updated 3/19/2004 10:04:57 AM ET 2004-03-19T15:04:57

Guests: Eric Margolis, Joseph Mosner, Steven Blum, Brian Peek, Lourdes Peek, Madelyn Peek, Alejandro Alvarado, Julian Balbuena

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

Chasing the terrorists.  He‘s the No. 2 man in al Qaeda‘s terrorist network, Osama bin Laden‘s top deputy.  Tonight, the degree of difficulty in tracking a terrorist. 

A soldier‘s story.  Sergeant Joseph Mosner want off to war, brave and resolute.  When a bomb exploded next to him near Baghdad, his flack jacket saved his life, but not his face.  Tonight, one soldier‘s journey to hell and back.  And why Sergeant Mosner is ready to go back to Iraq. 

Reservists under fire.  They used to be called weekend warriors.  Now many of them are on the front line, while their families try to keep it together back home.  And some of them aren‘t coming home. 

This isn‘t your father‘s National Guard. 

Mexican migration.  Why are so many high school and college kids migrating to Mexico?  Tonight, we‘ll take you to Cancun, where it‘s fun, sun, and lots of rum. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.  From studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  And good evening. 

Is al Qaeda‘s No. 2 man cornered?  Reports tonight that Pakistani troops are closing in on Osama bin Laden‘s right hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghani border. 

As operational commander for al Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri is believed to have had a major role in the planning of the September 11 attacks, but also the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole, and a number of other terror attacks around the world. 

The United States has offered a $25 million reward for his capture. 

Al-Zawahiri is a surgeon from Egypt.  He‘s had long history with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, before he joined that organization up with bin Laden in the 1990s. 

Ever since the September 11 attacks, al-Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing in video and audiotapes alongside bin Laden, and more recently on his own, calling for Jihad, calling for holy war, and threatening the United States and other countries. 

Even though no American forces are involved in this mission, intelligence sources say there is a very good chance that al-Zawahiri is cornered.  Tough terrain out there, though. 

How does anyone go about finding a fugitive?  Joining me tonight with more on this is MSNBC‘s terrorism expert, Steve Emerson.  Also with us tonight, Eric Margolis, author of “War at the Top of the World.” 

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us. 

Eric, let‘s start with you first.  You spent some 20 years in this part of the world.  Tell us what kind of territory the Pakistani troops are having to deal with, just in trying to get to where they believe this man is. 

ERIC MARGOLIS, AUTHOR, “WAR AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD”:  South Waziristan is as remote as you can get in a remote part of the world.  It‘s very mountainous, rugged dry mountains, no top cover, narrow river, dead river valleys.  Dust storms. 

It‘s tribal territory.  It‘s an autonomous tribal territory, part of the northwest frontier province within Pakistan, which traditionally has been a no-go zone for Pakistan‘s Army troops, and was only policed by the south Waziristan scouts.

So it‘s a very, very backwards area filled with very ferocious and very independent tribesmen. 

NORVILLE:  And we understand hat the fighting there has been incredibly intense.  It apparently began Tuesday, and the Pakistani troops have met with amazing resistance. 

Give us a sense of just what they‘re up against there. 

MARGOLIS:  Well, they‘re fighting against the local tribesmen.  All the tribesmen in their area, everybody from 6 years old onward, is heavily armed.  Tribesmen even have some mortars and rocket launchers and that type of thing.  And there‘s very strong resistance. 

In fact, yesterday, the day before, a Pakistani mobile force was ambushed and destroyed by these tribesmen.  And this has triggered off the powerful Pakistani military response and the belief that a high-level target, as President Musharraf said, is being hidden in these tribal compounds in Waziristan. 

NORVILLE:  A high-level target, but Steve Emerson, the spokesman for the Pakistan military is saying that this is highly speculative, American and Western reports this is the No. 2 man to al Qaeda. 

STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT:  Pakistan itself has been giving out different reports all day.  There‘s no one spokesperson, apparently, because there have been backgrounders, or off the record comments that have been filtering back.  Al Jazeera itself has been reporting contradictory things all day today.

But I just spoke to somebody in Washington in the intelligence community who feels very confident that it is almost certainly al-Zawahiri.

No. 2, that night belongs to the Pakistani-U.S. forces.  There‘s really no U.S. forces.  The U.S. is providing intelligence.  Especially at night with infrared technology, they own the night right now. 

There‘s apparently a lull in the fighting as we speak, and at daybreak, there‘s going to be a new ground offensive, to centrally cordon off the entire area and try to seize him alive, not allow him to be killed in battle, because there‘s too much intelligence that he has in his head. 

NORVILLE:  This has been described as the first major break in a very long time in the hunt for the top people in al Qaeda. 

