DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
December 26, 1995

NATO PRIORITIES NEED AN ADJUSTMENT

Last week, a mysterious voice on the phone whispered that the U.S. Army had taken its first casualty in Bosnia: "A soldier's arm was blown off by a land mine. The incident is being covered up."

Pentagon Col. David Holland says there was "no reported land mine incident," but a military policeman's "left arm was severed" while he was on a train headed for Hungary. Holland had no details on how the arm was sheared off but "is working the case."

After the incident, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, included in a televised interview about how brilliantly the NATO deployment to Bosnia was going, that there had been no "casualties" or "accidents."

Now, when a four-star general like politically correct Shali starts hyping performance and omitting casualties, my antenna goes way up.

I flashed back to all the flim flam during the Vietnam War, where I learned that figures don't lie, but liars figure. An example: The press was holding Gen. William Westmoreland's feet to the fire about the spiraling number of Americans killed each week. To bring down the weekly KIA rate and get the press off his case, the numbers were gently massaged.

If a wounded warrior was still sucking in air when he was put aboard a medevac chopper but died en route to the hospital, he fell under the new category of "died of wounds" and was not considered KIA. The KIA rate went down, and all was well until a draftee blew the whistle on the creative accounting.

I hope the people are not lied to again. In Bosnia, there are no draftees to keep the liars honest, only regulars who need their jobs.

The word is that the deployment is not going well. A four-star general says, "NATO has really blown the movement" of the heavy stuff to Hungary. NATO logistics people have been clobbered by the weather, the terrible rail system, bad planning and sad-sack execution. Looks like they didn't count on the old supply sergeant's lament: If some- thing can go awry, it will.

A Pentagon admiral says, "For almost 50 years NATO has been de- pendent upon its locked-in-concrete infrastructure, and when it gets out of its playpen for a real-world challenge, it blows it."

This was the case during Desert Storm. The VII Corps from Germany were fumbling greenhorns compared to the U.S.-based XVIII Corps, who had more room in the States for large-scale realistic maneuvers.

Another Pentagon planning officer says, "The Pentagon chiefs want (NATO headman, Gen. George) Joulwan to go to Hungary himself and get these people straightened out."

They want the trains running on schedule and the long-overdue pontoon bridge across the Sara River installed, so the troops in Bosnia will have a land supply line. Right now, they must be supplied by air, and the main body of Gen. William Nash's forces can't get its fighting gear across the 350-yard-wide river.

Several NATO officers report that Joulwon and staff spent too much time and energy preparing for Clinton's visit with the troops in Baumholder, Germany, at the expense of getting ready for the Bosnia mission.

They say preparations for the deployment to Bosnia were shut down at Baumholder for a week prior to Clinton's visit. "The post," a drab collection of rundown World War II German barracks, 'was scrubbed, manicured and restored.' Buildings were painted, and the 12th Infantry dining facility was remodeled at the cost of over $200,000.

A major says, 'Funny how it was good enough for our soldiers, but not for Clinton." The same outraged soldier says, 'The Army spent over DM 60,000 ($42,000) to spruce up one building just for Hillary to use for a few hours." He estimates that over $2 million was spent 'spiffing up the post for Clinton," which he says had "been neglected for decades."

If Clinton would only visit the troops from Fort Benning's 568th Bridge Company in Zupanja, Croatia, who are working night and day in the mud, fog and cold to build that vital bridge, he would see that these fine troops get the help they need and that the bridge, like Baumholder Post, would be up and running before a bugler could play "Hail to the Chief."