DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Oct. 10, 1995

AN ARMY THAT CARES FOR ITS OWN

Last Friday, an old soldier, Cleavie Adams, called and asked for help. His son, Michael, joined the Army in Little Rock, Ark., last May, enlisting for Infantry Airborne Ranger -- parachute school followed by the most rigorous course the Army has to offer: Ranger training. The recruiter said it was a done deal.

You guessed it. After Michael finished Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Ga., he was told to report to the 10th Mountain Division at Ft.. Drum, N.Y. Mountain soldiers are tough guys, but they don't leap out, of perfectly good airplanes in the dark of night, and they're not the ultimate hard-core Ranger warriors Michael joined up to fight alongside.

Michael was not a happy soldier. Especially when he had busted his butt in Basic, where he finished No. 1 in his class in physical fitness, fired expert in rifle marksmanship and graduated in the top 5 percent of his company.

But Michael is not the kind of guy to stop fighting for what's right. Being an Army brat, he knew if anybody could fix his raw deal, his retired Army first sergeant father could.

He told his dad, 'I have a contract with the Army. I could have gone Navy where I was promised SEAL training (the Navy's equivalent of Airborne Ranger), but I went Army 'cause you were a career soldier, and I wanted to follow in your boot prints."

Michael's dad knew which buttons to push and where to look. He investigated and discovered that the Army recruiter verbally promised Michael Airborne Ranger training, but there was nothing in writing

Technically, Michael did not have a contract. He had been ambushed by a double-dealing recruiter who, probably desperate to meet his assigned quota, wrote a check he knew would bounce.

I called an old paratrooper buddy of mine at Ft. Benning, Al Blanchard -- who has made more jumps than there are airplanes --- passed on what Adams said and asked for his help. On Saturday morning, Rich McDowell, Ft. Benning's public affairs officer, rang from his home and said, "We're working the Adams case. We'll have some info for you by Monday.'

On Monday, before first light, McDowell was back on the horn saying Ft. Benning commander Gen. Jay Hendrix had been briefed and the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox had been "energized.'

Two hours later, a call to Fort Knox revealed that Maj. 'Bubba" Woods, an aide to the commanding general of the Recruiting Command, had briefed his boss and that top priority had been assigned to finding out why Michael didn't get what the recruiter had promised.

The same day, well after duty hours, retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Shaffrey called from Knox to say, 'The Pentagon has been briefed." He said, 'I think we're going to get Adams squared away. We're extending his leave, and should have him jumping out of airplanes soon. I'll ring you tomorrow.'

On Tuesday at noon -- less than 16 duty hours from my first call to Blanchard -- Shaffrey rang back. 'Adams has been told to report back to Benning to attend parachute school, and we're working on his Ranger training," he said.

"There may have been a misunderstanding between the recruiting sergeant and Michael, but if Michael heard it that way, that's what he's going to get." I thanked him, and he replied, "In today's Army, we take care of our own."

I rang Michael to give him the word, and he was mighty pleased. This future Airborne Ranger said, "I plan to graduate top in my class and be a No. 1 Ranger warrior."

I told Michael not to get himself killed, and he said, "Don't worry about that, sir, it's the enemy that better worry."

Where do we get such fine young men, and hasn't the Army changed? Back when I wore boots, only the top brass got the special care and attention Pvt. Michael Adams received.

Oh, you want to know what happened to the wheeler-dealer recruiting sergeant? First Sgt. Adams says, "He got fired, and that's the way it should be. Soldiers should never lie. War is a life and death business, and when a sergeant says he's taken the hill, he damn well better be sitting on top it." Amen.