If this man is caught, what kind of intelligence is he likely to give?  I mean, certainly, he‘s at the very top of the food chain in al Qaeda, but being the mastermind he is, he also knows how to keep his mouth shut. 

EMERSON:  Certainly, Deborah, he‘s definitely very operationally secure in his orientation.  He knows how to keep secrets.  That‘s probably one of the reasons why he was entrusted with operating so many different cells. 

On the other hand, the fact is, once he‘s in captivity, almost all the time these types of people break down.  There‘s a lot of psychological inducements. 

There‘s pressure put on them, and over time, information does come out from almost all types of captives who have been arrested, either in Afghanistan or Pakistan, who have been connected to the al Qaeda organization. 

Clearly, he has information in his head, which obviously he would not want to give up immediately.  But the United States has gotten much more sophisticated in extracting this information in the last year and a half. 

NORVILLE:  I want to follow up on that in just a moment, but first, Eric Margolis, I want to ask you, this all presupposes that al-Zawahiri gets caught.

This is incredibly, as you said, difficult territory.  And there have been a lot of close calls before, when Americans and Pakistanis thought that they were close to bin Laden, close to the top people in al Qaeda. 

Can he escape?

MARGOLIS:  Well, he could theoretically escape, or may have escaped already with a small group of friendly tribesmen. 

But the area that he‘s in, if he‘s there, is pretty open territory.  There‘s no tree cover.  These are open mud wall compounds, and it would be very hard for him to escape there.  Dry river valleys around there, narrow valleys, easy for surveillance. 

Let me put another point, too.  I believe American troops are engaged in this operation.  American troops have been flying into a top secret American air base in Pakistan, south of Quetta (ph), even though the Pakistani government denies involvement. 

Both Special Forces and CIA groups have been involved in hunting Dr.  Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, but they‘re trying not to tell the Pakistani population, which is bitterly opposed to the American presence, that they‘re there. 

NORVILLE:  Would they be fighting this hard if al-Zawahiri was not inside there?

MARGOLIS:  Yes.  Yes, they might.  These are very, very tough men. 

I was with these type of tribesmen.  They‘re Pashtun tribesmen.  I was with them during the Afghan war.  And they‘re just about as tough fighters as you can get. 

Let me also say about Zawahiri, that he probably does not have any current operational knowledge of events, because he‘s been on the hunt and cut off.  He has no communications except for courier. 

However, he does know the names of many of like-minded groups that are not al Qaeda but that are supportive of its aims and are working with it, like the North African groups that attacked in Madrid recently. 

NORVILLE:  Steve Emerson, let me follow up on that.  If Osama bin Laden has been the moneyman for al Qaeda, al-Zawahiri has been described as the brains of the operation.  You disagree somewhat, I believe, with what Eric just said. 

EMERSON:  Listen, the question is really to what extent has al-Zawahiri been involved operationally in planning attacks post-9/11. 

I believe, based on who I‘ve interviewed, and based on other people that—with whom I‘ve shared discussions, that he has been involved with planning future attacks on American targets. 

And there has been intelligence documenting that he is involved and goes way beyond being just on the defensive, that in fact, he knows not just the cells, as Eric correctly points out, but he also knows the future targets that were planned, probably before 9/11, in addition to those being planned after 9/11. 

NORVILLE:  Well, certainly in the broadcast as late as February 24, al-Zawahiri made specific threats against the United States. 

We‘ll have to keep our eyes posted on the fighting going on in Pakistan to see what happens. 

Steve Emerson, Eric Margolis, thank you very much. 

MARGOLIS:  You‘re welcome. 

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up, spring break in Cancun.  Wild times and plenty of booze.  No shirts, no shoes, no I.D., no problem. 

But next, they never thought they‘d see the front line.  Now some have been in Iraq more than a year.  Tonight, reservists at war.  One family‘s personal story. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq.  And today, there were more terror attacks in Baghdad and in Basra, where a car bomb exploded as a British military patrol passed by, killing three civilians. 

One of the men believed to be involved in the attack was caught by passersby and stabbed to death. 

It is the second car bombing in two days.  This one following yesterday‘s bombing, which destroyed a hotel in a residential area of Baghdad.  The death toll in that attack has now been reduced to seven. 

In Iraq, the enemy often doesn‘t wear a uniform, doesn‘t fight using conventional means, and tends to blend into the crowd, which is making Iraq a very dangerous place for American soldiers 10 months after President Bush said major combat was over. 

But thanks to improvements in body armor and in battlefield medicine, more soldiers are surviving explosions and gunfire in Iraq than was possible in previous wars. 

