They're heroes to me

Posted: Apr 30, 2004 12:00 AM

        Ar-Ramadi, Iraq -- Three weeks ago, Andy Rooney, a syndicated newspaper columnist and commentator for CBS News' "60 Minutes," wrote a column titled, "Our Soldiers in Iraq Aren't Heroes." Rooney is part of a team of "journalists" at CBS News who, especially over the past few weeks, have gone out of their way to protest the administration's policies in Iraq and the war on terror. Interviews with former White House adviser Richard Clarke and Washington Post editor Bob Woodward to promote their respective books were nothing more than forums to condemn and criticize President Bush and the war in Iraq. While it is unfair and disappointing, such bitter behavior is expected from those who have long been openly contemptuous of this president.
     But for Rooney to sit atop his ivory tower in New York City, where this war on terror began, attack our young men and women in uniform, and essentially question their patriotism, is about as low as it gets.

        Rooney, who to my knowledge hasn't been to Iraq to visit the troops, nonetheless smeared them by charging, "You can be sure our soldiers in Iraq are not all brave heroes gladly risking their lives for us sitting comfortably back here at home." I've spent the last three weeks with Marines and soldiers in Iraq, and they're pretty damn heroic as far as I'm concerned. I can't imagine that Rooney's viewpoint from Black Rock is somehow clearer than here in ar-Ramadi.

        Not heroes, Andy? Meet Lance Corporal Conyers, a member of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. On April 6, Conyers was on patrol with his squad when they became engaged in a firefight. "I was out in front at an unlucky moment and took a round to the chest," Conyers told me, "then one ricocheted off the light pole next to me and hit me in the leg." The corpsman rushed to Conyers side and treated him, and Conyers stayed in the fight.

        In his column, Rooney insists that our troops "want to come home," and says if he had the chance to interrogate our guys in uniform to prove his point, he would ask them, "If you could have a medal or a trip home, which would you take?"

        What do you think Conyers chose, Andy? The bullet Conyers took in the chest was fired from an AK-47. It was inches from his heart and could have killed him. But because of the plate of armor he was wearing -- armor that critics told us would not work -- Conyers is alive. The wound Conyers received to his leg, a "through and through" wound, was his ticket home. But did Conyers take it? Of course not. Of the wound, he told me, "That won't keep me down," and said he owes it to his squad to "continue on and fight."

        Lance Corporal Conyers is just one of hundreds of Marines and soldiers who, while fighting to defend the American public and liberate the Iraqi people, have been shot, hit, wounded and treated, only to stay on the battlefield and with their units instead of going home. These are remarkable young Americans.

        But Rooney complains in his column, "We don't learn much about what our soldiers in Iraq are thinking or doing." Well, now you know -- they're fighting heroically. Want to know more?

        They go on patrol -- wearing 21-pound flak jackets and 4-pound helmets. They carry another 30 to 40 pounds of weapons and ammunition. If they go on a long hike and need to carry all their gear, they're carrying up to 70 pounds on their backs. By day, they are America's diplomats -- canvassing the neighborhoods to befriend the local Iraqis, conducting intelligence operations, and bringing supplies and gifts to Iraqi families and children. By night, they use the intelligence they gathered from Iraqis who want the terrorists out of their neighborhoods and conduct raids to root them out.

        And they're having a great deal of success. "When we first got here," 2nd Lieutenant Tim Mayer told me, "things were a little challenging. But everyday, the situation seems to get a little better. We're getting weapons and (improvised explosive devices) turned in by the local people, and they are happier that we are here."

        A lot of the Marines who are here now were also here for the first semester of the war.  Many, including those in Conyers' unit, which was in Okinawa this time last year, have been away from home and their families for the better part of 18 months over the last two years. Yet their motivation and morale are high.

        From the perspective of this old Marine, these young soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and guardsmen are doing a great job. They are making sure that this enemy -- which is part criminal, part foreign terrorist and part homegrown -- doesn't affect the ability of this country to gain a democracy. But to Andy Rooney, they "are victims, not heroes."

        May 1 marks the start of Military Appreciation Month. Millions of Americans will show their gratitude for the troops in a variety of ways. When Lance Corporal Conyers appeared with me the other night on Fox News's "Hannity & Colmes," Sean Hannity showed his appreciation to Conyers by promising to buy him a big, thick, juicy steak from Ruth's Chris steakhouse when he gets home. What are you going to do for them, Andy, other than criticize? One thing you could do to show your appreciation for our troops who are defending your right to speak is to shut the hell up.