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WORLD
On The Scene

Leaders visit; front-line troops say, 'Yeah, so?'

By Arwa Damon
CNN

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CNN's Arwa Damon with U.S. troops in Dujail, Iraq, as they chase a suspected bomb maker.

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On the Scene
Iraq
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BALAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made their surprise visits to Baghdad on Wednesday, many of the troops stationed north of Baghdad, in Balad and Dujail, say either they didn't know about it or didn't care.

"I'd ask him for a plane ticket home to see my wife. I have barely seen her in the last two years," said a young sergeant, who did not want to be identified. Like many of the soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division, he is on his second deployment to Iraq.

Some joked that whenever VIP's come to visit they just go to the main bases and meet the "fobbits," the nickname given to troops who do not go outside the barbed wire.

"They have to get out to see the people that are doing the jobs they are making them do. If they didn't they would not be very good leaders," said Maj. Michael Humphreys, one of the few soldiers here willing to tell journalists some of his opinions on senior leadership.

At the time he was asked, he didn't know Rumsfeld and Rice were visiting. He was too preoccupied with his mission -- trying to set up a local paper for the Tribal Council in Dujail.

Rumsfeld and Rice were visiting to show support for Iraq's movement toward a new government. And for many of the troops with the 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment and 4th Infantry Division stationed in Balad and Dujail, they might just as well not have visited at all.

As we discussed the visit, a tip came through -- a suspected leader of a cell dedicated to making "IED's," or improvised explosive devices -- military-speak for homemade bombs -- would be at a certain location at 1400 hours.

The chase was on.

Bumping along the dusty back roads to avoid insurgents, a VIP visit was the furthest thing from these troops' minds. For them, the priority is the mission. On this day they were following a lead, chasing a vehicle trying to escape as they approached the target house, and trying to find bits of intelligence from residents unwilling to talk.

A top priority is getting themselves and their fellow soldiers home alive, and we are told that priority does not change -- no matter who visits.

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