In Vietnam, bullet and shell fragment wounds to the chest and abdomen were a major cause of fatalities, but now in Iraq, only nine percent of those wounded suffer from chest or abdominal injuries, thanks to flack jackets, vests of armor that stop shrapnel from penetrating the chest cavity, lungs and other vital organs. 

Iraq is producing a new trend in soldiers‘ injuries, however.  Soldiers saved by flack jackets often emerge with terrible wounds to unprotected areas of the body, particularly the arms and the face. 

Last year on the morning of December 16, Sergeant First Class Joseph Mosner was leading his troops on patrol near Highway 10 on the south side of Baghdad.  That‘s when a bomb exploded at his feet, severely injuring him. 

For seven days after the explosion, Sergeant Mosner was in a medically induced coma.  And when he awoke back at the United States, his first words were, “I‘m alive.” 

Sergeant Mosner sustained facial injuries that are not easy to look at, but he remains positive and says if they give him the chance, he‘d go back to Iraq. 

He joins me now from Fort Riley, Kansas. 

And Sergeant Mosner, it is so good to see you.  Thanks for being with us. 

SGT. JOSEPH MOSNER, U.S. ARMY:  You‘re welcome. 

NORVILLE:  I‘m astonished to hear after what you‘ve gone through, you are just desperate to put the uniform you have on and jump on the airplane and go back to Iraq.  But I gather that‘s not an uncommon sentiment among servicemen like you. 

MOSNER:  No.  It‘s your job; you want to go back.  Part of a family.  Your platoon, my platoon, were a family.  I kind of feel like I‘m in a comfort zone and they‘re not.  And that‘s where I need to be, is with them. 

NORVILLE:  Tell me about December 16.  What do you actually remember of the explosion?

MOSNER:  Well, the morning of the 16th, we left out of camp, went out to set up an observation post, relieved another one of my buddies out there in sector. 

Got out there to this house we had never sat at before.  I seen him there and asked him if the—he had been there all night.  He told me they were. 

So I went ahead and decided to stay there, put my dismounts inside the house, and I was going to sit and watch on the north side of the Euphrates. 

As I backed my Bradley up to the house and dropped the ramp, I got down from the Bradley and moved around the back side.  And I was climbing in through the back, through the ramp.  My driver was securing some equipment.  The back end had come loose on the move out there, and my gunner was just coming out of the turret. 

As I sat down and looked into the Bradley, then the blast went.  I don‘t remember the blast itself.  But I do remember crawling across the ground after the blast and trying to go check on the dismounts inside the house. 

NORVILLE:  Now where was the bomb?  Was it in the house right there where you‘d parked the car—parked the truck?

MOSNER:  It was in—it was in the cinder block wall, what the house was made out of.  A house, shack, whatever you want to call it, but it was inside the cinder block wall. 

NORVILLE:  So the booby traps are literally everywhere and anywhere in Iraq.  You honestly can‘t be assured that anything is safe when you‘re on patrol there. 

MOSNER:  No, you really have to keep your eyes open.  You‘ve got to watch where you‘re going, got to look for anything that‘s out of place.  If you see it, you need to stop and you need to check. 

NORVILLE:  And was there a trip wire or something that you might have inadvertently hit, or was it remote operated?

MOSNER:  It was remote detonated. 

NORVILLE:  And the blast happened.  As you said, you remember trying to crawl and check on some of the other people.  And then that was it.  The next thing you knew, you were in the hospital? 

MOSNER:  I remember getting medivacked back to camp in the Bradley.  Once I got there, then I remember getting on a helicopter and getting flown into Baghdad.  From Baghdad until I was in the United States, I don‘t remember anything. 

NORVILLE:  Now, you‘re probably alive because you had on the flack jacket and the really sophisticated body armor that they issue to you guys in the field now, but you‘ve obviously sustained some pretty severe facial injuries. 

Can you tell us the nature of the medical problems you‘ve had to confront?

MOSNER:  The injuries I sustained, I mean, it looks a lot worse than what it really is. 

NORVILLE:  I actually think you look pretty good, to be honest with you. 

MOSNER:  Well, I look a lot better now than I did four months ago. 

NORVILLE:  That‘s great. 

MOSNER:  I broke both my legs.  Both legs were broke.  They healed very quickly, because they were just hairline fractures in the leg. 

But the surgeries, I‘ve only got to go through two surgeries.  I‘m awaiting plastic surgery now in May and then again in August, and then I should be complete and done. 

NORVILLE:  But you‘ve had a number of surgeries up to this point, haven‘t you?

MOSNER:  No, I‘ve had no surgeries to this point.  The only surgeries that I‘ve had up to this point is, of course, when they did the initial surgery on me in Baghdad, put me back together. 

And then the nine hours of surgery in Landstuhl, Germany, when they removed the shrapnel from my chest and legs. 

