David H. Hackworth
October 27, 1998


The Pentagon is broke, right?

It has to be. The generals and admirals and service secretaries have been shaking their tin cups, crying poverty and telling horror stories about how our defense machine is flat out of gas.

And last week the Republican Congress, who never saw a new weapon they didn't want to buy or a military budget they couldn't fatten, filled those cups right up.

Not only did they stuff $270.5 billion in the 1999 defense bill -- they added another $9 billion kicker.

Even by Washington standards, where a billion bucks is petty cash, $279.5 billion is a swag of dough! Especially when you consider that since Desert Storm, our active-duty military has been slashed by almost a million folks.

This budget provides more defense money per soldier than at anytime in our country's history, more even than during World War II and the Cold War when Hitler and Stalin were coming at us. Even though in 1998/99, apart from terrorism, we don't have a serious enemy in sight.

For sure our soldiers and sailors are hurting. Their military housing and medical benefits stink and most of their trucks, tanks and aircraft are older than the kids who operate them. They're also miserably paid -- 13.5 percent lower than comparable civilian jobs, where by the way, the employees are not being shot at and they come home to Mommy every night.

But will this incredible amount of money -- more than the rest of the world combined spends on defense -- be spent on the right stuff or will the Pentagon continue to buy the wrong weapons for wars and strategies long since over or just waste it on foolishness?

My bet's on more $2 billion B-2 bombers, $2 billion Sea Wolf Submarines, $10 billion carriers (aircraft included) and other gold-plated obsolete cold war relics. The Pentagon doesn't want to know that the Soviets are no longer on the radar screen and that what's left of the former Evil Empire is on USA provided food stamps.

And then there's the foolishness!

Recently the four-star out in South Korea flew to the USA to attend a conference. His giant aircraft carried only 10 passengers. The round-trip cost was close to a half-million bucks. And, by the way, the conference was held not at some austere military base but in sunny Corona, California. At a luxury resort.

The USAF conducted a military mission transporting Keiko the whale, the star of the movie "Free Willy," to Iceland. The $200 million cargo plane's landing gear was broken on the trip. Cost to the Tax payer: $2 million. The Air Force apparently has no problem flying a movie star around while it's airplanes are grounded because of a lack of spare parts.

Morale is essential to soldiering, right? The 1999 budget takes care of that. It includes $50 million for Viagra. Now do young soldiers need encouragement in this area? Wonder who all these pills are for?

A three-star Army general down in Texas spent over a million bucks dolling up his headquarters with trappings fit for royalty. Meanwhile his troops were worried about where the next roll of toilet paper was coming from. The general did such a good job wasting taxpayer money that he was promoted and moved to Georgia where he and his aspiring interior designer wife can continue their assault on taxpayer's bucks.

At another Texas Army base, a unit spent over $450,000 on landscaping the desert areas in their motor pool. This consisted of having contractors tear up the grass, put plastic down and put gravel on top of that. A sergeant says "This seems all the more ridiculous when you look at the fact that my battalion is deploying to Southwest Asia in March and we don't have enough money to fix our vehicles."

In the last three years, Newt Gingrich forced the Air Force to buy 20 C-130 aircraft -- built in his home district -- that the Air Force did not want. Cost to you: a cool billion bucks.

I've yet to see pork or perks put a hole in an enemy soldier.

Nothing will change until you get out there and demand that defense dollars be spent on defense.

The end