DEFENDING AMERICA
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
25 July 2000

THE PRICE OF OVERREACTING

Last year a soldier was murdered, and now the homosexual lobby and the touchy-feely crowd want a head served up on a pike. A head that's presently attached to one of our country's finest combat leaders, Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark.

Since Barry Winchell, a homosexual private, was beaten to death as he slept in his barracks, Clark's been under fire.

The headhunters say Clark, then the commanding general of Fort Campbell, Ky., permitted a climate of homophobia. Some hold that Clark was just as responsible for Winchell's death as the moron who beat him into purple pulp.

But Clark didn't swing the bat. It was swung by an ignorant, drunken, teen-age soldier who's now serving a life sentence.

Sure, Clark was in charge of the base -- and therefore was responsible for all that happened there.

But it's flat nuts to think the general would ignore standing orders from the president on down or to say he had a clue about what was going on in Winchell's squad room or 150-man rifle company.

Fort Campbell has more than 50,000 soldiers and civilians, and billions of dollars of killing machines and other gear. And much like any small city, there are houses, schools, a fire department, etc. -- all in Clark's domain.

Besides functioning as the base's two-star mayor, Clark ramrodded the 101st Airborne, a top fighting division with operational missions all over the world. Then there was his 18-hour, seven-day-a-week regular work schedule that had him supervising the training, discipline and readiness of 23,000 warriors -- making sure they could be on their way to a hot spot within hours after the whistle was blown.

Holding Clark responsible for what happened to Winchell is like a police chief being nailed for the actions of a couple of sick teen-agers who suddenly go shoot up a high school full of kids.

Last week, investigators gave Clark and his commanders a clean bill of health. The report rightly concluded that a climate of homophobia didn't exist at Fort Campbell.

There's no Army cover-up here. This was the only such killing on an Army base in years -- with almost a million soldiers in our total Army force.

The report did find Winchell was harassed at the grunt level, and that a senior sergeant didn't send this info up to the top. Under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regs, anti-homosexual hazing is forbidden. The top kick -- appropriately -- was fired for not doing his duty.

Why Winchell didn't go to the inspector general remains a mystery. The IG would have had a report on Clark's desk within 24 hours. His reputation alone as a caring and squared-away leader would have guaranteed an end to Winchell's hazing minutes after the CG got the word. And bet your boots the perps would have been properly smoked by this no-nonsense leader.

Perhaps Catch-22 prevented Winchell from sounding off. Under the present Don't Ask, Don't Tell guidelines, there's a good chance he'd have been on his way out the front gate for outing himself if he'd told the IG he was homosexual.

Having served with the 101st "Screaming Eagles" for four years, I know Fort Campbell and neighboring Clarksville, Tenn., well. I graduated from college there, and I'm in frequent contact with scores of local folks -- both civilian and active and retired military. Even the mayor's an old pal. All say that under Clark, there was never a climate of homophobia on the post, and that he's a top soldier.

Insiders say that had this murder not happened, Clark would have been a shoo-in to take command of the Airborne Corps, and he'd already be wearing his well-earned third star. Sadly for our country, he's now marking time as a staff weenie in the Pentagon.

If his career becomes toast over this isolated incident, it will be an injustice to a great soldier and provide another example of why serving sergeants and young officers quit the service.

They'll ask: Why give up so much to get there, just to be sacrificed to groups that have an agenda and don't understand the military?

Who will guard America and lead our kids in the next shootout if we lose top war leaders like Clark and all the sergeants and captains who are now walking?