NORVILLE:  We should note that you‘re married and have a family.  I can only imagine the horror your wife went through, because I guess they call first and say you‘ve been hurt, but they don‘t give a lot more information beyond that. 

How did your wife deal with all this?

MOSNER:  My wife actually dealt with it very good.  I was very impressed with the way my wife has handled everything.  She was there by my side the whole time. 

You know, she helped me with everything I needed to get help with.  I mean, I was like a little kid again.  You know, I couldn‘t move, and she did everything for me.  She was very wonderful. 

NORVILLE:  Why this desire to go back?  You said, you know, you‘re there, Fort Riley, you‘re safe.  We hear the dog barking in the background.  It all sounds very normal. 

And yet part of you is itching to get back out there with the other members of your platoon. 

MOSNER:  Oh, absolutely.  I have been since the day I was released from the hospital.  Like I said before, that‘s my job.  That‘s where I need to be.  I need to be there with them until they come back. 

NORVILLE:  And have you been able to communicate with them?  I know e-mail is so much easier now than in previous times when folks would be shipped overseas. 

MOSNER:  We e-mail each other.  We try to talk at least once a week.  Every once in awhile, some of the guys from the platoon will call me at home.  I let them know they can call me collect.  That‘s fine.  I just want to make sure they‘re doing OK. 

NORVILLE:  And how are they doing?  What do they tell you about the situation over there now?

MOSNER:  They‘re saying they‘re doing good.  They say it‘s the same. 

Same stuff that we were going through before I got hit. 

NORVILLE:  And as we approach the first anniversary, sir, of the beginning of the hostilities in Iraq and American troops going over there, your thoughts on how the war is going and the role that you‘ve played in participating in America‘s involvement?

MOSNER:  I think we‘re doing a good job over there.  We‘re turning a lot of things around.  A lot of things are getting a lot better over there.  They really are. 

NORVILLE:  And I know you‘ve been career; you‘ve got about 16.5 years in.  You will continue in the service, but you‘re going to be doing it stateside.  Is that right?

MOSNER:  I will go—I will do stateside, yes.  Three and a half years left.  Finish my time here in Fort Riley, however long that may be, and then go where they need me next. 

NORVILLE:  Well, we‘re all grateful for the service that you‘ve provided your country.  We‘re also grateful, as I know your family is, that you are home and that you‘re safe. 

And thank you for spending some time with us today, Sergeant Mosner. 

MOSNER:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  When we come back, more about the involvement in Iraq.  Weekend warriors?  Not a chance.  The new National Guard: American men and women on long deployments.  They‘re an awfully long way from home.

Coming up, a firsthand account of why the National Guard has changed so much.  But is it for the better?  We‘ll explore that issue when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

NORVILLE:  Given the continued unrest in the region, the question remains tonight, just how long will the United States remain in Iraq?

By all accounts, it‘s going to be a long haul, and playing a major role in the U.S. occupation, the National Guard.  In fact, nearly 30 percent of the military forces there now are made up of National Guard units.

And the hardships aren‘t just on the battlefront.  Some say they haven‘t gotten paid for their service.  Others, who planned a short stint overseas, ended up there for months, away from their families and their jobs.  When you‘re activated, you leave your full-time job for as long as you‘re needed, which can mean hardship for families back home. 

Plus, it‘s dangerous.  Yesterday, two more National Guardsmen were killed, which means 59 of the more than 500 service personnel killed in Iraq are National Guard reservists. 

It‘s a far cry from traditional Guard duty, helping with natural disasters and emergencies like earthquakes or floods and hurricanes.  And as the head of today‘s National Guard says, it is not your daddy‘s Guard. 

For a look at the National Guard past and present is Lieutenant General Steve Blum, the chief of the National Guard bureau. 

Sir, thanks for being with us. 

LT. GEN. STEVE BLUM, CHIEF, NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU:  It‘s my pleasure, Deborah. 

NORVILLE:  I understand that, come Easter time, about 40 percent of the military units in Iraq are either going to be National Guard or Army Reserve.  That‘s a staggering figure. 

Is the Guard prepared to shoulder that much of a burden?

BLUM:  Absolutely.  The National Guard is ready to do whatever the nation asks for it to do, but this is an unprecedented utilization rate for the Army National Guard.  Nowhere in recent memory or the history of the all-volunteer force has the Army National Guard been called to service at such an extensive rate. 

NORVILLE:  If the Guard had not been called up for this kind of service, is it conceivable that the U.S. military could even take on the job it‘s doing in Iraq?

BLUM:  No.  It‘s—We‘re shouldering our full responsibility as part of the total force.  It was designed for the United States Army never to be able to conduct a war without the National Guard.  We shouldn‘t and we didn‘t.

