My heart is full at the recent outpouring of near-unanimous support from the American public for our troops in the Persian Gulf region. This nation is standing as one, united behind President Bush, his generals and the fine men and women who have sacrificed so much for the welfare of this nation and the world. They are true heroes, and we have finally recognized them as such.

Now that it appears hostilities are concluded in the Persian Gulf war, it is crucial for Congress to look back and objectively analyze the lessons which were taught so eloquently by the conflict.To all those who watched television, read a newspaper or listened to a radio in the past month, it has become crystal clear that use of sophisticated weaponry dramatically reduced the potential casualties of our young men and women.

It has also been made plain that the way to run a war is to allow our military leaders a free hand in formulating and conducting battle plans.

The conflict has also reinforced the lesson that policy divisions should stop at our shores in times of crisis - that we must stand side by side in our support of a cause if it is to be successful.

These are among the most obvious of the lessons before us. But for some members of Congress, there are other lessons - ones that may only be learned from pressure by their constituents.

Many in Congress must belatedly face the fact that "supporting the troops" means much more than speaking gallant words and making self-serving political speeches in the press and on the House floor after hostilities have been initiated.

"Supporting our troops" must include actions preceding the conflict - actions in the forms of votes to promote the success of our troops through the procurement of the very best weapon systems available and through the solid backing of their commander in chief's ability to make decisions to win the peace.

During my tenure in Congress, I have too often witnessed wholehearted efforts from many members to oppose the very weapons that saved so many lives and ended the war so expediently in the gulf. Some have repeatedly attempted to obstruct the core plans of our military and to gut the defense budget, for it was an easy target in times of peace.

Other misguided efforts have occurred more recently. Last November, several liberal congressmen filed a lawsuit against President Bush, challenging his authority to send troops to the Persian Gulf.

More recently, even as the air war was progressing, a proposal was advanced to grant the press unfettered operation in the theater of war, allowing them to operate independently and without oversight.

Even the staunchest defenders of the First Amendment realized such a proposal was unworkable in light of the fact that this would have put nearly unrestricted intelligence information into the hands of Saddam.

Many of the same congressmen who acted and voted in this manner are now loudly proclaiming their support for the troops and the actions of the president, as if this had always been their stand.

They must have conveniently forgotten their vote in January not to give the president the authority to use force to implement the United Nations resolutions regarding Kuwait, thereby undercutting his ability to send a clear message to Saddam. Instead they point to a face-saving vote which occurred after fighting began to announce their "support for the troops."

But their real support should have started long ago.

Congress' commitment to the troops cannot begin with the first shot and end with the cease-fire. We must give our fighting men and women our backing with every vote we make that could affect them and their ability to do their job.

We cannot continue to carelessly and mindlessly dismiss weapon systems purely based upon cost, for those may ultimately become the systems which could save tens of thousands of more lives. We cannot show our enemies a divisive face and expect them to think we have the necessary resolve to carry out our words.

For a member of Congress to act otherwise is to prove that his support for the troops is simply rhetoric which surfaces only when it is politically expedient.

I am proud of our troops. They deserve the very best, and I for one intend to continue giving them my highest support, whether it be in times of peace or in times of conflict.