QUANTICO, VA -- Until I joined the Fourth Estate, it was my experience that most soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines usually eschewed contact with members of the media. Regard for the potentates of the press used to be about equal to that of chiggers, ticks, scorpions and fire ants. When I was on active duty, I had an aerosol can of bug spray hand-labeled: "Reporter Repellant." And if a military person had to co-habit space with any of these assorted insects, the last thing anyone wanted to do was to discuss politics. Things have changed.
Shortly before the presidential election, our Fox News team was embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Though nearly all acknowledged applying for absentee ballots, few of them were able to follow the presidential campaign or the debates, and fewer still had the time or inclination to speculate about what the outcome might be. Now that the issue is decided, they are no longer reticent about expressing their frustrations with the power brokers in Washington.
Over the course of the past month, our "Heroes Proved" book tour bus has visited more than two-dozen U.S. military installations and bookstores in nearby communities. It's empirical data, but I estimate that over half of those lining up to buy this book are currently serving military personnel, veterans or their family members. They aren't happy with what's happening in our nation's capital -- or the way it's being covered by the so-called mainstream media.
Those wearing our nation's uniforms are tired of hearing about the apocalypse predicted in a Mayan calendar. They know the fiscal cliff is a disaster for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. They wonder if anyone on the banks of the Potomac really cares about what happens to their hard-pressed families, dwindling military health care or how they will prepare for the next fight "if all the good leaders get out."
To a far greater extent than their civilian peers, the young Americans in uniform are concerned about all the bad news in the Middle East. News about Syrian government troops preparing sarin gas chemical weapons and firing Scud missiles at rebel strongholds doesn't get much more than a shrug on an American college campus. But on the U.S. military bases we are visiting, it has the full attention of officers and senior enlisted personnel who care about their troops. Several have acknowledged that "stocks of protective masks, outerwear, decontamination and detection equipment used up in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) in 2003 have never been replaced," and that "we haven't done any serious NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) defense training in a decade."
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.