And the National Guard is full partners with its active Army and Army Reserve counter-parts, conducting the war and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq today. 

NORVILLE:  I think the extent of Guard involvement comes as a great surprise to a number of people who certainly have recollections of Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson opted not to bring the National Guard into service. 

Most people think of it as weekend duty, summers here and there.  If there‘s a big flood, the governor or the president calls them in to take care of that.  There was fine print, though, that said active duty can happen. 

BLUM:  Absolutely.  And it is happening.  And since 9/11 of 2001, almost 300,000 citizen soldiers have responded to the call for colors.  And have performed magnificently, I might add. 

NORVILLE:  What about the support system for the Guardsmen who have been called to active duty?  A lot of people have been sent away for a number of months, not just the two months or two weeks that they might have been accustomed to in a non-combat situation.

And unlike their brothers and sisters who serve in the regular military, they don‘t have the same safety net.  They don‘t live on bases.  They have regular jobs that, because they‘ve had to walk away in many cases, there‘s a financial implication, as well. 

What are you as the head of the Guard doing to make sure those people are being cared for, the families back home?

BLUM:  Well, first of all, you have it exactly right.  It‘s an extreme challenge for us, because we may have a mobilized Guard soldier who may be leaving a family, and that family is the only person in that block or that neighborhood or even that area that has been affected by the mobilization. 

So the support net must be provided by the—by the National Guardsmen that stay behind and the headquarters.  We‘ve set up a rather robust system. 

We got off to a shaky start, to be quite frank about it, and there were many problems with the early mobilizations, because they were so large and fast and so short notice.  But we‘ve gotten better and better at taking care of the—not only the men but families, as well. 

And we now are quite proud of the family support net that is out there, available not only to Guardsman but all service members, regardless of component or uniform color.  The National Guard will service them and their families while they‘re called to active duty.

NORVILLE:  In a few minutes, I‘m going to be talking with a Guardsman and his wife who didn‘t have the kind of support that you are speaking of at the time that they needed it. 

He thought he was going to be shipped out for a few months.  He ended up staying almost a year.  And during that time, they had a host of problems that, frankly, if the local community church hadn‘t stepped in and literally passed the plate, there‘s no telling what could have happened for this family.  What do you say to them? 

BLUM:  Well, they are extremely patriotic individuals who overcome—who have overcome a system that actually failed them early in the game.

I told you, in the beginning, it was very difficult.  It overwhelmed the system.  It was unexpected, and we did not do it very well.  But since then—and, by the way, I have visited that soldier‘s unit in Iraq, and they performed exceedingly well in spite of all the distractions and the fact that we didn‘t have the family support in place, and some of them experienced pay problems and equipment problems. 

These things have been overcome, I am happy to say.  The soldiers deserve better than what we gave them in the beginning.  They performed—they delivered on their end.  We now need to deliver on our end, and I am proud to say we are doing that now. 

NORVILLE:  And one of the big concerns, as more Guard units go over, I have seen talk about the possibility that because they have not received as extensive training as regular Army, regular Marine, there is some concern among some individuals that casualties will go up when more and more Guards are on the ground in Iraq.  Can you respond to that? 

BLUM:  Well, nobody can predict the casualties, but I can tell you this. 

I have been in uniformed service for 37 years, and I am a student of military history.  There has never, ever been an army force deployed ever before by the United States of America or any other nation that was better equipped and better trained than the brigade combat teams that are going into Iraq right now today from the National Guard. 

They received equipment and training even ahead of their active-component counterparts. 

NORVILLE:  I know there a lot of family members, in particular, sir, who are grateful to hear you say that. 

General Steven Blum, thank you so much for being with us.  We know it‘s a heavy burden to bear.  We appreciate you sharing your time with us. 

BLUM:  Thank you, Deborah. 

NORVILLE:  Of course, no one knows better about the hardships of being activated by the National Guard in this war than one family who had to go through the ordeal. 

Brian Peek was away on duty for the Guard in Iraq for an entire year, while his wife stayed home, attending school full time and raising their two teenage girls. 

Brian and Lourdes Peek, along with their daughters, Stephanie (ph) and Madelyn, are joining me tonight from their home in Washington, Indiana. 

Good evening. 

SPC. BRIAN PEEK, NATIONAL GUARD:  Hi. 

LOURDES PEEK, WIFE OF BRIAN:  Hello. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Brian, when you first joined up with the Guard, what were you expecting? 

B. PEEK:  When I first joined—I was on active duty before, so I knew basically what the Guard was about.  I had actually joined the Guard to go through their officer program.  And due to an injury, I had to get out of that program, but I stayed with the National Guard, and it did help me a lot with my college.  I was going through college to get my bachelor‘s degree at the time, so National Guard was paying for my college.

