DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
March 2, 1999

UNCLE SAM NEEDS A FEW GOOD LEADERS

In the autumn of 1946, I peeked over the edge of my Morgan Line foxhole and saw more angry Yugoslavian soldiers than ants on a discarded Krispy Kreme. They were Balkan bad with a thousand years of experience at being nasty. They'd been attacking my outfit for more than a year, killing and wounding a score of 88th Division soldiers, and only a few weeks before they'd shot down a plane, wasting another 13 Americans.

Harry Truman told Yugoslavia's Marshall Tito to back off and return the bodies of our airmen or he'd light 'em up with nukes.

Tito knew that Truman, a man of few words but one of true grit, was the same guy who the year before had dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Tito backed off.

For more than a year, Clinton's been threatening to bomb Serbia, a part of Yugoslavia. Bombers have been pre-positioned, fleets deployed and soldiers alerted. But last week, when it came down to fishing or cutting bait, Clinton bit his lip and blinked.

The Monica fiasco has shown us that Clinton's a bad liar. His constant blustering and then backing off proves he's an equally bad international poker player. The bullies in Iraq, North Korea and Serbia have his number and frequently call his bluff. Which explains why there are so many unfinished fights all over this troubled world and why our troops remain stuck in so many sink holes.

Back in '46 after the dead airmen were returned, my regiment and the ships and aircraft backing us up stood down. We all went back to our bases and life returned to Cold War normal. But today, since nothing ever gets resolved, our forces stay on station and mark time.

These never-ending missions - which have nothing to do with defending America - are destroying the most important aspect of military power: spirit. I've never seen morale in the U.S. military lower or a president so despised by those who wear our country's uniform.

As evidence of this low morale: Battalions of career noncoms, those who wear the stripes - who are more important to soldiering than all the generals and admirals combined - are quitting even though they've already invested 10 to 15 years of service. Many other senior noncoms are retiring in disgust as soon as they hit the 20-year mark.

Young officers are also quitting in record numbers. Many of these are our nation's best and brightest who would have been our future senior leaders. New enlistment is down. The Navy's short about 20,000 recruits and the Army and Air Force are both not filling quotas. All three services are paying a king's ransom for warm recruit bodies -- $12, 000 cash and $50,000 educational benefits. Only the Marine Corps, still known for its high standards, stern but fair leadership and the toughest training going, is making quota.

Without newbies to snap on the bayonets, turn the wrenches and man the watches, the Army, Navy and Air Force will be further crippled and won't have the talent down the track to fill vacant leadership and technical slots.

The Pentagon brass, who are either into total denial or need a Seeing Eye dog, seem to think that the reason morale is so low is that our regulars are underpaid. Their solution is to throw money at the problem, a proposed pay raise that will cost billions of bucks more each year.

No question our forces are badly paid and need the extra dough, but most warriors tell me they want stand-up-and-be-counted-leadership even more. They say if they don't get it the exodus will continue.

They want leadership:

- that will tell the president and his fool civilian national security advisers to get real and stop using our forces for Meals on Wheels, Salvation Army or Robo Globo Cop missions.

- that will stop the politicization of our military and kill the fuzzy andhuggy Clinton-inspired social experiments.

- that will ask what the consequences are for harebrained deployments such as Bosnia and Kosovo and have the guts to demand to know how these missions serve our country's national interests.

In short, these good men and women want leaders with character that put their country and their people over their own careers.