DEBATE AT FORT AMERICA

BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
19 September 2000

Finally, after much dancing and jabbing, the two major contenders for the Oval Office have agreed to slug it out face to face. Since our warriors are the first ones at risk when the Prez says "go," it would be only fitting if the candidates agree to at least one debate at Fort America. Then the troops would know they're not taken for granted and that their voices count in the democracy they've taken an oath to defend with their lives.

Here are a few questions our warriors have sent my way:

Marine grunt: "Mr. Bush, since your dad sent us to Somalia in 1992, we've been doing Meals On Wheels missions around the globe that have nothing to do with defending our country. Do you intend to continue these, or employ us only when America's security interests are genuinely involved?"

Navy fighter pilot: "Mr. Gore, every year since '92 we've been flying fewer hours. Now our tactical proficiency's down the tubes. During the Serbia War we missed half of our targets. Vice Adm. John Nathman said recently that Naval Air will soon be unable to do the job. What'll you do to change this?"

Army sergeant major: "Mr. Bush, I've been wearing this uniform since 1969 and have never seen more self-serving senior leaders than we have today. This observation is supported by the thousands of our best and brightest who're walking. We've recently caught generals hitting on their aides' wives, stealing and lying. And look at top dog Gen. Hugh Shelton, who's been insisting our readiness status is 'good to go.' Even a recruit knows we can't do even another Desert Storm. What're you planning to do about cleaning up the senior ranks and returning the trust that once existed from the top of the Army to the bottom -- which in today's Army is as out of fashion as a pair of old brown boots?"

Air Force maintenance sergeant: "Mr. Gore, most of the aircraft we have are older than my airmen who turn the wrenches. Spare parts are as hard to find as a 50-buck loan the day before payday. More than 40 percent of our squadrons couldn't hack a hot operational mission. How'll you turn this around?"

Marine major: "Mr. Bush, our armed forces are still organized to fight the Cold War. Our platforms -- tanks, ships and aircraft -- are old and obsolete for the kind of wars we'll fight this century. What's your vision for modernization?"

Army sergeant major: "Mr. Gore, the last nonpolitical, nonwheeler-dealer SecDef we've had was George Marshall. Even Bevis and Butt-head know we gotta reorganize our forces and hunker down for some hairy fights down the track that'll be nothing like the past. I reckon your choice as SecDef will be the most important cabinet position you'll fill. We need someone who will cut the flab, waste, redundancy and duplication. Just whom do you have in mind?"

Navy commander: "Mr. Bush, besides having an organization that's changed little since George Washington crossed the Delaware, a worry most of us in the profession of arms have is that America's basically been rudderless since the end of the Cold War. There's no national strategy. What is your vision for our national security?"

Air Force sergeant: "Mr. Gore, you're on record that as president you'll permit homosexuals to openly serve. Many of my buddies say they'll leave the service if this happens. The experts from war-fighters to military sociologists say such a policy would destroy morale, unit cohesion and teamwork. Has this information caused you to change your mind?"

Army drill sergeant: "Mr. Bush, each year Sensitivity and Consideration for Others Training becomes more important than combat drills. Gender-bending by pushing women into jobs they can't handle has lowered the standards. The warrior ethic has all but disappeared. Basic training's become a joke. We don't create warriors anymore, we produce cheerleaders. Sadly, all this politically correct jazz started on your father's watch. Do you intend to turn this dangerous trend around?"

Maybe you'll have a chance to ask your pols these questions yourself when they come around begging for your vote. Surely, the Joes and Janes that do the dying deserve some answers!