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BAGHDAD — About 10 minutes after the chow hall opened for dinner Wednesday, soldiers and contractors were filling the place. In one corner, a television tuned to the British Broadcasting Corp. was showing live coverage of President Bush’s speech from Annapolis, Md.

The volume was extremely low and only a smattering of soldiers sat near the television, trying to watch the speech. Most in the dining hall weren’t paying attention.

Dr. (Capt.) Harlan Rumjahn, 31, of Los Angeles, said he was drawn to the television when he saw the president’s image.

“Every time I see television and I see his face, I wonder what the heck is going on. We’re right in the midst of everything happening, yet we know so little about what’s going on unless we order newspapers or watch TV,” he said, joining a group watching the speech.

In general, soldiers said there was little new or surprising in the speech, but largely agreed with the president’s plan, dubbed the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

Staff Sgt. Oswaldo Rosado, 34, of Puerto Rico, said he read about the speech in advance and wanted to see what Bush had to say.

He “wasn’t surprised” by the content of the speech, he said. But, “it was positive because it shows an end at some point.”

At other units throughout Iraq, soldiers either didn’t have access to a television, didn’t know or care that the speech was on, or were busy on missions. At several U.S. camps around Iraq, it was hard to find a television showing the speech, billed by the White House as a “major address” on winning the war.

U.S. Marines near Fallujah, for example, were out on patrols and stability operations before the upcoming elections. More than 2,000 other troops in western Iraq were launching an offensive in Hit.

But others throughout the country were able to view the speech.

At FOB Tiger in Sinjar, a city just west of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, few soldiers were aware of the president’s speech. Televisions in the camp’s dining facility normally blare sporting events at dinner time, but they were turned off Wednesday night. At the camp’s headquarters however, some soldiers stopped by the television room to peek in and move on after a few minutes.

Capt. Ken Woods, 33, of Colorado Springs, Colo., watched the speech with interest. Woods, a fire support officer for the 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment enjoyed the speech.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done here, no doubt, but a lot of people have hope here. The Iraqi security forces are definitely improving,” he said. “I didn’t hear a single comment [in the speech] that I thought was incorrect. We’re making progress. I’m happy to be here. I mean, I miss my wife, but I feel like I’m making a contribution.”

Sgt. 1st Class John Smoker, 40, of Houston, focused on the exit strategy: training Iraqi troops.

“I’m just interested in how the Iraqi army is faring in their training. I think 50 years from now, it’ll be more stable and all of this will be looked at as a good thing,” he said.

Spc. Christopher Higgins, sitting with his back to the television, said he was not particularly interested in the speech.

“I still get a paycheck every month, so apparently everything is going right,” said the 22-year-old from Grand Rapids, Mich., sitting in the Baghdad dining hall. “I care. But whatever, I’m in the Army. He’s the boss.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Andrew Tilghman contributed to this story.


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