For three weeks, my FOX News team has been immersed in little more than what has been happening around us. Memorial Day isn’t, as they say over here, “on our radar screens.” The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines we’ve been covering and living with in Al Anbar Province have been focused on chasing terrorists, avoiding improvised explosive devices and staying alive.
They call it “situational awareness” — being alert to only the friendly and enemy situation in the immediate vicinity — an absolute necessity for these young Americans in harm’s way in this hot, dusty and dangerous place. And because these troops believe what they are doing is important to their families and country, it’s a good thing they can’t see what passes for “news” back in the States.
Earlier this week, we arrived at “TQ” — once one of Saddam’s Air Force bases — now a major U.S. logistics installation between Fallujah and Baghdad. While we waited in a sweltering concrete hangar for a helicopter flight to Baghdad, one of the Marines offered the use of his “office” — a plywood enclosure inside the revetment — so we could charge the batteries on our equipment. Unfortunately, he also had recent editions of several U.S. newspapers and magazines — and a television. We made the mistake of reading the papers and turning on the TV.
The single satellite service in the region that airs U.S. programming carries only one cable news network — and it isn’t FOX. Like the periodicals, the broadcast was a broadside of anti-American propaganda, worthy of a radical Islamic Web site. There were stories about how the Newsweek fable about U.S. prison guards desecrating the Koran “could have been true.” Others provided the latest casualty figures from IEDs and suicide car bombers. Several highlighted conviction of a U.S. soldier for “war crimes.”
As is commonplace, various “experts” derided U.S. policies and tactics, bemoaned the “terrible consequences” for America in the region and whined about lack of an “exit strategy.” In one, Gen. Wesley Clark proffered a diatribe on U.S. failures. The rest of the “news” was about Michael Jackson’s pedophilia trial and the threat of a “nuclear option” in the U.S. Senate over judicial nominees. There were no success stories, no mention of courageous U.S. troops carrying the fight to the enemy and no “knowledgeable authorities” testifying about how things just might be getting better in Iraq.
Perhaps it’s just fatigue after three weeks in the field. It’s possible that after six trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan, I’m “too close to the story” to be “objective.” Conceivably, by living with those fighting the war, I can’t “see the forest for the trees.” Maybe those who report from New York, Washington or Atlanta really do have “the big picture” in clearer focus than those of us who document what’s happening at the “tip of the spear.” But I doubt it.
Despite print and broadcast stories to the contrary, the hundreds of young Americans we have interviewed and covered on this trip haven’t lost their elan. Notwithstanding the negative news, they continue to believe they are winning this war. And on this third Memorial Day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, their success include:
c During Operation Matador along the remote Syrian border, the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines fought nonstop for seven days and nights — capturing and killing hundreds of the enemy — perhaps even Abu Musab Zarqawi. Though they mourned the loss of nine of their brothers-in-arms during the first phase of this operation, these troops are back into the fight again. Only FOX broadcast reports from this action.
c The soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry deployed to Iraq from Korea. Many will be away from their families more than two years. Though living conditions at “Corregidor Combat Outpost” are as “Spartan” as any I have seen since Khe Sanh or Con Thien in Vietnam, they go out every day with Iraqi troops and commandos to hunt down elusive terrorists in the capital city of Iraq’s largest province. They are ignored by the press.
c Many of the Marines and Navy Medical Corpsmen in 1st Battalion, 5th Marines are back in Iraq for their third, seven-month combat deployment. Yet, I detected no carping or complaining as they carried out round-the-clock raids and patrols, manned checkpoints and stood watch side-by-side with Iraqi troops in the heart of the Sunni triangle. This isn’t considered “news.”
c All soldiers, sailors and Marines serving on advisory and assistance teams — who spend day and night training and operating with the new Iraqi military and police units — commend the growing competence, professionalism and courage of their counterparts. The media overlooks them.
Press reports repeatedly cite American vulnerabilities to IEDs and homicidal suicide attacks. Yet, the “mainstream media” is strangely silent about the depot the Marines established to “up-armor” every wheeled vehicle in Iraq by October so every Marine will have the best available protection.
c Civil Affairs teams of U.S. soldiers, medics, Marines, Navy Corpsmen and Sea Bees provided $500 million in medical supplies, improved a rural medical clinic serving 40,000 Iraqis, helped jump-start small businesses in Fallujah and built sanitation facilities for a 275-student elementary school. Our press treated it like a state secret.
These are just a few examples of the good news from Iraq that won’t be news at home.