Quantico, VA -- Until I joined the Fourth Estate, it was my experience that most soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines usually eschewed contact with members of the media. Regard for the potentates of the press used to be about equal to that of chiggers, ticks, scorpions and fire ants. When I was on active duty, I had an aerosol can of bug spray hand-labeled: "Reporter Repellant." And if a military person had to co-habit space with any of these assorted insects, the last thing anyone wanted to do was to discuss politics. Things have changed.
Shortly before the presidential election, our Fox News team was embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Though nearly all acknowledged applying for absentee ballots, few of them were able to follow the presidential campaign or the debates, and fewer still had the time or inclination to speculate about what the outcome might be. Now that the issue is decided, they are no longer reticent about expressing their frustrations with the power brokers in Washington.
Over the course of the past month, our "Heroes Proved" book tour bus has visited more than two dozen U.S. military installations and bookstores in nearby communities. It's empirical data, but I estimate that over half of those lining up to buy this book are currently serving military personnel, veterans or their family members. They aren't happy with what's happening in our nation's capital â or the way it's being covered by the so-called mainstream media.
Those wearing our nation's uniforms are tired of hearing about the apocalypse predicted in a Mayan calendar. They know the "fiscal cliff" is a disaster for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. They wonder if anyone on the banks of the Potomac really cares about what happens to their hard-pressed families, dwindling military health care or how they will prepare for the next fight "if all the good leaders get out."
To a far greater extent than their civilian peers, the young Americans in uniform are concerned about all the bad news in the Middle East. News about Syrian government troops preparing sarin gas chemical weapons and firing Scud missiles at rebel strongholds doesn't get much more than a shrug on an American college campus. But on the U.S. military bases we are visiting, it has the full attention of officers and senior enlisted personnel who care about their troops. Several have acknowledged that "stocks of protective masks, outerwear, decontamination and detection equipment used up in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) in 2003 have never been replaced," and that "we haven't done any serious NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) defense training in a decade."
Obama's budget bean counters don't appear to be too concerned about U.S. troops being exposed to Syria's sarin gas. They're too busy telling us we can't afford a new generation of ballistic missile defense weapons even with the North Koreans having proven that one of the poorest countries on the planet can build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
On December 12, despite a United Nations ban on such tests, the despots in Pyongyang successfully launched a multi-stage, payload-capable ICBM over the Pacific Ocean. Afterwards, un-named Obama administration officials rushed to reassure us by explaining that while the North Korean missile might be able to reach us, isn't very accurate.
Unfortunately, North Korea's number one customer for its ICBM technology is Iran â the same country that's racing to develop highly enriched uranium nuclear warheads that will meet the payload limits of the latest North Korean ballistic missile. It's also helpful to know the range of North Korea's newest multi-stage missile is estimated to be 6,212 miles. It is 6,131 miles from Tehran to New York City. Does anyone really think it matters to the ayatollahs in Tehran whether their nuke warhead misses Manhattan and hits Boston or Bayonne instead?
But wait. The O-Team says they have proof that "International economic sanctions on Iran are working." They cite "evidence" of "rampant inflation" forcing Iran into a "recession." This is supposed to convince us that economic and diplomatic sanctions and strongly worded U.N. resolutions will stop the Iranian theocrats from building weapons that can incinerate Tel Aviv or Toledo. These are the same people who believed economic sanctions would keep the North Koreans from building ICBMs and nuclear weapons. The sanctions have, however, resulted in mass starvation. In the impoverished Hermit Kingdom, where grass is a luxury vegetable, they also have ICBMs.
Many of the young Americans lining up to buy "Heroes Proved" have had to make life or death decisions in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth. When they heard about Ambassador Susan Rice withdrawing as a candidate for secretary of state, they said, "That's good." But then they added, "But she wasn't the one who failed to help âour guys' in Benghazi. The ones with decision deficit disorder are the ones who ought to resign."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel and author of the New York Times bestseller, "Heroes Proved" from Threshold Books. He's also the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.