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[NOTE: This is an edited version of the column from Christmas 2003 which was written from Tikrit and Baghdad. For the full version, go to: Good Morning Mesopotamia
It is 10:45 PM on Christmas Eve here in Baghdad. The space in which I work is a large barn of a room we call the Green Room even though the walls are more blue than green.
The Air Force folks set up a white board against one of the greenish walls, borrowed a projector used for presentations, and put the DVD of "It's a Wonderful Life" into a computer.
George Bailey has been declared, by his brother, "the richest man in town," and Clarence has just won his wings.
Still holds up.
Earlier tonight the bad guys tried to prove that neither Saddam's capture [about two weeks previous] nor Christmas meant anything to them by launching mortar attacks. They didn't hit much but they kept us all on edge.
Because of the attacks, the young Marines who nightly come in to use our phones to call home are missing. They are out protecting us. They will probably patrol all night. We will let them use our phones tomorrow.
All over Iraq - all over the globe - there are young people like our Marines who are out protecting us. They are Army, and Air Force, and Navy personnel who are not home tonight and will not be home tomorrow.
Most of them will get to a phone or, at a minimum, a computer with which to share a moment with their families.
They are not sad, these young people. They are committed to doing what they have been trained to do.
They want to go home. And they will, most of them. But for tonight, it is another night on duty, in a building, a ship, or a tent and, depending upon where they are, they might or might not have inside plumbing.
Christmas goodies are strewn everywhere. Care packages of candy and cookies have been flooding in to the Green Room as, I suspect, they have everywhere in the theater.
The rule is: You open the box and leave it on the floor next to your desk. Anyone who comes by is welcome to take whatever appeals.
The big winner is Oreo's Double Stuff. Can't keep them in stock around here.
It is now just after midnight; and so it is Christmas in the Middle East, not all that far from where it all began.
The military's chief public affairs officer, Col. Bill Darley, just stopped by my desk to tell me, in that sad, but professional way military people have, that two soldiers have been killed by explosive devices this evening. That makes five this Christmas Eve day. We had heard that the terrorists would be using today to make a point.
They have proven themselves to be heartless cowards who have nothing but hatred in their souls.
Col. Darley is the intellectual of the outfit. On the day of Saddam's capture he told me that was "the apotheosis of my military career."
Apotheosis is not a word you hear military men throwing around every day. In fact it might have been the first time in military history that someone in uniform had used it correctly in a sentence.
A remarkable man, Col. Bill Darley. One of 130,000 remarkable men and women here on this Christmas Day, 2003.
All over Iraq these men and women - old enough to have children, but young enough to be someone's child - all over Iraq they will be calling home this day, or e-mailing, or instant messaging; renewing the connection between parent and child; or child and parent.
Each renewal will end with the same six words, six words I share with you this day and which come from my heart and from the hearts of every person who is here to do this vitally important job.
You can watch them - even the battle-hardened Marines - as they are on our phones, staring across the 10,000 miles between a desk in the Green Room in the Palace in Baghdad, and the phone on the wall of their mom's kitchen. The phone that has been there since before they were tall enough to reach it.
They stare across that 10,000 miles and they listen.
And then so quietly.
And so gently.
And so tenderly.
These tough, young war-fighters; just before they have to hang up the phone and break that most cherished connection, they each say the same six words which end the conversation:
"Merry Christmas; On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A photo from that night showing the indomitable spirit of Americans - civilians and military - who will make the best of the worst of circumstances.
I love you, too."