HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOE AND JANE
DAVID H. HACKWORTH
This week, the U.S. Army celebrates its 226th birthday. And while it's an institution
that's served our country well, it's sure showing its age.
Like most organizations that have grown long in the tooth, the Army has become
a massive, top-heavy bureaucracy that's thin on fighters and heavy on memo-writers
and brass. Chances are it no longer has the right stuff to storm the beaches like
Col. Jim Van Fleet's regiment did at Normandy or smash a powerful Chinese Red
foe the way Col. Paul Freeman's regiment did at Chipyong-ni.
Feats like those are the Army's reason for being - defending America - and we
can't afford to take chances with our national security and risk our warriors'
lives in the interests of social experiments that run against the grain of soldiering.
Instead of protecting us in the 21st century by maintaining the high and hard
kill-or-be-killed standards key to surviving the Normandys and Chipyong-nis, the
U.S. Army has become a flabby, politically correct corporation that no longer
has the kind of senior leadership the Van Fleets and Freemans provided.
For the past 50 years, I've watched the Army slowly disintegrate. It's gone from
an Army where sergeants were sergeants and captains were captains and where no
one above them would dare do their jobs, to generals micromanaging squads and
companies - and where trust in any rank above major seldom exists. Unless, that
is, a soldier is fortunate enough to be in a Ranger battalion or in a unit with
a CO who's somehow escaped the corporate mentality that's been strangling our
Army since it started copying Big Business's management techniques.
Back in the Van Fleet/Freeman Army, commanders didn't flit into command, punch
their corporate card and flit out. They stayed with their soldiers year after
year, gaining their trust by their own example - and along the way they learned
how to fight and lead.
Recently retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who's now busy bad-mouthing the Pentagon
for his screwing up the Serbian War, is one of the new corporate-general types.
Clark, with a total of seven years with troops out of 33 years of service, spent
the other 26 years punching his corporate ticket in "career essential assignments"
such as getting a graduate degree, serving in the White House, being a general's
aide and doing time on high staffs. All were critical punches for him if he wanted
to wear stars in our modern Army.
Freeman and Van Fleet didn't go to Harvard Business School, nor did they have
graduate degrees from fancy universities. But they had degrees in their soldiering
trade earned at the University of Hard Knocks, where they learned to lead troops
well and win battles by doing.
The corporate copycatting and ticket-punching started during the Korean War; by
the time we got into Vietnam, it had so accelerated that few at the top understood
that guerrilla war. Battalion and brigade COs were rotated out every six months,
and the average company CO's time with troops was three months. Officers were
too busy playing musical chairs, advancing their careers, to learn their trade,
and the grunts quickly - and survival-smartly - lost all trust for their officer
The lion's share of our Army's serving generals' resumes are frighteningly similar
to Clark's. Few have a clue about what's going down with the troops. Most are
a reflection of their gurus. A corporate general mentors a bright captain - who
reminds him of himself way back when - and guides his career, then the captain
eventually becomes a general - an exact clone of his mentor - and the institutionalized
sickness is passed on.
Five years ago, I told the Army Chief of Staff that hundreds of disheartened sergeants
and captains were telling me they were quitting because the Army had lost its
way. He said I was wrong: "My staff assures me that Army attrition is well
The general was into big-time denial. Tens of thousands of our best and brightest
have since quit, and the hemorrhage continues.
The black beret that our soldiers will slap on their heads this week as "An
Army of One" birthday present won't fix the problem. Only leadership can
do that. Sadly, I see few serving generals made of the same stuff as Freeman or
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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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