Letters home, and more recently telephone calls and emails, would give us a peek into their states of mind. Some who returned would regale friends and family with tales from the front lines.
Times have now changed. A first-ever survey of U.S. troops on the ground fighting a war overseas has revealed surprising findings, not the least of which is that an overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year.
Further, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows that more than one in four (29%) thought the U.S. should pull its troops immediately.
The troops have drawn different conclusions about fellow citizens back home. Asked why they think some Americans favor rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, 37% of troops serving there said those Americans are unpatriotic, while 20% believe people back home don't believe a continued occupation will work. Another 16% said they believe those favoring a quick withdrawal do so because they oppose the use of the military in a pre-emptive war, while 15% said they do not believe those Americans understand the need for the U.S. troops in Iraq.
At 55%, reservists serving in Iraq were most likely to see those back home as unpatriotic for wanting a rapid withdrawal, while 45% of Marines and 33% of members of the regular Army agreed.
Ninety-three percent said that removing weapons of mass destruction is not a reason for U.S. troops being there. Instead, that initial rationale went by the wayside and, in the minds of 68% of the troops, the real mission became to remove Saddam Hussein.
Just 24% said that "establishing a democracy that can be a model for the Arab World" was the main or a major reason for the war. Only small percentages see the mission there as securing oil supplies (11%) or to provide long-term bases for US troops in the region (6%).
More than 80% of the troops said they did not hold a negative view of Iraqis because of continuing insurgent attacks against them. Only about two in five see the insurgency as being comprised of discontented Sunnis with very few non-Iraqi helpers.
On this question there appears to be some confusion among the troops, but two in every three do not agree that if non-Iraqi terrorists could be prevented from crossing the border into Iraq, the insurgency would end.
To control the insurgency, a majority of respondents (53%) said the U.S. should double both the number of troops and bombing missions, an option absolutely no one back in Washington is considering.
Those in Iraq on their first tour of duty were less optimistic that more troops and bombing runs would work. While 38% of first-timers agreed, 62% of those on their second tour and 53% in Iraq at least three times favored more U.S. troops and firepower.
As new photos of prisoner abuse in Iraq surface, a majority of troops serving there said they oppose harsh interrogation methods. A majority - 55% - said it is not appropriate or standard military conduct to use harsh and threatening methods on possible insurgent prisoners to information of military value.