David H. Hackworth
12 May 98


The famous U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division is a potent force. Just ask the Iraqis who were savaged by their fire and steel during Desert Storm.

Although they're still known as cavalry, they pastured their horses long ago and fought in World War II and Korea as a foot-slogging infantry division. In Vietnam, they galloped into battle aboard choppers and further enhanced their amazing legend.

Now they're a tough tank division stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, ready to fight anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

One of America's finest fighting outfits, they're tops at winning battles. They should be. They cost you and me a cool billion and a half bucks a year.

If famine-ravaged North Korea lashes out, the cavalry troopers are high on the priority list to ride to the rescue. Just last winter, all indicators pointed to the Reds preparing to do exactly that. A general there said things were the diciest they'd been in years.

So you can bet your boots our 39,000 folks in camouflage gear in South Korea are happy that the cavalry is on standby. You want the best backing you up when you're in a fight. When I served in Vietnam, both the 101st Airborne Brigade and later the Vietnamese Airborne Division were saved by the cavalry when we'd bitten off more than we could chew.

But military logic being what it is, the cavalry -- this awesome tank division -- has been tasked to be the new cop on the Bosnia beat. So if the balloon goes up in Korea, our guys in the trenches will have to dig in a little deeper and shoot a lot faster.

Sending this powerful armored division to Bosnia to man check points, run patrols and show the flag is flat nuts. Since 1995, this open-ended and futile mission has already cost $10 billion dollars, degraded the combat readiness of our Apache helicopter gunship battalions and of the two Germany-based heavy divisions.

Now Bill Clinton's military masterminds plan to do in No. 3.

The division headquarters and a cavalry brigade deploy this September to be replaced in six months by another cavalry brigade. The brigade remaining behind will be stripped to fill the gaping holes in the ranks of the two deploying units and those left will spend their time maintaining stowed gear, doing police call and keeping Fort Hood shining.

The mighty cavalry has already stopped all war-fighting training and these highly skilled warriors (a good tank crew cost about $3 million to train) are now being recycled as peacekeepers. An exercise not unlike taking your city's elite SWAT squad and turning them into social workers.

Most of the cavalry's brand new $4 million a pop M1A2 Abrams tanks will be mothballed along with their cannons and other combat gear. When the mission ends in 1999, it will take at least another year to get the cavalry back in shape to fight as an effective, combined arms team.

This might be too late if crazy Kim Jung Il slashes across the 38th Parallel, or if even crazier Saddam Hussein commits another military miscalculation. And since Clinton and the best Congress money can buy just restarted the cold war with their vote to extend NATO east, the cavalry may not be fully up and running if Russia decides to roar again.

Meanwhile, the fine cavalry troops are busting their butts to re-configure from war-fighters to policemen and I have no doubt that once there, they will do an outstanding job keeping their finger in the Bosnian dike.

And after almost six years of our military being assigned the wrong missions, it's a safe bet that as long as Clinton's president our combat forces will continue to be misused and abused.

The top brass should stand tall and demand Clinton authorize the formation of a permanent peacekeeping force to do his save-the-global-village work or they'll resign.

The Reserves, National Guard and Regular Army could all pony up troops to be specially trained for nation building, peace operations and police work. They would do the Haitis, Bosnians, Macedonias and Kosovos -- and our warriors could return to their primary job of preparing to defend America.

The end