Rich Galen

NOTE: This is an edited version of the column from Christmas 2003 which was written from Tikrit and Baghdad. At the time, according to the Congressional Research Service, there were 130,600 U.S. troops in Iraq when this was written. This Christmas, most of them are home.

But we have American personnel - civilian and military - stationed in almost every country of the world. They won't be home for Christmas this weekend. Let's not forget they are still out there. On post.

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It is 10:45 PM on Christmas Eve here in the Palace in Baghdad, eight hours ahead of the east coast of the United States. The space in which I work is a large barn of a room we call the Green Room.

The Air Force folks set up a white board against one of the greenish walls, borrowed a projector used for presentations, and loaded the DVD of "It's a Wonderful Life" into a computer.

George Bailey has been declared, by his brother, "the richest man in town," and Clarence has just won his wings.

Still holds up.

Starting at about six this morning the bad guys tried to prove that neither Saddam's capture [about two weeks previous] nor Christmas meant anything to them by launching mortar attacks. They didn't hit much but they kept us all on edge all day.

Because of the attacks, the young Marines who nightly come in to use our phones to call home are absent because they are out protecting us. They will probably patrol all night. We will let them use our phones tomorrow.

All over Iraq - all over the globe - there are young people like our Marines who are out protecting us. They are American service personnel who are not home tonight and will not be home tomorrow nor the day after that.

Most of them will get to a phone or, at a minimum, a computer with which to share a moment with their families.

They are not sad, these young people. They are committed to doing what they have been trained to do.

They want to go home. And they will, most of them. But for tonight, it is another night on duty, in a building, a ship, or a tent which, depending upon where they are, might or might not have inside plumbing.

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Christmas goodies are strewn everywhere in the Green Room. Care packages of candy and cookies have been flooding into the Palace as, I suspect, they have everywhere in the theater.

The rule is: You open the box, take out what you want, and leave the rest of the treasure on the floor next to your desk. Anyone who comes by is welcome to take whatever appeals.

The big winner is Oreo's Double Stuff. Can't keep them in stock.

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Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.