disputes the number. --Strongpoint "Bravo," Aug. 3, 2008:
The improvised explosive device detonated directly beneath the lead vehicle of our first patrol. The explosion blew Chris Jackson, our Fox News cameraman, from his seat on the right rear of the vehicle. Though heavily armored, the Humvee was engulfed in flames immediately.
Trapped in the front of the burning vehicle were the wounded driver, Cpl. Arnaldo Figueroa, and Sgt. Courtney Rauch. Despite his own wounds from shrapnel, Jackson immediately jumped up and rushed back to the flaming vehicle to rescue Rauch.
As ammunition "cooked off" inside the vehicle, Jackson helped the Marines drag Rauch and Figueroa to safety behind the next vehicle in the column. While two medical corpsmen, Jose Pena and Gregory Cox, administered first aid to the wounded, Lt. John Branson deployed his Marines to secure a helicopter landing zone.
Within minutes of the explosion, an armed UH-1N "Huey" and an AH-1J "Cobra" gunship appeared overhead, followed immediately by a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. Less than 20 minutes after the blast that had wounded them, the two Marine casualties were in the air headed for the hospital.
It has been a great blessing for me to have spent most of my life in the company of heroes -- people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. That certainly defines the young Americans here in Marine Expeditionary Unit 24. Hero is a word that also applies to our Fox News cameraman, Canadian Chris Jackson.
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.