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War hasn’t changed much over the years

"We pushed away, and about five of the guys from (the U.S. Army's) Charlie Company stayed up on the ridgeline, receiving sniper fire and machine-gun fire. None of them faltered; (they) knew they could get hit at any time. But they stayed there and held their ground and made sure we got out of there."

It stirs the patriotic juices, doesn't it?

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a line from the new Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers. It sounds just like something Mel would say.

But in fact, this is a real line, spoken only last week by Sgt. 1 st Class Robert Healy as he recovered from wounds at the U.S. Air Base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Healy is talking about the first offensive in Operation Anaconda – named after the largest snake in the world, perhaps as an incentive for U.S. troops to encircle and choke the remaining Al Qaeda soldiers hunkering down in the hills of the Shah-e-kot valley.

He was injured there only last week as U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopter into an 18-hour firefight.

Now Healy and other soldiers who were wounded in the line of duty have been awarded the Purple Heart for their courage and heroism.

To me, however, it all just seems so surreal. These are things that we're supposed to be studying in history books at our leisure, not watching on the nightly news.

While Healy's descriptions of the firefight seem like they're part of a war movie script or a Tom Clancy novel, the shrapnel that hit him in the leg, shoulder and behind the ears are real enough.

It seems surreal because we've heard and seen it all before – Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down. But that's just it – these things are only supposed to happen on the silver screen, aren't they?

We've become immune to talk of "sniper fire" and "flushing out" the enemy and killing the "Al Qaeda elements."

The language of war has become almost cliché, climaxing with the dubious title of Operation Enduring Freedom, the name given to the first U.S. offensive after 9/11.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned us at the end of September that this war against terror would not be a conventional war.

"Even the vocabulary of this war will be different. When we "invade the enemy's territory," we may well be invading his cyberspace."

But this isn't some cyberspace where computer geeks hack out intelligence fights. This is frontline war. This is real gunfire. These are real wounds.

CNN reporter Martin Savidge heard this over a helicopter radio on its way to help out the Anaconda troops.

"Heavy fighting ... four of the six Apache attack helicopters have been knocked out ... confirmed surface-to-air missile launch ... the LZ's hot!"

Rumsfeld had it wrong. The vocab hasn't changed at all.

And history seems destined to keep repeating itself.

Sgt. 1 st Class Robert Healy could just as easily have been Lt. General Harold G. Moore, played by Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers.

The movie is the latest in a long line of Vietnam War tales and it recounts the true story of 450 American troops, dropped into the Ia Drang Valley, only to be surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese in November 1965.

In Operation Anaconda the numbers, the face of the enemy and the terrain are different but there are some eerie similarities.

The Vietnam version has the enemy hiding in caves in the hill with red, white and blue troops preparing to route them out – dead or alive.

The Afghan version has roughly 1,000 terrorists hiding in the hills who are surrounded by about 600 U.S. soldiers just as determined to route them out – dead or alive.

The 1965 battle lasted for four bloody days and as the attacks dragged on and the death toll rose, the ground forces called in support from the air to help them out.

The Anaconda battle is still ongoing but has been slowly unwinding after the initial five days, and as the attacks on the ground intensified, air support was called in to bomb the enemy out of hiding.

And by all accounts of the fighting the soldiers say they could see their enemy and it was a very personal battle.

The same was true at Ia Drang when the soldiers on both sides were practically on top of each other, at times using bayonets to kill instead of gunfire.

In the end in both scenarios, there are dead bodies both in Vietnam and in Afghanistan.

In the almost 40 years since Vietnam started, nothing much has changed.


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