David H. Hackworth
July 26, 1994


Gen. Jerry White is the U.S. Army's top grunt. We go back to Vietnam, when he was a captain in my parachute battalion. Jerry recently told me, "There are more cops in the NYPD than infantrymen in fox- holes." This is mind-numbing news when you consider there are currently 1.6 million folks on active duty

The ratio of fighters to those who serve the beans, punch keyboards and fix planes is called tooth to tail. The tail has grown since World War II at the expense of the warriors who find, fix and fight the enemy. In Vietnam. There were never more than ,50,000 grunts out of 560,000 people. During Desert Storm, the ratio was about the same. In Somalia, there were 2,000 fighters to 23,000 supporters

The 1994 U.S. armed forces are almost toothless. If you were to run a factory, farm or filling station this way, you'd go broke. It's a given that if you have more people clerking than doing, you'll belly-up. Bankruptcy is the word civilians use. At the front, when there are not enough rifles to punch holes into enemy soldiers. it's called failure to take the hill. In the former, people lose money and jobs. In the latter, battles are lost and warriors lose lives.

It's the Washington generals' job to make sure their grunts have the numbers and right stuff to win. But many of the high brass have been brainwashed to go for fleets of ships, tanks and airplanes, even if they're not needed. Such big-ticket items bring in heavy defense dollars. Score is kept in the ongoing war between our own services as they vie to outspend one another.

The lawmakers are supposed to watchdog the generals so they don't have more pet weapons than warriors. But, years ago, many politicians joined the weapons makers via cozy Political Action Committee (PAC) deals, with cash handouts for pushing costly high-tech goodies. PAC cash buys media time and brings in votes.

Grunt weapons and gear don't suck in much PAC dough for the lawmakers. The rifle, machine gun and boot makers don't have the millions to donate to re-election war chests. Hence, the grunt has few patron saints up on the Hill. Their inexpensive but vital needs, such as small arms and training funds, just can't compete with exotic gear.

Meanwhile, the few grunts left -- last seen dying in the streets of Mogadishu -- are toting the worn-out weapons and gear their dads had in Vietnam.

With the Soviet Union dead, the Pentagon brass are still spending big on Cold War relics and junk. Examples abound: the Milstar satellites, designed to fight a nuclear war with the "Evil Empire, are still being turned out, as is the Seawolf submarine, whose mission was to fight a next generation of Soviet subs that doesn't exist; the new F-22 fighter is supposed to zap a Soviet fighter that won't be built; the Navy now has 12 carriers, with a 13th in the works, when six can do the job. And the troubled, overpriced C-17 air transport -- which no amount of engineering can fix -- continues to roll off the assembly line, along with another loser, the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, which does two things well: crash and cost a lot of bucks. Canceling these unneeded or flawed systems would save over $100 billion. The fix:

--Impose term limits on lawmakers. There's a direct corruption link between the time a lawmaker stays inside the Beltway and the size of the trough he builds, so the rule should be two terms and you're out.

--Appoint war-fighters, not smooth arms' salesmen, to top military posts. There's no shortage of good men who have a record of standing up against the weapons merchants and corrupt brass.

--Form a committee of former secretaries of defense and retired warriors who didn't check out to cash in, as is the sad and sorry case with most former high brass. Have this savvy brain trust draw up a reform blueprint for the president to execute that could lead to the lean and mean fighting machine we need to win battles and not break America along the way.