It goes with age, and we must have said it two dozen times to senior officers: U.S. soldiers and Marines are so young.
Every day was full of meeting baby-faced U.S. soldiers from across the country. On our last patrol in Baghdad, the hands on a .50-caliber weapon belonged to a woman who looked younger than my 20-something-year-old daughter.
Their commander said they are all much better trained than the Vietnam generation.
There is a tremendous esprit de corps -- and when a reporter puts his life in their hands, as reporters do every day -- one can understand why some people are concerned that embedding with troops may have an effect on objectivity.
These days, given the country's instability, it's the only way to see the country.
In the nine days we spent in the country, the troops weren't inclined to talk politics. The Bush administration need not pass down talking points to the young men and women we encountered. Most of them knew that reporters are a form of foreign life, and they treated us appropriately.
Talking about the nuts and bolts of the daily mission is another thing -- it's the pure life and death of what they do.
'Live on Danger'
It wasn't politically correct for an older soldier to say it, but he did: "The kids live on the danger, and they love it."
They die on it too, and that's one of the reasons why Sunday morning chapel is so well-attended.
Religious services were always crowded. A man praying on his knees with a weapon on his shoulder is an incongruous sight. In a region where religion is such a motivator, we thought of President Lincoln's remark: "It's not so much whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God's side."
Finally, on almost any patrol, one realizes that the soldiers are very much alone in a world they cannot expect to understand.
The culture is simply out of reach without the language. They never take their helmets off, though they are understanding that looking a man in the eye is better without the reflective sunglasses.
Counting the Days
One thing that all soldiers have in common -- they count the days.
If they've just arrived, they count how long they've been in the country. If they are near the end of their tour, they count how long they have to go.
It is, of course, the big question -- how long will it be before the Iraqis are able to defend themselves? The war is far from over.