Defending America
David Hackworth
18 Nov 1997


Out in the Iraqi desert the war drums are beating again. And guess what? Our warriors are not ready to fight! They don't have the right training, the right gear or the required numbers to do another Desert Storm.

A sharp observer might say, "Hold on there, Hack. We've spent almost $300 billion a year on intelligence and defense since Schwarzkopf fought round one in the desert. Where did all that money go? "

The simple answer is, it went to pork for racketeers like Senator Trent Lott to buy ships the Navy didn't need, Congressman Newt Gingrich to buy C-130 cargo planes the Air Force didn't want and President Bill Clinton to buy Sea Wolf Submarines and B-2's the Pentagon didn't want in the first place.

To pay for all this fancy gold plated gear, which was good for the defense welfare state and the porkers' reelection chances but bad for the fighters who ain't got the right stuff, Clinton and Congress have slashed our military's personnel strength by almost 35 percent since 1991 and cut the money needed to train those left.

Half filled and untrained rifle squads, platoons, companies, ships and aircrews are the result of this gross dereliction of duty.

A football team that goes on the field without all of its players loses. So do armies, but the price paid is different: Football teams play again whereas losing armies fill bodybags, wave white flags and fill POW camps.

American politicians have been similarly stealing from our troops and placing them in such danger ever since this republic was founded. But in the past, America has always had a few seniors officers such as Generals Smedley Butler, Billy Mitchell and Jim Gavin, who always put their warriors' safety over their own career.

They sounded off when training funds were cut, when pork got priority over needed battle gear and when politicians pushed the wrong strategy or wrong policies. But it's been a long time since a Butler, a Mitchell or a Gavin has worn a brass hat.

This is what the troops say.

-- A Marine officer says, "Last year's M-16 rifle ammunition allowance was cut by 10 million rounds. Only trained marksman win battles."

-- A paratrooper sergeant says, "Training funds in the 82d Airborne Division have been slashed. There's not enough money to train or even to keep up our jump proficiency."

-- A Navy chief petty officer says, " I have had so many pregnant sailors in my division that we can't even maintain 50 percent of manning level."

-- An Air Force pilot says, " At the rate pilots are quitting, by next month my fighter squadron will be unable to fill fifty percent of our cockpits."

-- An infantry leader says, " I honestly believe we will lose the next major conflict. Our soldiers are physically and mentally weak. We, as leaders, have to baby-sit instead of preparing men for combat."

-- A senior Army leader says, " Budgets have plummeted during the past two years. Field commanders are between a rock and a hard place. There are simply not enough dollars to sustain the intensity and quality of training."

-- A warrior leader says, " No administration has ever been so quick to throw our sons and daughters into harm's way in situations which don't threaten our national interests or the security of our nation. Perhaps, if their sons and daughters ever served or were serving, they might take a different approach."

Have you heard of one general or admiral who has sounded off about these conditions? Oh, they talk of moral courage, but it's nothing other than a nice sounding platitude that doesn't apply to them.

I was recently asked by former President Reagan's son Michael what I'd do to correct this obscenity if I were secretary of defense.

I said, "I'd fire 90 percent of the top brass and reach down to the Pattons, Pullers, Doolittles and Burkes and put them in charge."

They would have the guts to tell Clinton and Congress that they have destroyed our nation's fighting ability and to demand our military gets its priorities straight. They'd fall on their swords if the pork-for-votes and social experiments that are gutting our military didn't stop.

Now that's the Army I'd want my sons to fight in.