Almost every media stereotype about the American military vanishes when visiting frontline bases. The world still sees dated Abu Ghraib photos, not Iraqi civilians receiving topflight care in the American-run hospital emergency room in Baghdad.
We hear the U.S. Army is worn out — propped up by national guardsmen and reserves. Yet young enlistees differ. They claim instead that more mature reservists are a godsend for reconstruction efforts since so many back home were successful contractors, businessmen, teachers and mechanics.
Complaints circulate about the weight, not the dearth, of body and truck armor. I saw hundreds of Humvees on the roads, but not one was unarmored. I shot AK-47s with professional Iraqi soldiers and felt far safer amid their professional live fire than back home at the local municipal range.
Critics dub our military a “mercenary” force and sometimes call for renewing the draft. It is hardly a late-imperial Roman legion filled with foreigners and malcontents but rather a true volunteer force, whose diversity in age, gender, race and religion would shame a university faculty or newsroom. Most of the colonels I met are as well educated as academics, but far more willing to debate and question their own beliefs.