DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
26 May 98

KILL THE CASH COW BEFORE IT KILLS MORE TROOPS

The Pentagon brass rightly want to close redundant military bases. They say we don't need these leaches, keeping them bleeds off money needed to prepare to fight.

Over $14 billion has been saved by bases closed since 1990. Now Secretary of Defense William Cohen reports that $20 billion more could be saved by the year 2015 if we by get rid of more unneeded infrastructure

But if Washington politicians have their way, that won't happen. Let's face it, what congressional porkers would want to shrink the size of their trough? Who would willing disrupt a proven pay-off system and end all the free rides on the golden carousal?

Since the early days of this republic, porkers have put hometown jobs first over life and death matters such as giving our fighters the right stuff and the right training before the bullets start to sing.

This is why America has never been ready for war when the Pearl Harbors happen. It's an American political tradition to defend the pork barrel over our uniformed sons' and daughters' lives.

It's just not the pols either. Our shortsightedness and/or collusion -- whether inadvertent or intentional -- has let them kill our kids. It's hard for us to stop thinking that pork means jobs and jobs bring the good life to our hometowns.

When you get right down to it, we're accessories to murder too, close behind Congressman Mefirst and Senator Lard.

Check out the military cemeteries. Many of the graves are there because there wasn't a decent radar early warning set up in Hawaii in 1941 or a gunner didn't have an effective anti-tank weapon in Korea in 1950 or a 19-year-old rifleman was trained in the snow at Fort Lewis, Washington for the tropical jungles of Vietnam in 1969.

Since 1990, our forces have been cut by almost 1 million troops, yet few bases have been nailed shut. Congress has fought tooth and nail to keep all the empty barracks, unused drill fields and half filled bases. They chant, "We got to be prepared to refight World War II," a sorry rationalization to stay connected to the trough since there will never be another war like WWII.

Between 1989 and 2003, the number of Navy ships will be cut by 46 percent, berthing space by only 18 percent. Army personnel will be cut by almost 50 percent, Army bases by only 7 percent.

Keeping unneeded bases -- many of the existing 400 bases were built in the 18th Century to keep marauding Indians away from settlers' scalps -- places our warriors at high risk. The money needed to train for razor sharp combat readiness, to replace worn-out gear, buy spare parts or for new gear to modernize our force is going instead to feed fat voters near bases which do not and will not have any military necessity as we enter the 21st Century.

At least 100 bases could be closed tomorrow and no one less the porkers and many of their misguided constituents would miss them. Keeping them up and running makes as much sense as maintaining a six bedroom family house long after the kids have flown the nest.

Our military leaders want to be ready for the wars of the future, not of the past. They know they must copy big business by constantly updating and asking themselves: If we don't need it, why keep it?

Just one example out of dozens: We're maintaining two forts in Alaska to house one Army brigade. This costs almost as much as it does to run Fort Bragg, NC, a facility with 10 times the number of troops. The stockholders at GM, IBM or GE would scream if such abuse went down at one of their plants. But somehow taxpayers have closed their eyes to the stupidity of allowing the Senators from Alaska to hang onto a couple bases when there's no longer any military necessity whatsoever.

The Pentagon can only win this campaign by out-guerrilla-ing the porkers. They should consolidate by quietly moving all units from bases they don't need. Then invite the media to see Fort Empty, while asking the General Accounting Office to report the waste and abuse involved in keeping them open to the American people.

The End