15 February 2000


An American Army sergeant was shot last week in Kosovo. He's not the first casualty from that ill-conceived misadventure, and he won't be the last.

But another Army sergeant -- Brian Heitman -- also made the news when he stood tall and wrote in the Army Times, "The warrior ethos is sadly dead in today's Army. There are, to be sure, warriors left ... but we are a minority."

There is a connection between the two sergeants. One was wounded on the field of strife, where combat skills and the warrior ethic keep men alive, and the other told his superiors that realistic combat training has been reduced to the point where men in the famed 82nd Airborne Division are at risk if deployed to a killing zone like Kosovo.

"Now the fear of making the wrong decision has led many to become indecisive," he wrote.

"This has led to weakened training events of low intensity in which our real enemies are boredom. ... Live-fire ranges are so watered down that there is little or no realism involved. Whenever there is risk involved, soldiers take the training more seriously." Sergeant Heitman is right on target. I hear from about 3,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen weekly, and many have the same complaint: The warrior ethic is being bled out of our Armed Forces.

Sergeant Jeffrey Barnello, another straight-shooting 82nd Airborne leader, explains why our warriors must be hardened to perfection and steeled with iron discipline to make it through the terror of ground combat: "We don't want to be filling our own body bags to send home to Mom. We know that quality training will make our enemy the recipient of such a fate." During the past 10 years, the two-century tradition of the American warrior has been weakened by technocrats, social engineers, do-gooders and incompetent or uncaring senior leaders.

The technocrats say that silver bullet gadgets are the end-all and take the nastiness out of war.

These airheads are backed up by the likes of the William Perrys and William Cohens who end up running the Pentagon in spite of knowing as much about what makes a fighting man as I know about how to formulate perfume. Cohen likes gold-plated gadgets because they're made by his pals, the defense racketeers. He's also the guy who gave us the "Victory over Serbia" -- where megabuck silver bullets from 3 miles up had about as much impact as April showers on the fourth-rate Serb army busy down in the mud ethnic-cleansing the Albanians.

The other guilty parties responsible for attempting to destroy the vital kill-or-be-killed Spartan ethos are the social engineers, do-gooders and PC politicians whose agenda is to use the services to promote equality, provide opportunity and make America's Armed Forces warmer and fuzzier than the Brownies.

Sergeant Heitman had the guts to stand up and tell the truth while a lot of uniformed folks in much higher pay grades shirk their duties. Heitman knows the values necessary to defend a society might well be in conflict with the society itself and that our military must concentrate not on liberal agendas but rather on the life-or-death skills needed to fight and win on the battlefield. And bear in mind that if things are bad in the elite 82nd Airborne Division, which is America's first-to-go Army outfit, imagine what the average unit must be like!

No surprise that Heitman has had private sessions with his entire chain of command right up to Gen. Dan McNeill. His bosses must've been almost as shocked by his article as they would've been if the division had turned out for parade in pink tutus. But the big surprise is that -- without reprisal -- they carefully listened to his message: Because of excessive safety restrictions and training distractions, his unit isn't able to train as it will have to fight -- down in the mud -- when the magic silver bullets again fail to do the job.

His bosses actually got the word. They actually listened to a caring leader down at the bottom who will be one of the first troopers on the objective on D-Day.

And that's a good sign. When the brass fail to listen to the troops, it's all over. Less "Taps."