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, not working.

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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