EASY TRAINING, HARD COMBAT
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
Many of our country's military problems cause me heartburn: The headlong, reckless
rush to Star Wars II; the failure of defense leaders to do the right thing; the
overall breakdown in discipline and standards; the continuing ruin of our active
and reserve forces; and the troop commitments in Europe, South Korea and the Balkans,
none of which has anything to do with our national security.
According to President Bush, "Help is on the way." But all I see are
broken promises, wrongheaded priorities -- an unproven defense shield, for example,
being touted over time-tested combat readiness -- and political doublespeak.
Take the critical issue of coed recruit training, which has pretty much transformed
Army, Air Force and Navy basic entry training into fun summer camps for softies
rather than courses with the sweat, stress and hard knocks that graduates need
as a foundation to make it in combat. Today, mixed training promotes sexual misconduct,
distracts already overstressed trainees and turns the training cadre into walking
wounded. Standards have been so gutted that most basic-training graduates no longer
have the right stuff to survive on fields of strife.
Last week, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness,
Yalie David Chu, said the Bush administration will continue to permit the services
to conduct Clinton-style recruit training, and that he sees no evidence of the
existing policy of mixed training currently used by all services, less the Marines,
Dr. Chu, a political appointee, is either out of touch with what's going down
at the training bases or needs a good optometrist. Granted, he's spent most of
his adult life as a government bureaucrat or -- when not working for Sam -- hitching
his wagon onto Pentagon contractors. He did wear a soldier suit for two years
during the Vietnam War, but his soldiering was confined to air-conditioned offices
since he was so smart. Had he done time as a grunt down in the trenches, he would
realize that new soldiers need to be forged in fire to make it through the heat
and horror of combat. And had he been the least aware of today's military, he'd
know that mixed-recruit training doesn't cut it down where the newbies take their
first step to becoming warriors.
Dr. Chu -- with only two months in the Pentagon saddle this time 'round the military-industrial-congressional-complex
carousel -- just doesn't have the experience to make that judgment. For sure,
he's relying on the recommendation of senior Army, Air Force and Navy brass, who
got where they are because they figured out which way the wind was blowing during
the feminization of the U.S. military. They all knew if they stood tall and sounded
off, they'd be joining the ranks of those who put America's fighting ability over
their careers: on the unemployment line.
No doubt Dr. Chu is taking his lead from his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, who recently
said no one in the Pentagon has raised the issue of mixed-recruit training with
him. Which is only because it still amounts to suicide to tell the truth. So Clinton's
PC policies are now entrenched in all services except the Marine Corps, which
continues to train men and women separately in boot camp and remains the one service
still capable of fighting "our country's battles on the land as on the sea."
The Rumsfelds and Chus have got to get out of their Pentagon offices and check
out basic training for themselves. Then they need to tell their escorting brass
to beat feet while they talk on their own to the junior sergeants and chiefs.
Only then will they get the straight skinny.
Chu and Rumsfeld have put political correctness over military necessity, which
might help keep the press at bay and Congress pacified -- and harvest a bunch
of women's votes -- but it doesn't come close to returning discipline to the Army,
Air Force and Navy. Nor will the moms of America be sold on opportunities the
military has created for their daughters when their sons come home in body bags.
My three-plus years in combat leading an infantry squad to a battalion have convinced
me that without iron discipline on the battlefield, we all lose.
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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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