boots on the ground
Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
1980 April 11, Cooley, John K., “US rapid strike force: How to get there first with the most”, Christian Science Monitor:
- US options grow more difficults[sic] as the chance of a Soviet response increases. However, many American strategists now argue that even light, token US land forces -- "getting US combat boots on the ground," as General Warner puts it -- would signal to an enemy that the US is physically guarding the area and can only be dislodged at the risk of war.
- (idiomatic, military) The ground forces actually fighting in a war or conflict, rather than troops not engaged or other military action such as air strikes.
- The Pentagon may say we have enough, but that's not what I'm hearing from the boots on the ground.