David H. Hackworth
August 29, 1995
A FISH STINKS FROM THE HEAD FIRST
In 1943, Gen. George S. Patton, America's best tactical general, was relieved from his Army command when he slapped a soldier in Sicily. This infamous incident occurred during the most critical phase of World War II.
Because Patton lost his cool, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower lost his most effective combat commander just when he needed him the most -- only months before the Normandy invasion.
Ike and the U.S. Army had no other choice: American officers don't rough up their troops.
Yet, in May 1995, according to eyewitnesses, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army's crack 3rd Infantry Regiment was manhandled by his commander, Col. Steven A. Nash. They say the lieutenant was "grabbed by the arm while Nash screamed obscenities at him."
This incident -- which Gen. Fred Gordon describes as merely "putting his hands where they shouldn't be" -- was not caused by post-combat stress, but because a video camera didn't work at a ceremonial drill. Gordon issued Nash a letter of reprimand -- not exactly a career killer.
The irony of the story is that today Col. Nash remains in command after committing an offense that 50 years ago got one of America's best war leaders canned. It occurred not on some distant battlefield, but tight at ground zero in the nation's capital.
The 3rd U.S. infantry (the Old Guard), based at Ft. Myer, Va., is one of the U.S. Army's most elite units. Every soldier and officer is carefully selected not only for appearance, but for being a winner and having proven soldierly ability. They are America's show troops, parading for the president and distinguished foreign guests, guarding the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and conducting full-honor burials at Arlington Cemetery,
But according to a dozen interviews with Old Guard officers and NCOs, this elite unit is in deep trouble. A captain says, "What goes on behind the scenes will shock even the oldest of soldiers." A sergeant says, "Nash preaches Christianity, morality and integrity, but doesn't practice them. It's all a game he plays."
Then there's the double standard. As one officer says, 'There are two standards in the Old Guard -- one for the regiment's top brass, the other for the grunts." A senior NCO says, "Nash ironed out a sergeant for grabbing a soldier, yet he goes unpunished for the same thing."
The stories coming out of the 3rd infantry make serving in the regiment sound like a tour aboard the ship in 'The Caine Mutiny," where the fictional Capt. Queeg torments his sailors with petty allegations and irrational behavior.
In the non-fictional Old Guard, officers and NCOs have been relieved without cause and their careers ruined by damning evaluations, and all of this happens right in the shadow of the Pentagon's flagpole.
In a unit that seems close to mutiny, soldier after soldier has asked me, 'Why doesn't the Pentagon top brass see what's going on?"
One source said, "Last June, Nash lost it and started yelling and cursing at Protocol Officer Capt. David Hodge during a ceremony in front of a large audience. A general officer had to intervene. Surely this out- burst would have gotten back to the Pentagon. Yet nothing was done!"
The questions that needs answering are, Who is coveting up for Col. Nash, and Why is he still in command? A bigger question is, How could the Army's personnel system put somebody so apparently ill- suited for command in charge of America's most prestigious infantry regiment?
These questions also bear witness to the fact that something is wrong with the Army's promotion/selection system. What checks and balances protect the fine young men and women who serve our country at such great sacrifice when they find themselves working for a person who, with a stroke of a pen, can ruin a spotless career? Something is indeed wrong with the system when such outstanding soldiers must voice their complaints to a reporter rather than taking it up with an Army that should be taking care of its own. There should be controls in place that can torpedo the Capt. Queegs before they ruin the careers of their crew.
Col. Nash leaves the regiment in early September to become the Inspector General of a major command. An Old Guard captain asks, "How can he uphold the Army's standards when he can't uphold his own?"