DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
June 21, 1994

BLOW THE WHISTLE, GET THE AX

I know about whistle-blowing and what happens to the blower. In 1971, after serving as an infantry leader in Vietnam for almost five years, I sounded off over the lies told by several presidents, their policy wonks and brass hats. I said in Newsweek magazine the war was not winnable and "let's get out now."

I was rewarded for shooting off my big mouth with a booby trap in my jeep. This was followed by my perfectly good helicopter crashing in Viet Cong territory. After the "terrorist incident" and "chopper accident,. a Gen. William Westmoreland-directed investigation was launched that added up to over 50,000 pages of fiction, twisted facts and get-Hackworth malice, all because I said losing in Vietnam was mainly his fault.

I survived because men of great integrity -- Cyrus Vance, Joseph Califano and author Ward Just -- came to my rescue. Without their help, I might have been scraped off the roadside one night after wrapping my car around a tree, my fatal trip supposedly attributed to a liquor or LSD overdose (favorite spook scenarios ) Or a gentler script would have had me making shoes in Fort Leavenworth's military prison.

You might respond that all this is history that in 1988 Congress passed a law to protect whistle-blowers. Yes, it did, but no, it doesn't work, at least not for our warriors.

Sanford Mangold, a boy wonder Air Force colonel who was on his way to a career full of stars, told his superiors they didn't need a $20 billion space program. Mangold said that with the Cold War over, the planned Pentagon Milstar communications link -- designed for nuclear war -- was a dinosaur. The words had hardly left his mouth when he was fired, under investigation for two trumped-up charges and treated like a leper by the top brass and his lifelong Air Force pals.

Even though his career has been shot down, Mangold has no regrets. He says. "The only way the Space Command can stop me from telling the truth is to kill me."

Randy Taylor, a 17-year U.S. Navy senior chief, said his Bermuda Naval Air Station's sole purpose was to provide an inexpensive vacation haven for fat-cat senators and top admirals. Congress investigated his charges, found them to be true and closed the base, saying it had no military purpose. Taylor, who sought protection under the Whistle-Blower Act, was reassigned to California's Port Hueneme, and within months of reporting in, was hit with 48 charges.

"The brass were waiting in ambush," says Taylor's lawyer, Lt. Carter Brod, who has whittled the charges down to six. He says Taylor will win because the "base officials are guilty of serious misconduct." They want "to see Taylor go down" and were "blatantly brutal" in their attack.

Paul Paine, a paratrooper sergeant who ran Fort Lewis, Washington's Air Delivery Section, reported fraud in his unit that worldwide ran into millions of dollars. Paine was sacked and is now the only janitor in the U.S. Army with a master's degree. His story would make a horror film. His house was "bombed" with "inflammable material" by an aircraft, his mailbox "exploded" from a "letter bomb," his dog "poisoned," his car "slammed off the road" and his phone rang off the hook, not with thank you messages but with "death threats."

Paine won't give in. He says, "One person can make a difference if he stands tall and stands strong." Army investigators admitted Paine was right and recommended he go back to his parachutes. Fort Lewis' top brass have stonewalled the 24-year Army veteran's return to his job and blocked his long overdue promotion, even though the Pentagon has ordered that he be reinstated.

Thank God our country still produces people of courage and character such as Mangold, Taylor and Paine. They must be protected from the widespread corruption at the top. The Whistle-Blower Act is broken. If not fixed, the examples I've outlined -- which are only the top garbage bags in the dump -- send the wrong message to the troops. The good men and women will lose faith and not sound off against wrong-doing, and America will be the loser.