BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
6 March 2000
"Look after your soldiers and they will look after you" was the drumbeat my company commander gave me almost 55 years ago when he pinned three acting-sergeant stripes on my 15-year-old arm.
He drove home the point that my top priority was to accomplish the mission -- but right below that was taking care of the troops.
During my teen-age years, those rules caused me a lot of conflict. Too often while accomplishing the mission, my troops were wounded or killed. And after these incidents, I would always find myself questioning how I could be looking after my troops if I were also responsible for getting them blown away.
But as war experience sharpened my judgment, I came to understand why the mission had to be first and the troops second. I learned, too, that my COs who were World War II vets wouldn't assign missions that weren't critical and that they put their soldiers' welfare first and their own careers second.
By the time I was 21, I'd sorted out how to work with two essentially opposing dictums, and during the subsequent command of nine company-sized units (three of those in combat) and three battalions (two of those in combat), I learned to lose certain orders that put my soldiers in danger for no real gain.
I learned also that for a unit to have cohesion and discipline, its leaders must care for their soldiers with the same tough love they might use with their own kids and that trust was a two-way street that could only be earned.
To gain my soldiers' trust, I sometimes did things that were not career-enhancing. Once in Vietnam, I had a glory-hungry brigade commander far more interested in enemy body counts than my soldiers' survival. Whenever he demanded we sweep through enemy positions filled with mines, I either told him where he could go or simply ignored his orders. Legs and lives were more important to me than getting Col. Ira A. Hunt his first star. And I was sure that somewhere, my early mentors were smiling.
From 1960 until now, I've seen a major change -- and not for the better -- in the senior leadership of our armed services. Less the Marines, that is. Last year, 55 Marine generals stood tall and threatened to resign en masse if the Corps were forced to follow the other services' mixed-gender basic training nonsense that has so weakened our forces.
But the Hunts have slowly and surely taken over the Army, Navy and Air Force. And they pay a lot of lip service to taking care of the troops. Yet with few exceptions -- such as recently retired David Grange, a good leader who spent four years wearing two stars but was retired by the Army as a one-star because of pettiness -- when it comes to walking the walk, the protestations usually boil down to just cheap talk.
For example, the Pentagon has just told the troops that the protective suits designed to safeguard them from gas and germ attacks are criminally defective. The hypocrisy here is that the Pentagon brass and thousands of other officers have known of these defects for at least five years. But this life-or-death skinny was held back while our troops risked their butts in dangerous places like Korea and Kuwait -- thinking they were protected from the always-imminent threat of chemical or biological attack.
Can you imagine how betrayed these troops and members of the U.S.-based Domestic Preparedness Program -- the FBI, Special Ops and fire departments who've been training and operating in real chemical "hot zones" while wearing these defective suits -- must feel?
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary William Cohen's been chanting, "It is not a question of if, but only of when chemical and biological weapons will be used against our troops."
No wonder this fraud has been pushing anthrax inoculation! No wonder our troops don't trust either the vaccine or their chain of command!
Congress must find out why this information was hidden from our troops for so long, why they were put in harm's way without proper protection, and then nail those responsible.
Congress must also find out why our military leaders profess
that the care of soldiers and their families is top priority when
their conduct clearly demonstrates otherwise.