But I never really expected to be gone as long as I have.  I knew that was a possibility because that‘s part of your contract when you sign your contract. 

NORVILLE:  Do people really let that sink in?  I know you can get a few hundred dollars a month.  As you said, in some states, you get help with your college tuition.  There are certainly some very attractive benefits.  Do people tend to focus more on the benefits and not as much on the possibility that, in the event of war, the Guard could be called up? 

B. PEEK:  I think so.  I think they see the benefits for the college, which is good.  It‘s outstanding.  The benefits for college is what draws a lot of especially younger soldiers to the National Guard.  But sometimes maybe they don‘t realize that or the National Guard hasn‘t been called upon in this big of a scale for many, many years, like they were saying before.

(CROSSTALK)

B. PEEK:  So a lot of kids, they knew that possibility was there, because that‘s told to you from the get-go, but the possibility and the thought of maybe being gone for a year I don‘t think really passed through a lot of their minds. 

NORVILLE:  And, Lourdes, when your husband received his notice that his unit was being shipped over to Iraq, what went through your head, and what expectation did you have as far as how long he would be over there? 

L. PEEK:  Well, I didn‘t really expect him to be gone that long, and when I heard the news, I was like, what am I going to do now?  Because all of this time, we have been married for this long time.  I always depend on him on a lot of stuff.  And a lot of things went through my mind. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And a lot of things went wrong while your husband was over there in Iraq.  Give me an overview of some of the problems you had to deal with all by yourself while going to school and taking care of your two girls. 

L. PEEK:  Well, as soon as he left, not too long after that, probably a month, as soon as he left, and we had a sewer problem.  We have a leak underneath our house. 

And whenever we found somebody to check it out, they found like six or seven inches of water underneath our house, and we just have a crawl space. 

(CROSSTALK)

L. PEEK:  And that is just devastating. 

NORVILLE:  And then your house got hit by lightning and you had roof problems, too? 

L. PEEK:  Yes.  And not very long after that, it‘s still right in the middle of winter, and we cannot figure out how come we don‘t have any heat in the house, and we called somebody.  And then he said, you guys are very lucky that the house didn‘t get caught on fire, because I think your furnace—and I‘m almost sure that your furnace got struck by lightning. 

NORVILLE:  And, Madelyn, how was it for your mom going through all of this with your dad on the other side of the Atlantic?  And, of course, she didn‘t want to burden him with all the problems you kids and your mom were dealing with.

MADELYN PEEK, DAUGHTER OF BRIAN:  Oh, it was really hard for her.  She had to go through a lot of things while he was gone.  She had so much burdens on her. 

NORVILLE:  And, Brian, you heard the general just a moment ago.  I alluded to your situation, and he referred to you and other families like you as patriotic and said that he regretted that you all didn‘t have the kind of support that he believes Guard families have now.  How do you feel about that? 

B. PEEK:  Well, I think a lot of what he said was true because, like he said, the National Guard hasn‘t been called on in this kind of capability or this large of a scale for many years. 

So at first, it was kind of hard for them to try and take care of all the problems and the cares and the needs that the families have back home.  I don‘t think they were really set up to—and prepared ahead of time for that, but I believe they are now, because there are so many troops there.  But at first, I don‘t think everything was set in place, but they are correcting that. 

NORVILLE:  Did you feel let down by your Guard, by your country when things were happening at home and you weren‘t able to do anything and they weren‘t there for them to help? 

B. PEEK:  It was hard because I wasn‘t sure exactly what all was happening, because, like you said, my wife didn‘t want to burden me with things while I was there.  I mean, she eventually finally told me some of the stuff, but there was a great community support that came forward, and the Guard does have a relief fund that is set up.  And that was utilized. 

The National Guard has a—it‘s kind of like a relief fund for families.  If some emergencies happen, then they will help out, so they sent us a check to help out with the sewer problems and stuff.  So there was a check that was sent to us from the National Guard, and many of the community churches.  And the man that done the sewer work, Buck Barley (ph), here in town, we didn‘t even know the man, but he come over and done all that extensive work, had to dig my whole driveway up, and my yard, and many, many hours to pump water underneath the house and fix all the leaks.  And he—there was never pressure to make a payment. 

NORVILLE:  Oh, that‘s good to hear. 

(CROSSTALK)

B. PEEK:  When you have the money, he said, then you can pay me.  He said, I didn‘t do it for the money.  I done it because you are serving over there.  So the support was wonderful. 

NORVILLE:  Well, that‘s a good thing to hear. 

Finally, sir, I know your term is up in June.  Are you going to reenlist? 

