DURING THE IRAQ war of 2003 and its aftermath, the Fourth Infantry Division has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the United States military - that is, until Saturday, Dec. 13 at 8:26 p.m. Iraqi time, when a weary, confused man in a small dirt hole held up his hands and said, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."
Although this division has a distinguished record in combat on the Western front in World War I, at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and in the central highlands in the war in Vietnam, up until the evening of Dec. 13 it had gained little respect for eight months of hard and dangerous work in the Sunni Triangle.
Through no fault of its own, this division missed the opportunity to engage in major combat operations because of difficulties with the Turkish government. Instead of moving into Turkey last February in preparation for entering northern Iraq as the war commenced, the 4th Infantry had to be rerouted in March through the Suez canal.
IT ARRIVED IN Iraq through Kuwait only after Baghdad fell and most of the tough combat was over. Whereas the 3rd Infantry Division and the First Marine Division received kudos for their extremely fast offensive toward Baghdad and beyond (and the 101st and 82nd Divisions and the special operations forces, for their fine combat actions in the north and west of Baghdad), the 4th Infantry has received very little media attention or praise. The past eight months have been very tough for the nearly 20,000 troops of this division.
This is the most modern of all of the Army divisions. It is the first division to have a fully digital command and control and communication system, so that every vehicle has a computer that keeps drivers appraised of where the friendly vehicles are, where they are and, in many cases, where the enemy is likely to be.
These soliders have been given the toughest job of all - providing security in the Sunni triangle and smoking out the terrorists who have daily attacked soft and hard targets, killing hundreds of American and coalition troops, hundreds more Iraqi police and soldiers and many U.N. officials and other non-governmental workers.
All of this has changed.
WITH THE DRAMATIC capture of Saddam Hussein, the discovery of important documents near his location and the capture of a senior official and 73 insurgents three days later, the fine work of this division is now being recognized.
In America's long history of armed combat against some of the world's most egregious tyrants, the capture of Saddam ranks as one of America's top intelligence and combat success stories. American soldiers did not hunt down and capture Hitler or Mussolini. Tojo gave up without resistance in his house. Nor did they capture Ceausescu, Idi Amin or Pol Pot.
Although our military forces have captured minor tyrants such as Manuel Noriega, on the evening of Dec. 13 the 4th Infantry Division bagged a biggy.
This division will be able to celebrate this event for many generations. But it is not just the 4th Infantry that will be able to celebrate.
THE SPECIAL operations forces and the CIA and many intelligence agencies can also take credit for a job well done. For these professionals, the celebration now and in the years ahead will have to be a quiet one, since the means used to find and smoke out Saddam will have to remain classified for many years. The techniques used to find Saddam will be able to be used again, but only if they are not revealed to terrorists and their leaders.
The reaction throughout the division was a combination of great joy and quiet pride. Cigars were lit, and the troops watched the press conference of Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. The families of the soldiers of the 4th Infantry back home, who learned of the capture on Sunday morning, were delighted that it was their troops who had made the grab.
WITH AMERICA'S military forces and personnel so severely stressed ever since Sept. 11, 2001, it is helpful indeed when a victory takes place that can be savored and celebrated by all of the military services and intelligence agencies.
It is especially helpful at this time of the year, when so many of these people are away from their families during the holiday season. Family members and friends of the soldiers of the 4th Infantry at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., and the communities near these two Army posts can look forward to a joyous time, knowing that the 4th Infantry is coming home in triumph quite soon.
(Editor's note: Major General Perry M. Smith, U.S. Air Force retired, is the author of several books. Recently, he assisted in the editing of the new book, Medal of Honor, by Peter Collier.)