David H. Hackworth
July 12, 1994


The Defense Department is spending $2 billion of scarce funds to give the Pentagon a face lift and shore it up from sinking into the swamp it was built on five decades ago. This is one hell of a lot of dough for an organization to spend on a corporate headquarters whose doers, down where the rubber hits the trail, don't have the money to do.

Out in the field -- which is where the warriors are and where the fighting edge is honed for the life and death business of war -- the doers don't have the money to train right, or sufficient spare parts and maintenance funds to keep the weapons of war at a sharp state of readiness.

Marine Corps Commandant Carl Mundy told a congressional hearing, "Our ability to maintain readiness is on the margin and trending down- ward."

Army Gen. Bob Howard says, "We have known for the last couple years we have not had enough operating money out there."

In Europe, the forces that could be deployed to Bosnia have had their tactical training cut by 12 percent because there wasn't enough money to go around.

Gen. Mike Hoar told a Senate hearing, "Airlift in this country is broken right now. I'm not sure it's workable" to sustain a major conflict.

Meanwhile. the Pentagon's civilian corporate counterparts all over the United States are trimming the blubber, getting lean and closing unneeded offices. In many cases, they're hanging up a "moved" sign and shifting to less costly quarters.

When IBM rationalized and got rid of all the top-heavy executive staff, it closed down its huge corporate home office and moved into much smaller digs. Of course, IBM is answerable to the stockholders and doesn't have deep-pocket taxpayers to pick up the tab for fat cats who are no longer needed.

In 1991, right after Desert Storm, when the U.S. armed forces had 2.2 million people on active duty, the Pentagon staff was 25,000 -- 1,000 more clerks and brass hats than it had in 1945, when the military strength was almost 13 million uniformed men and women. Since 1991, because of Cold War downsizing, over 600,000 men and women -- almost 25 percent of the military force -- have been given their walking papers. Yet the Pentagon's personnel strength remains unchanged at 25,000.

Apparently, it's OK to pink-slip trigger-pullers as long as no one dares tread on the bureaucrats who buy the $600 hammers, shuffle the endless papers and wrap everything in red tape.

It's criminal to spend $2 billion renovating a military headquarters whose time has passed. The world's biggest office building, which has 17 miles of corridors but seldom an original thought, shouldn't be rebuilt. It should be blown up. Parts of the basement have settled as much as 12 inches, and the electrical, plumbing and exterior walls wouldn't pass safety standards in a Third World country. Putting more money into this old building is just throwing good money after bad.

The inhabitants and business of the Pentagon should be moved to Omaha, Neb., the former home of the deactivated Strategic Air Command, where modern facilities are available at little cost to the taxpayers.

Another bonus is that the Defense Department would be far away from the sleaze and corruption of the Washington beltway. Middle America values from those good people in Omaha could seep back into a work force that could be reduced by at least 70 percent. Who knows, the survivors might come to accept JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Our lawmakers must take a hard look at the Pentagon brass' skewed priorities and confront this arrogant waste of taxpayer dollars. They must ask how the brass can spend billions of dollars painting the flagpole, while the cannon is rusted and broken!

A flagpole can't fire one round or stop one enemy soldier. Only well- trained, well-led, well-equipped combat-ready warriors can do that. As each day passes, the high state of readiness that brought quick victory during Desert Storm is sinking in a swamp of neglect far faster than the Pentagon.