Defending America
David Hackworth
21 May 1997


Fifty one years ago this week, I enlisted in a the most powerful Army in the world that was rapidly demobilizing from the Big War. By 1949, we were as hollow as a clay pipe, and even I, as a dumb 19 year old squad leader, could see the Army's war-fighting capability was broken.

Our rifle platoons were under strength, there wasn't money for realistic training and spare parts were as hard to find as a bottle of Jack Daniels in Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon brass said not to worry because "Grunts were obsolete. We have bombers and the "Super Bomb" now. The country is safer than ever."

Then came June 1950 and the North Korean invasion. Harry Truman and his defense chief Louis Johnson had gutted our ground arm. Johnson, who knew as much about defense as a fish knows about flying, had convinced Truman that exotic toys and nuclear weapons would do the trick. Admiral Forrest Sherman and Air Force General Hoyt Vandenberg assured Truman that "Naval forces and air cover will do the job."

They didn't. Our ground forces were overwhelmed, slaughtered and hurled back in stinging defeat. None of the super weapons saved the day.

This week the Pentagon released it's new $ 2 trillion plan for how America will be defended for the next ten years, and most of this dough will be spent on extremely complex and costly weapons.

The plan, which provides a glittering array of high tech silver bullets is just terrific for the defense contractors, the porkers and the top brass, but bad news for our warriors who meet the enemy eye to eye.

When will those in charge learn that it takes a well trained, well led and well equipped force down in the mud to win a war? During Desert Storm air power clubbed the Iraqis for 45 days, but the war wasn't won until the Grunts fought them down where the bullets sing and physically booted them out of Kuwait.

Not one F-15, Cruise missile or Aegis Cruiser secured a piece of dirt, drove a bayonet into an enemy belly or took one prisoner - - proving once again that only Grunts down on the ground can make an enemy wave a white flag. Sure, the toys are vital, but without boys on the ground, you can't win a war.

The Pentagon's new look, announced this week, is just business as usual. Instead of doing radical surgery and coming up with a streamlined force for the future, the new plan just trimmed a few toe nails. Every service gave up a little, the brass didn't lose too much turf and the Grunts got savaged again just as they were by Truman and Johnson back in the late 1940s.

Missing from the recent defense review was the boldness and creative thinking that would kick start revolutionary change. Some ideas:

Eliminate, merge and/or streamline the bloated and expensive activities such as the Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Investigative Service, Defense Commissary Agency and the Defense Audit Agency.

Consolidate the Chaplain, Medical and Legal Corps of all services.

Eliminate the Army's parachute Division and all Marine Corps Amphibious units. Both are as obsolete as the horse cavalry.

Merge the Army and Marine Corps.

Cut 50 percent of the blubber from the Pentagon and from all of the other bloated high level staffs.

Merge the Reserves and the National Guard.

Eliminate the separate service chiefs and the civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force whose main functions are to put politics over war-fighting.

Spike the present unworkable two region war strategy. History shows we fight one war every fifteen years. We should have one strong team that can win, rather than two weak forces that will lose.

Reorganize the ground forces into self-supporting combined arms regimental teams; eliminate divisional headquarters and all the other redundant divisional baggage.

Defense Secretary William Cohen says he's obliged to "look at the tail as much as the teeth." If Cohen doesn't cut the tail and radically streamline our military, he may, like Louis Johnson, have to explain to thousands of American parents why their children died because they weren't fighting with the right stuff.