- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

BAGHDAD — For U.S. troops serving in Iraq — many of whom are preparing for a imminent confrontation with armed militants in rebel strongholds — the presidential election back home passed by quickly, with most saying they were relieved that their commander in chief, President Bush, fended off a challenge from Sen. John Kerry.

Of a dozen service members interviewed, only one said he voted against Mr. Bush, and he asked that his name not be published.

Two dozen soldiers and Marines watched election results trickle in on television and scanned Web sites at a recreation center on the Habaniyah air base just west of Fallujah, where the military is preparing for a major strike to root out insurgents.

Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Frost, a 20-year-old Louisiana native, said he was cheered by the final results.

“It seems we still have some good-hearted Americans who still want the right thing to be done about terrorism,” Cpl. Frost said.

The soldiers said they appreciated Mr. Bush’s get-tough style and feared that Mr. Kerry would have pulled out of Iraq before finishing the mission.

“John Kerry has always just been weak,” said Army Sgt. Tod Feegan of South Dakota. “He’s always wanted to negotiate his way out of things.”

He said serving in Iraq has taught him a thing or two about the people here and how to manage the country.

“This country, after so many years under Saddam Hussein, the only thing they understand is strength,” Sgt. Feegan said. “And if you show weakness, they’re never going to get in line.”

As a young man, Mr. Kerry served as a Navy swift boat commander during the war in Vietnam, earning numerous medals of valor before returning home and opposing the war.

During the same era, Mr. Bush, who, like Mr. Kerry, attended Yale University, had an undistinguished military record in the Texas Air National Guard.

Yet for many troops, it was Mr. Bush who understood the military.

“If Kerry won, he was going to [mess up] the military,” said Army Pfc. Mohamed Bakr, 20, of Chakopee, Minn., “because he doesn’t care about the military.”

Sgt. James Smith, serving in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division at a desolate base in southern Baghdad, said he didn’t care about all the campaign hoopla over military records or exit strategies or lost munitions.

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