DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
27 Jan 98

A RARE ACT OF MORAL COURAGE

"The V Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. John W. Hendrix, has blown the whistle on his own 41,000 man outfit saying it needs 180 days to become battle-ready," says a Pentagon source.

Wait a minute! Hendrix commands one of the U.S. Army's best units which is currently deployed on a red hot mission in Bosnia and is the first to go if trouble strikes anywhere else in Europe, Africa and South West Asia and it ain't ready?

V Corps -- whose 1st Armored Division and 1st Mechanized Division whipped Saddam Hussein's Army in less than 100 hours -- is supposed to be fit to fight anyplace, anytime, able to roll in a few hours notice.

Brave General Hendrix has told it like it is. A tank leader in Hendrix's outfit says "We're broken. We have been forced to do too much with too little without clear focus for too long."

Only a few months ago V Corps reported, "We're best in the West," but that was under General John Abrams, who's now back in the states being groomed for four stars.

His successor, General Hendrix, after a couple months in the saddle, is saying his active duty corps which costs the taxpayer $207 million a year needs as much time to be combat ready as the Pentagon says a National Guard division needs.

Only a Congressional investigation will reveal when the war fighting skills of proud combat units in Germany slipped to those of weekend warriors.

These units have been the main ground striking force in Europe for almost 50 years. Their readiness did not suddenly plummet from perfect to horrible in the last six months.

The real issue here that needs immediate investigation is have politically correct senior leaders let combat readiness decline while they were telling Congress their units were ready!

It's been a long time, too, since a senior officer such as Hendrix has had the moral courage to sound off. In my memory only four Army generals since the Korean War have fallen on their swords and put honor over career to tell the truth in matters affecting national security.

They are James Gavin, Henry Emerson, Harold Moore and John Singlaub. All were given the boot. All are in my personal hall of fame.

And now Hendrix. He skippers one of the four fighting corps in the U.S. Army, and he's saying: Our military machine is broken.

For two years I've been reporting in this space what your kids have been telling me: Our military aircraft are crashing in record numbers, tanks are falling apart like 1930s Grapes of Wrath trucks, combat units are understrength and not trained for war and ships are sailing with crews that are overworked and understaffed.

Any grunt or junior leader -- off the record, of course -- from a green replacement to a navy lieutenant to an Army, or Air Force captain will tell you that operational readiness stinks.

Even the mainline media are reporting the story. They're saying things have not been worse since the dark, grim days after Vietnam when our military machine was broken and couldn't even execute a raid to snatch the Iranian hostages without turning it into a bloody disaster.

But still the high brass in the Pentagon and their taxpayer- funded lying spokesmen are insisting all is well. Sadly, even General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has bought into this party line.

U.S. News and World Report recently lashed the Pentagon about their sad readiness condition. Shelton responded by saying our forces are good-to-go and "the Pentagon's carefully monitored readiness statistics do not indicate serious degradations in the force."

I could expect such a snow job from someone like Max Taylor, who brought us Vietnam, or Colin Powell, who after Desert Storm didn't bring us the promised snake's head or John Shalikashvili, who brought us our military's current meltdown. But not from a great, straight-shooting warrior such as Green Beret Shelton.

A message to Henry Shelton: Don't believe your briefers or the puffed up readiness reports. Take off on a recon by yourself and spend a week each on a fighting ship, with a grunt platoon, a fighter squadron and a maintenance unit.

Talk to the Joes and Janes and get the real word. They are the truth.

The end