DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
September 27, 1994

A DISPATCH FROM AN EXUBERANT HAITI

PLANTATION LECLERC, HAITI -- Last week, 3,000 paratroopers must have felt like matadors whose bullfight was canceled at the last minute. To most of these unique 82nd Airborne Division warriors en route to jump into Haiti, Clinton's last minute no-go decision would have been a heartbreaker. paratroopers love to jump, especially into dangerous places.

A spy was responsible for their disappointment. A staffer for Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras -- a friend who asked to be unnamed in the interest of his health -- heard Larry Rossin of the National Security Council staff talking with National Security Advisor Tony Lake on a secure telephone through a crack in the wall of Cedras' headquarters. The message: "Parachutes will be issued at 1700." Once Cedras got the word, a nonviolent solution was cut faster than a rabbit could run.

On Monday, Sept. 19, U.S. forces conducted the most friendly invasion I've ever seen. There were no shots, but rather shouts of joy by Super Bowl-size crowds of folks, giddy from their "big American brothers"' arrival. The helicopters thump-thumping across the sky were looked upon as spaceships from a faraway planet by the peasants, who are unable to read or tell time.

The U.S. invasion is the biggest show that has hit this island since the arrival of Christopher Columbus. In this model operation, the "liberators" quickly seized critical targets with a precise military demonstration of machines and men. But as usual, there's too much layered military bureaucracy, too many staffers and far too much micromanagement by senior officers. The high brass does the work of sergeants and captains to ensure everything is perfect and ends up robbing these most important leaders of their initiative.

For the rest of the first week in Haiti, our grunts, their leaders and the supply people worked at setting up the infrastructure needed to accomplish their mission of providing "a secure and stable environment." When they're ready, U.S. forces will spread like an oil spill from the cities to the countryside. Elite Green Berets have already quietly taken every province capital and are now laying the groundwork for the arrival of the conventional military muscle, when our forces will kick off their security/pacification/cleanup job in earnest.

Most warriors are happy that fighting didn't go down during the initial phase of the operation. Sgt. Cliff Drysdale says, "We were pumped up but kind of relieved we didn't take or inflict casualties."

Warriors, except for the young braves who have not had slugs snap over their heads, are the last ones who want war -- especially the veterans of Somalia, who make up the bulk of the U.S. Army grunts here. They know from firsthand experience that when fire is used, someone gets burned.

Marines fired the first shots of the campaign last Saturday, killing 10 Haitian gunmen. Word of this fight traveled with the speed of light from mouth to mouth on the jungle circuit, and Haitian thugs will now think twice. Sure there will be more shooting, but nothing like Somalia.

The operation is a testimony to what an extraordinary, high-quality military machine America has. Fifteen thousand well-armed soldiers moved thousands of miles into an unfamiliar land, supported by hundreds of aircraft flying millions of miles -- and to date, no serious accidents. We should all be proud of the professional competence of these selfless men and women.

The flawless execution of operation "Uphold Democracy" proves that our forces have learned from Vietnam, Grenada and Somalia. I hope this is true of the State Department and National Security Council people, whose three years of fumbling and empty bluffs made them and the nation look like jerks.

If the people in pin-stripe suits have learned anything from the past -- including, I hope, the recent lesson in operation security: If Cedras had decided to fight rather than cave-in, our forces would have forfeited the element of surprise and lives would have been lost by the carelessness on the part of Mr. Rossin -- they should get cracking on carefully defining our long-range mission. Pvt. Ted Kuriger calls this tour of duty "the Haitian Vacation," but in months to come, both Americans and Haitians will want to know just what the hell the big picture is here.