by David H. Hackworth
26 November 1996


Good for Pat Schroeder. In her final months before retiring from Congress, Democrat Congresswoman Pat Schroeder (Co) asked the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate how active duty military officers came to be assigned to Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich's (Ga) office.

The issue here is not just a political food fight. Republican Senator Charles Grassley (Io) also sent a letter to the IG supporting Democrat Schroeder's request and asked that the investigation be expanded to look at all assignments of Department of Defense military personnel to the staffs in both houses of Congress.

When hardened Republicans and Democrats such as Grassley and Schroeder join forces in the attack, there's a high probability they're acting on principle, not self-interest.

Grassley wrote to the IG, "I think the practice of assigning military personnel to positions in Congress is totally inappropriate and dangerous in the long run. It has potential for undermining and eroding two sacred Constitutional principles of American national government -- the separation of powers (between legislative, executive and judicial branches) and civilian control of the military."

Ticket-punching -- a slick process where officers are moved rapidly through "critical positions" -- is evil. This destructive system, which contributed to our defeat in Vietnam, produces jacks of all trades but masters of none and is still destroying military effectiveness today. No one sticks around long enough to become a knowledgeable pro. Amateurs lose on the battlefield.

At least now the punching is confined to military jobs. If this bad system is expanded, it will become even more self-destructive, producing an entirely new batch of Perfumed Princes.

We should not allow established Perfumed Princes in the Pentagon such as Gen. John Shalikashvili to foster a new scam where time on Capitol Hill means more to a promotion board than time with the troops. We cannot allow relationships between Pentagon leaders and Members of Congress to create scenarios where officers who work for Senator Sludgepump or Congressman Porkrind make out like bandits by having Congressional signatures on their efficiency reports. Especially in the selection of generals and admirals, having an ally in Congress could count for more than leadership in the field.

To the Members of Congress, apprentice Perfumed Princes mean free and smart office help. I guess it's just in some folks' nature to take a freebie when it's available to them even though the truth is, "You don't get nothin' for nothin'."

Congress should know by now the Pentagon chiefs don't do "nothin' for nothin'." They assign their people for duty outside the Pentagon for the same reason they operate a costly fleet of VIP aircraft for Congress' use -- to earn "good will" for the Pentagon. In return, they get back cash for unneeded weapon systems and the approval of additional general officer positions at a time when the military is cutting sergeants and downsizing like crazy.

The paybacks also include Congress looking the other way at the sins of some of the high brass, letting them retire after being caught in crimes that would mean jail time for lower-ranking soldiers. Worse, they're being allowed to get away with outrages like lying about the effects of chemical weapons on Gulf war veterans, covering up apparent dereliction in the shootdown of a U.S. Army helicopter by two Air Force fighters in Iraq and being far from truthful about Bosnia.

Equally negative is that the assignment of military officers to Congressional staffs will generate a new set of loyalties -- partisan loyalties. Military performance evaluation systems are far from perfect, but at least overt political considerations aren't yet part of the process. These assignments could make the officer corps a political battleground where a "Democrat" Lieutenant Colonel would try to do in a "Republican" Colonel.

The Pentagon will always seek to curry Congressional favors. But sending officers to work on Congressional staffs is way over the top. The favors that might be forthcoming aren't worth the price of destroying the integrity of the U.S. Armed Forces officer corps or wasting our defense dollars.

But the bottom line here is the American public could end up risking its sons' and daughters' lives under officers whose promotions are awarded based on service as political hacks rather than excelling in the profession of arms.