DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
March 14, 1995

IT'S SUCH A DEAL, I'LL TAKE TWO CORPS FULL

Quantico, VA -- "Battlefields seldom change," I thought as I walked the perimeter of the Marine basic course and observed the deep foxholes, outposts, barbed wire, fields of fire, wet, alert young warriors, ankle-deep mud and always, the smell of gunpowder.

Here, John Glenn, Chuck Robb, and my cousin, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, learned the basics of leading men and winning in battle, as did California's Governor Pete Wilson and tens of thousands of other patriots who joined up to serve with America's finest. None of the Vietnam-era presidential hopefuls passed through this crucible; they all dodged the draft to serve a high priority -- themselves.

At Quantico, Marines learn not just to kill, but to lead, to think and to absorb standards that stick with them for life. Character is forged in an environment where perfection is not good enough, where duty, honor and country are forever grafted onto their belief systems. That's why so many Marines lead the way in almost every pursuit in this land.

There's little difference between the current crop of Marines and the "Devil Dogs" I first met as a ten-year-old shoeshine boy in 1940. Then, too, they were sharp, salty and proud -- and they liked to keep their mahogany shoes glistening, which was good for business. They were not in the Corps because it was a job. They had joined up because for them, it was a near-religion, a compelling call to serve their country.

As I watched the kids who still have that calling dig in, I thought, "Nothing has changed since before Pearl Harbor." The faces are still young, the minds eager, the bodies rock hard and the equipment clean and serviceable, though worn and old...very old.

The big difference between Marines and the Army, Air Force and Navy, is the Corps runs on the smell of an old oily rag. They're the poor cousins of the other, richer services. Col. James T. Conway's total annual budget for putting almost 3,000 officers through basic school is a lean $967,031 per year. The Army's "kiddieland" at Fort Bragg, built to baby-sit serving soldiers' offspring (71% of the family-oriented U.S. Army is married), costs five times as much; a month's per diem (hotel and food) for 300 USAF fighter jocks in Italy -- who are too princely to sleep on cots in tents as Marines do -- is about $1 million a month; the cost for a headquarters in Naples to deal with ex-Yugoslavia is $8 million a year, and boy, do the staff weenies there live high on the hog.

The Corps gets only six percent of the defense budget. This pays for 12 percent of the active forces, 23 percent of the active divisions, 13 percent of the fighter/attack aircraft and 14 percent of the total reserve force.

It doesn't take a whiz kid to figure out this is one hell of a lot of bang for the defense buck. Marines don't waste defense dollars. They're into lean meat, not blubber. Quality of life to leathernecks isn't pampering and frills, but a resupply of ammo on the high ground.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry knows his budget will be halved by the year 2000, leaving us with a broken defense machine. The Pentagon has got to trim now to be able to fight later.

Perry should find out how the Corps can do so much with so little, and ask: Why do Marine pilots sleep in tents next to their planes while Air Force pilots live downtown in plush hotels? Why does the Army have 200 major generals for only ten divisions? Why do Marine sergeants serve as navigators aboard Marine C-130 aircraft while majors do the same job in the Air Force? Why does the Corps have one officer to every nine Marines when the Air Force ratio is 1 to 4, the Army 1 to 5 and the Navy 1 to 6? Why does the Pentagon have more people now for a force of only 1.6 million than it had in 1945, when the force was 13 million?

The Corps is one hell of a defense bargain. Pound for pound, in these days when cost-effectiveness is so critical, the Corps provides by far the best value at the best price.