DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
August 2, 1994

"YOU'RE IN THE MARVY NOW"

Last year in Somalia (Oct. 3), in a 15-hour battle, at least 12 U.S. soldiers died and 70 were wounded because tanks were not on hand to reinforce a raid that, with a burst of enemy gunfire, turned from brilliant success to bitter disaster -- even though U.S. Army commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, had asked for Army tanks two months before.

On ships four sailing days away sat dozens of USMC tanks, but Army thinking went: Marines should not, gallop to the rescue of Army troops. After the defeat and at great expense, Army tanks were finally flown in, while the Marine tanks still guard the decks and wait for another emergency such as Oct. 3.

Stupidity, reckless commanders and inter-service rivalry caused the death and wounds of those gallant young men as much as Somali gunfire. The aviation commander should have known that the "birds" were too vulnerable to operate over a city at low altitudes against a well-armed opponent. Had tanks been the relief element rather than thin-skinned trucks, our casualties would have been limited to a few Rangers banged up in the initial assault, and the troops would have gotten in fast, done the job and gotten out before the mission deteriorated into a nightmare.

A film made of the fight by Army choppers proves tanks would have saved the day, but it has been classified as part of an Army cover-up campaign. Top generals, fearing public outrage and protecting those responsible, now insist tanks wouldn't have made a difference.

Don't tell that crap to the men who were on the ground for hours at the mean end of a terrible pummeling. And don't lay that Pentagon damage control jazz on me. I interviewed those fighters and spent two weeks doing an analysis of the battle. Hopefully, Sen. Nunn's truth squad will square the record. More hearings are scheduled.

We cannot bring back those who died or whose lives were destroyed by U.S. Army incompetence in this badly thought out raid, but the problem of inter-service rivalry can be corrected by an order: merge the Army and Marine Corps.

This idea is sure to upset a lot of Marines. Some may say I'm an ex- doggie and I'm picking on the Corps. Not so. I don't care if we disband the Army and keep the Marines. Matter of fact, we'd get a lot bigger bang for the buck; the Corps doesn't have the blubber the Army bulges with.

But the Marines have lost their mission. Desert Storm proved amphibious warfare is as dead as a horse cavalry attack. The Corps hasn't made a live-fire amphibious assault since Korea. Throughout the last three years of that war, eight years of Vietnam and four days of Desert Storm, Marines fought with exactly the same mission as U.S. Army infantry.

America cannot afford two large ground outfits doing the same gig. When the Army horse cavalry and battleship Navy became obsolete, the brass screamed all the way to the tar pits, but the dinosaurs went. America doesn't need two ground armies, just as McDonald's doesn't need two stores on every lot. Two sets of everything, including missions and roles, waste billions of taxpayers' dollars.

The new force could be called MARVY. The hard-core could wear their service uniforms until they retire. Army and Marine troops could retain all their proud separate customs. But by year 2030, the traditional mind-set will have disappeared, and all MARVY troops will be wearing the same suit and following the same drills, only now they'll be motivated by merged past glories such as Normandy and Iwo Jima, Pork Chop Hill and Khe Sanh.

Think of the savings. There would be one of each: training and material command, finance, administration, intelligence, supply, maintenance, legal, school system, aviation, research and development and just one set of generals with only one group of dog-robber aides to worry about their bosses' social schedules. The savings would probably run to the tune of around $20 billion a year.

It's time, after 200 years, for these two proud outfits to get in lockstep and fight from the same foxholes. Wouldn't it be MARVYLOUS?