Four years ago, this annual Christmas column was written from Baquba, Iraq, while our Fox News "War Stories" team was embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division and special operations units operating against the Iranian-supported Mahdi Army in the outskirts of Baghdad. A year earlier, the Christmas 2006 column was written in Ramadi, Iraq, while we were embedded with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in what was then the bloodiest place on the planet. And in 2005, this column originated with 3d Battalion, 7th Marines and the 2nd Brigade of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard, in Anbar province, where we documented the first free elections ever held in an Arab country.
This week, the last U.S. combat and combat support units were withdrawn from Iraq. Many of them will celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace with their joyful families. For these American heroes and their loved ones -- especially those who have experienced multiple overseas deployments in this long war -- that's great news.
The retrograde of more than 30,000 U.S. military personnel from Iraq was accomplished in less than a month without the loss of a single American life. Though the White House is showering itself with accolades for this remarkable feat, the credit really belongs to those wearing flak jackets, helmets, fight suits and combat boots -- they pulled it off. All but forgotten in this week's homecoming celebrations are the more than 300,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines who will observe Christmas far from home and those who love them.
These are the U.S. troops stationed overseas -- from the Balkans to the Korean peninsula -- many of them in the most difficult and dangerous places on earth. Despite hardship and risk, their steadfast commitment ought to be an inspiration for all of us in this holiday season.
Nearly 90,000 Americans will spend this holiday in Afghanistan. Those deployed on lonely outposts high in the shadows of the Hindu Kush will have a white Christmas -- but no chance of hearing "sleigh bells ringing." One young Marine in Helmand province told me this week, "All I want for Christmas is no friendly killed; no friendly wounded."
U.S. Army Private First Class Brian Dilberian of the 10th Mountain Division lost both legs and his left hand to a Taliban emplaced improvised explosive device in July 2011. He's now a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Last week, at Sean Hannity's "Salute to the Troops Concert" in Washington, D.C., he told me his Christmas present this year would be growing "two inches taller on my new legs."
Thus far, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of nearly 1,900 Americans. More than 15,000 have been wounded there since we were attacked on 9/11. These numbers alone ought to make us all wonder what Vice President Joe Biden was thinking this week when he told a reporter, "Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy." Knowing who our enemies really are would be a great Christmas gift for the Obama administration.
Unfortunately, we do have enemies. That's why 28,500 Americans in the Republic of Korea, another 48,000 in Japan and thousands more aboard U.S. Navy vessels deployed in the Pacific are paying very close attention to what's happening in North Korea while we're opening presents beneath our Christmas trees. In Pyongyang, where Christmas is not a holiday, 20-something-year-old Kim Jong-un appears to have inherited his father's nuclear-armed dynasty. The trouble is that we don't really know much about what's happening in the Hermit Kingdom. An American intelligence service worthy of the name would make a wonderful present.
Such a gift could also help us to know how close the apocalyptic ayatollahs in Tehran are to acquiring nuclear weapons. This week, when a CBS reporter asked if Iran could have a nuclear weapon in 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta replied, "It would probably be about a year before they can do it." If that's true, it means that nothing the O-team has done to deter such a dismal prospect has worked. A healthy dose of "reality" ought to have been on the White House gift list.
Thankfully, none of these weighty matters are likely to intrude on the Christmas celebrations of most Americans. That's because our lives and well-being are protected by 1.5 million of our countrymen wearing our nation's military uniforms. They are all volunteers -- the brightest and bravest of their generation. They have absented themselves from the affection of their loved ones, given up the comforts of home and placed themselves in harm's way so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings of liberty. On Christmas, say a prayer of thanks for their sacrifice.
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.