B. PEEK:  No, I‘m not. 

NORVILLE:  All right, Brian, Lourdes, Stephanie, Madelyn, thank you all very much. 

And I know you are very grateful to have your dad home. 

M. PEEK:  Thank you. 

B. PEEK:  Thank you. 

L. PEEK:  Thank you so much.

NORVILLE:  When we come back, we are going to change gears entirely.  It‘s spring break.  Do you know where your children are?  We will take you to Cancun, Mexico, and show you what‘s really employing on across the border. 

Back with some pretty disturbing answers after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Coming up, Martha Stewart looking for a little help from her friends.  Can some letters help keep her out of prison? 

That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We just had to ask tonight, just how many friends does Martha Stewart have out there? 

In hopes of getting less time in prison, she has been asking for a little help from her friends.  She sent out this letter asking them to write to the judge on her behalf. 

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum will sentence Stewart on June 17.  This letter, was dated March the 12th and obtained and posted on the Web site Gawker.com, is one in which Stewart asked people to—quote—“include your opinion of my character, my work ethic, and my probity, if possible.  Please include any memorable experiences you have had with me.” 

Stewart was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to the government about the sale of thousands of shares of ImClone stock.  Now, it‘s not unusual for convicted criminals to send testimonials to judges in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.  Before he was sentenced, ImClone CEO Sam Waksal turned in about 120 letters supporting him.    

They didn‘t help much.  He still got the maximum, more than seven years in prison.  Martha is undoubtedly hoping that her friends wield just a little more influence.  Stay tuned. 

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, spring break in Cancun, wild times and plenty of booze, no shirts, no shoes, no I.D.?  No problem. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  The tides of March, a special daylong event at MSNBC, taking a look at spring break. 

One of the most popular destinations is Cancun, Mexico.  More than 100,000 college students and high school seniors travel to Cancun each year this time of year.  One reason, its drinking age.  It‘s only 18 and rarely enforced at that.  American alcohol and beer companies make young drinkers a target in Cancun.  Bacardi sponsored a rum shower two years ago.  Spring breakers stood open-mouthed under a spray and swallowed about as much rum as they could. 

And now some tour organizers are marketing the drinking angle.  In the Cancun section of the Web site StudentBreak.com, look at what we found—quote—“Your yearly intake of alcohol could happen in just one small week in Cancun, Mexico, on spring break.  For those of you worried about what your parents might say, tell them it‘s an educational trip.”

Another tour organizer that offices packages to Cancun promises—quote—“50 hours of free drinking over seven days.”

For more on Cancun, kids, and alcohol, we are joined on the phone this evening by Alejandro Alvarado.  He‘s the Cancun tourism director.  And also with us tonight is Julian Balbuena, the general manager of Best Day Travel, which is the largest tour operator in Cancun. 

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us. 

Mr. Alvarado, I‘m going to start with you first. 

What would happen to Cancun if that 100,000-plus college and high school kids didn‘t come down there every year? 

ALEJANDRO ALVARADO, CANCUN TOURIST DIRECTOR:  I‘m sorry.  Could you speak a little bit louder, please? 

NORVILLE:  Sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

ALVARADO:  I hardly can hear you. 

NORVILLE:  What would happen to your town if all those kids didn‘t come every year and party, as they do?  What would the economic impact be? 

ALVARADO:  Well, you know, first, spring breakers for us is another segment of the market.  And we have already learned how to deal with this segment of the market, as we learn how to deal with the golfers, with conventionists, etcetera, etcetera. 

So this segment of the market, the spring break, it leaves a very important economic flow of income for the economy of Cancun.  I would say that each spring breaker leaves in Cancun an average of between $600 and $650 dollars per tourist while they are here in Cancun. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  That‘s a lot of money to the economy. 

ALVARADO:  Of course.

NORVILLE:  Mr. Balbuena, let me ask you, what‘s the big attraction in Cancun?  Is it the golf, as Mr. Alvarado mentioned, or is it those drinking parties that we have seen in the footage? 

JULIAN BALBUENA, BEST DAY TRAVEL:  Well, the biggest attraction in Cancun for the students, you mean? 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

BALBUENA:  OK.  Well, we have organized several activities for them. 

Of course, the night entertainment is a very important portion of it, but there are also day activities where students can enjoy the water sports activities and the cultural things, like Chichen Itza or Tulum (UNINTELLIGIBLE) There are also natural parks around the area, like Xcaret or cruise ships to Isla Mujeres.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  There are a lot of things to do, but it looks like the kids just stand on the beach and get drunk.  They are not going to see Isla Mujeres.  They‘re not going to see Chichen or any of the other sights there. 

BALBUENA:  They do.  There is a portion of them that do go.  And I can tell you that because I operate one of the biggest tour operators in Cancun, and we do have students going to the attractions daytime. 

