For the troops on the front lines and the colonels in the rear—and just about everyone in between—the big news in Iraq every day is that they’re still alive and healthy. When it comes to Senate votes on the U.S. presence in Iraq, Sunday talk shows thrashing out length of deployment and stateside pundits talking to themselves, nearly every grunt, airman, sailor, soldier and Marine I speak with just doesn’t care. . . .

During last month’s heated, all-night debate on Capitol Hill about when and if the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, I asked several military officers of different ages and ranks about their thoughts on a potential pullout. Nearly every one stressed how important his or her work here has been—and will be. “If we leave within months, Iraq will be a province of Iran,” one colonel said. “Everyone with any education or skills who hasn’t already left will end up leaving.”

A mortarman with the 25th Infantry stationed in Tal Afar stressed that he thought the American media has not been reporting what really goes on during daily ops across the war zone. “It’s all about body counts,” he said. Marines out in the former Wild West of Anbar province said the same. They are proud of the job they’ve done in cleaning up what was once considered a lost, Al Qaeda-infested area. They wondered why America hasn’t heard MORE of that news.

A sergeant 1st class with the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, whose unit is attached to the Marines near Habbaniyah, patrols daily around Al Anbar province. This is his third tour, and he’s confident that progress is being made, despite what he calls early missteps in policy. “I think [Americans] understand our sacrifice, but they don’t understand that we’re just not ready to leave.”

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