The first military vehicle I saw when disembarking in Kuwait was not an American one but rather a helicopter from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. After only two weeks in Iraq, I’ve seen troops from Japan, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Estonia, and the UK. Indeed, our dining facility is a veritable international commons – or military expo.
The Estonians live just down the road from us; they roll out for patrols almost every day in a trio of 5-ton trucks borrowed from the 1st Cavalry Division. The British – Royal Marine Commandos, by the patches on their shoulders – stroll around, hair long and messy (by US miltary standards), their Enfield rifles slung casually or just carried in one hand. They often show up in nothing more than fatigue pants and t-shirts; apparently they can wear whatever kind of shirt they want, as long as it’s…a t-shirt. The Australians can be seen too, in ones and twos, sporting their futuristic-looking Steyr AUG rifles and their thigh-length body armor that looks like it has front and rear ballistic plates the size of a slice of bread (ours are at least 10″x12″). Generally, while the Americans show up for dinner ready to rock, everyone else seems to treat it as more of a casual affair.
Say what you want about the much-derided coalition in Iraq, but I find it pretty impressive that, for instance, the Estonians would pony up for this fight. It’s not like they’re going to get any of Hallburton’s vast profits from raping and plundering the formerly utopian paradise of Iraq; rather, it seems like the US said “what have you got?” and the Estonians said, “well, we’ve got these 100 or so guys with rifles and machineguns.” Hey, it’s better than nothing – get on the plane. It’s more than several major NATO members have put up, anyway.