Indeed, since their arrival, they have been struck not only by the ferocity of the fighting but by the immense poverty they have encountered. In Fallujah and Ramadi, families had tables and china cabinets and televisions, the marines note. "You look at these areas, and there is just nothing," says Oaks. The literacy rate in many villages is in the single digits. "Education here is just way too low, and even if you're just talking about bringing in electricity, it's going to take years and years and years."
And more troops, marines here add, who may or may not be coming. That's for generals and politicians to figure out. "All I know is that I'm being told this is the most dangerous place in the country," Oaks says. "And all I see is us."