David H. Hackworth
August 15, 1995
IS AMERICA'S MILITARY LEADERSHIP FAILING?
Leonard C. Hamilton is a salty old warrior who has served his country well for the past 33 years, first as a decorated Marine in the blood-soaked rice paddies of Vietnam, followed by three decades in the trenches with the U.S. Army. He worked his way up from a rifle-packing grunt to a company 1st Sgt., then to Chief Warrant Officer.
A review of his personnel file shows Hamilton has been a consistent "water walker."
"Dedication," "highest integrity," "fights for his troops and always looks after their welfare" and "unlimited potential" are words that jump out of his records.
During Desert Storm, Hamilton served with the 2nd Armored Division's Tiger Brigade and was decorated for the "success" of the Brigade's attack near Kuwait, where his unit won the coveted Presidential Unit Citation. Gen. William Pagonis personally awarded him a Bronze Star for "exemplary professionalism."
With a record like this, you'd think Hamilton would be enjoying his sunshine years in the Army, passing on his knowledge to those taking his place when he hangs up his rifle. Not so. His tell-'em-like-it-is, old-fashioned values got him canned from the Army he loved.
Hamilton's sad saga began when he trusted Congress' Whistle Blower Act and accused his Desert Storm superiors, Maj. Theodore P. Ward and Capt. Stacy L. Smith, of falsifying $600,000 in inventory records and condoning the theft of Army vehicles and the sale of GI uniforms to Saudi soldiers.
Instead of getting a medal for standing tall, he got a damning efficiency report by the very two guys he charged with corruption. Hamilton, not the kind to back off from a fight, triggered an investigation that determined Ward and Smith lied to discredit him -- and the offending report was tossed out.
But then, even though Army investigators found enough evidence to prosecute Ward and others, the charges were watered down by the National Guard's political mafia, and the offenders were hit with only a slap on the wrist. Ward and Smith are still serving in the New York National Guard, while Hamilton, after being investigated on charges that were dropped as mysteriously as they were trumped up, was informed that he would be "separated" from the service.
The old Chief, now a civilian-in-waiting, is still fighting to uphold his honor. He says, 'If you stand tall and do the right thing, justice will prevail." His battle to right the wrong and "continue to serve the country I love" is now in its fourth year.
Compared to the big-league corruption that goes down in the Pentagon or with military pork in Congress, Hamilton's plight may not seem like a big deal. Yet, guys like Hamilton, the little guys, are the ones who guard our country, always on the forward edge of danger. Accordingly, they should be treated with respect, care, dignity and fairness.
Instead, I receive three or four such horror stories a week. The Air Force leads, followed by the Army, then the Navy, although I've yet to receive a complaint from a Marine. Perhaps that proud institution's values, like Hamilton's, remain old-fashioned, and their leaders haven't become managers or their troops just "assets" or "resources."
Yesterday I wrote to the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force expressing concern with the apparent breakdown in the traditional leadership values that once guided our military profession.
I'm also concerned that the Whistle Blower Act is broken. It was designed for people to be able to sound off about waste, abuse and dishonesty. Yet when Hamilton wrote to Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., and Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., to complain about reprisals at the hands of the New York National Guard, his letters were "simply passed to the New York brass, who railroaded" him in the first place.
Clearly, Congress and our top brass must look after the troops
and regain their trust. In the end, our warriors are far more
important than all the bombers, the ships and the missiles --
a lesson we should have learned from Vietnam. It's warriors, men
like old Chief Hamilton, who win wars, and the brass hats damned
well better start looking after them.