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1 April exclusive First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush will be assigned to a high-tech unit in Iraq, the Air Force Human Resources Command has confirmed. Having finished basic training at the Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, they are scheduled to receive advanced training in telecommunications at the School of Information Technology before deployment overseas with the USAF Information Operations Squadron. For security reasons, the exact dates have been withheld.

The girls' surprise enlistment was kept secret until they successfully completed their basic training. During an invitation-only press conference while on leave between OTS and their school assignment - conducted, symbolically, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where America's war dead are brought - the twins described their motives and rationale.

"We'd always planned to do this," Jenna explained. "But first, we had to graduate from college, and then we had to help our father win the 2004 election, to ensure that America would continue to have the kind of strong, inspiring leadership it needs in these troubled times."

"Right," Barbara added emphatically. "But now that the election is past, it's time for us to serve this wonderful nation of ours in a new way - in a way that reassures the American public that standing up to terrorists and rogue states, even at the expense of personal risk, is always the right thing to do."

Under questioning from reporters, Jenna acknowledged that "yes, it's important for our father's credibility as Commander-in-Chief as well. People still insist on saying that he side-stepped the Vietnam war, which of course he didn't - and it's very hurtful to hear that - but because he's the President, my sister and I sort of have to go beyond what would be expected of ordinary people."

The twins readily admitted to having been afraid of their parents' reactions to the news that they would enlist together and ask to serve together in a combat zone.

"We're their only children, so, naturally, we worried that they'd go totally postal," Barbara said. "But we prayed together as a family, and in time we all came to the same conclusion."

"Everyone knows what a devoutly religious and exceptionally patriotic family we are," Jenna added, "so it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that this wasn't as hard as it might have been for other people. Of course, it cuts both ways. I mean, when you're as close as we are, it's hard to let go of each other. But we made the ultimate argument: we said to our parents, 'how can we, as a family, ask other families to put their children at risk for the world's benefit, when we aren't willing to set the right example and accept the same challenges?'"

Legendary Bush family religious piety also played a significant role, the girls explained.

"As our father led us in prayer, asking for strength and wisdom from Our Lord - as he does in every important decision of his Presidency - divine Grace touched all of us, and we were of one mind," Barbara recalled. "We all understood that my sister and I had been called to set this example of hope and optimism for all of America and the world beyond. And we knew as well that it would be a disgrace and a scandal for us not to accept freely the consequences of our father's decision to go to war on behalf of freedom and liberty."

"How could my sister and I, in good conscience, allow other Americans to shoulder this burden if we were not just as willing?" Jenna asked rhetorically. "How could our parents allow it? What a terrible message to send! Well, fortunately, that's not the way we Bushes are made. We have a long history of public service and personal sacrifice."

"Exactly," said Barbara. "It's an honor to serve America in this way. And if, God forbid, something should happen to us over there, we all have the convictions of our morals and faith to accept and endure it. We are an uncommonly patriotic family; make no mistake."

"But it's about far more than accepting sacrifice and risk on behalf of others," she continued. "Jenna and I are proud of the way that our father's policies have sown democracy and freedom throughout the Middle East. The first tender shoots are visible in Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Egypt, and of course, Iraq. We want to be there for the great flowering of democracy that's coming. We want to experience it ourselves. To be honest, that's what we're most excited about."

Security was a recurring issue of concern among the press. During questioning, it transpired that the US Secret Service would continue providing protection services to the twins. Asked if this reduces the whole exercise to a publicity stunt, Jenna quipped that "that's one of the reasons we're not afraid to ship out."

"But seriously," she added, "Iraq is extremely fluid and uncertain security-wise. Our best protection isn't the Secret Service, but the fact that we all wear the same uniform. It will be difficult to pick us out from the crowd. I doubt that we'll be at greater or lesser risk than any other Air Force officers."

"If your Hummer drives over an explosive device, what difference does it make if you've got an agent sitting next to you?" Barbara added. "You're both going to get blown to pieces. Our grandfather's plane was shot down in World War Two. He didn't have Secret Service protection, but if he had, what difference would it have made? An agent wouldn't have kept the plane in the air; he would only have been one more person to rescue."

It was evident that the twins had worked through their decision thoroughly, and with careful consideration for their family and fellow Americans. Try as they might, the press could not rattle them.

They'd clearly shed their Gen-Y party girl ways during military training, while Jenna especially - who had long tended to self-indulgent pudginess and air-headed blonde gushiness - exhibited a surprisingly lean figure along with admirable mental and moral clarity.

It's become inappropriate to refer to them as girls now; they've earned the right to be called young women. They have, without the usual trickery of professional media relations management, positioned themselves as leaders of their generation, setting an example to be envied, and of course, to be emulated.

At the end of the press conference, in view of such unexpected and delightful developments, there was nothing left to do but stand and salute. ®

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