IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER—As the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division began its ground assault on Iraq Monday, President Bush marched alongside the front-line soldiers, bravely putting his own life on the line for his country by personally participating in the attack.
"Bush is the real deal, and when he talks about fighting for freedom, he means it," said Pvt. Tom Scharpling, 21. "He'd never ask one of us grunts to take any risks for our country that he wasn't willing to take himself."
According to reports from the front, many of the soldiers were initially suspicious of the president, doubtful that an Ivy Leaguer who once used powerful family connections to avoid service in Vietnam had what it took to face enemy fire head-on. However, Bush—or, as his fellow soldiers nicknamed him in a spirit of battlefield camaraderie, 'Big Tex'—quickly overcame the platoon's reluctance to having a "fancy-pants Yalie" in its ranks.
"Bush is the best soldier I've ever had the honor of fighting alongside," said Pvt. Jon Benjamin, 23. "I'd take a bullet for that man, because I know he'd take one for me if he had to."
Proving himself a worthy foot soldier, Bush has earned the respect of his fellow front-line combatants with acts of courage and heroism that one soldier called "a truly inspiring example of one man's commitment to the cause of liberty."
"Just yesterday, George stormed an Iraqi machine-gun nest when our sergeant took one in the belly," Pvt. Scott "Lumpy" Fellers, 20, told reporters. "We were pinned down, cut off from our division, and it looked like curtains for us all. Thankfully, George was there. He ran through heavy artillery fire and lobbed a grenade right into their bunker. If it hadn't been for him, God knows how many of us would've been coming home in body bags."
"It's not just any president who would risk his life like the nation's men in uniform do," Fellers added. "God bless him and everything he stands for."
Bush's courage, sources say, was evident from the earliest stages of the war's planning. Though the Pentagon initially wanted an air war with minimal ground combat, Bush quickly dismissed this strategy, insisting that the only way a true and lasting victory could be achieved was to go in and fight—dune by dune, village by village—until Iraq was finally free.
White House sources say Bush's decision to place his own life on the line for his country met with resistance from top military leaders.
"The Joint Chiefs of Staff kept telling him, 'Mr. President, we beg you—stay here in Washington, where it's safe.' But George was having none of it," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the 3rd Infantry. "He was adamant that if our boys overseas were going to risk their lives for liberty, he was going to do the same. And, by God, he proved himself a man of his word."
The president has only been in battle for less than a week, but he has already proven himself more than willing to put himself in the line of fire.
"The president carried me through an enemy minefield after my arm had been blown off by a mortar shell, blazing away with his pistol as he delivered me to safety," Pvt. Chris Adair said.
"Then, after he'd gotten me to a medic, he went all the way back through that same minefield—carrying a 40-pound bag of ice the whole way—to retrieve my severed arm so the doctors could sew it back on. Now, thanks to President Bush, I'll still be able to play piano for the church choir back home in Appleton, just like I promised Grandma. He is truly an American hero."
Adair's comments were echoed by many of the soldiers fighting alongside Bush.
"I used to be cynical about politicians who are born into privilege and wealth. I thought, 'Sure, they talk a good game about our duty to protect democracy, but when push comes to shove, they'd rather send off the nation's poor, uneducated, and underprivileged to do the fighting for them,'" said Pvt. Frank Elkins, 19. "I always figured they'd rather see somebody else die in some foreign land than make that sacrifice themselves. But now I know I was wrong."
"There may be some folks out there, born silver spoon in hand, who'd act that way, but that ain't Bush. No, that ain't Bush," Elkins said. "He ain't no fortunate son."