Actually, for example, we organize a day party at Wet and Wild, and the students do participate.  Of course, the main attractions for them are the night events.  We can‘t hide that.  But there are a portion of them that go to the day activities too. 

NORVILLE:  The statistics are frightening.  For any parent who doesn‘t know what the statistics are, I am going to open your eyes a little bit. 

According to “The Journal of the American College of Health,” the average number of drinks for a guy on spring break in a day is 18 drinks per day.  Women are reporting drinking 10 drinks per day.  And I know in Cancun, for as little as $75, a kid can buy a bracelet not unlike what you get if you go to Disney world to ride the rides all the day, which entitles a kid to free drinks as long as they are wearing that bracelet.  Do you frown upon that kind of activity?  Do you support that sort of thing?  Do you allow the kids who come to your sponsored tours to participate? 

BALBUENA:  There are certainly some packages that include alcoholic drinks and that offer them at certain times of the day, so they can go and have a free drink during that period. 

Certainly, some of the students do take those opportunities, but there is also agreement between all the suppliers in Cancun, and this has been taken for two years now, that we are also concerned about the well-being of the students here.  So our compromise is to not serve alcoholic drinks to people that are already intoxicated, and our compromise is also to send people together with their group, so they kind of stay in a.... 

NORVILLE:  I am going to thank you for that, sir.  And we appreciate you being with us, Julian Balbuena, one of the big tour operators in Cancun. 

Also with us, as we have said, is Alejandro Alvarado.

Mr. Alvarado, as Mr. Balbuena was saying, there is some effort on the part of tour operators to try to get under control with this.  But there‘s also a huge crime that goes along with it.  What is Cancun doing to try to make it safer, given the fact that there has been no much alcohol consumption historically down there among kids? 

ALVARADO:  Well, we have different things that we are doing.  And we apply it specifically for this season of the spring break, as we call it. 

Tourists, as Mr. Balbuena say, we have a goodwill agreement between all the service suppliers from Cancun, specifically the suppliers to the spring breakers which serves beverages, alcoholic in this case.  And in this agreement, we state that, of course, if you are old enough to drink, well, we serve you, definitely, but under some regulations.  First, you have to show your I.D. in order to go into those places. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  You don‘t think kids have fake I.D.s?  That‘s pretty easy. 

ALVARADO:  Sorry? 

NORVILLE:  You don‘t think kids have fake I.D.s? 

ALVARADO:  Well, definitely, as you say, it is easy, but, well, we have to believe them.  We are not going to check if they are lying or not.  We don‘t have lying detectors at the entrance.  I don‘t know how you handle that in the states, but here, we believe in the people. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  All right. 

ALVARADO:  If we see that somebody has a baby face, of course, they don‘t let them in. 

NORVILLE:  All right, I am going to let that be the last word. 

Alejandro Alvarado, the head of tourism there in Cancun, Mexico, we know you have got a lot of kids you got to deal with.  Go out there and keep them safe.  And thank you for being with us. 

And just a note to any of you parents who are sounding surprised.  There was another study done; 73 percent of parents had no idea this much drinking was going on during spring break.

When we come back, Donald Trump already has lots of buildings with his

name on it.  But can he really put his name on his signature phrase,

“You‘re Fired””

Stick around. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  And finally tonight, enough already. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  You‘re fired.  You‘re fired. 

You‘re fired. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  “You‘re fired,” we have heard it one million times on “The Apprentice,” and most of us hope to never hear it in real life.

But this “You‘re Fired” thing, it‘s taken a life of its own.  It turns out that Donald Trump, who has made a new TV career for himself on his new reality show, wants to trademark “You‘re fired” and use it for casino games and entertainment.  According to U.S. Patent and Trade Office, he has applied to use the phrase for that purpose, and Mr. Trump‘s office confirms that. 

But Trump is not the only one seeing dollar signs.  One other firm has applied to use “You‘re fired” for TV shows and clothing, and a third entity wants it for other kinds of clothing and a whole lot more.  Enough, already.  “You‘re fired” has been around a lot longer than Donald Trump or any of his apprentices. 

Come on, Donald, you have already got your name on buildings and your face on a few of them too.  So don‘t go getting greedy on us. 

You can send us your ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.

And that is our program for this evening.  I‘m Deborah Norville. 

Thanks for watching. 

Tomorrow night marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.  During the program, we will walk you through the events as they happened minute by minute one year ago, including the moment that NBC first broke news of the explosions near Baghdad.  One year later on DEBORAH NORVILLE tomorrow tonight. 

Coming up next, Joe Scarborough with more on the hunt for al Qaeda‘s top leaders.  “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is coming up next.                                                                               

END   

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