Defending America
David Hackworth
2 September 97


The Army National Guard is under attack and they're fighting back.

In this century alone, Army Guard units fought the big battles in WWI, in WWII, then in Korea, and more recently during Desert Storm.

But today the Guard's biggest enemy is not the Germans, the Japanese, the Communists or even crazy Saddam Hussein. It's the Pentagon.

You see, the Pentagon has zapped the Guard at its most vulnerable point: their pocket book. They've cut its budget by $743 million and slashed its strength by 40,000.

But the Guard leaders are slugging back, not with bullets & bayonets, but with paper. They're busy masterminding a barrage of letters to Congress, which scream: SAVE MY JOB. SAVE YOUR PORK.

Connecticut Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major Stephen Prinett wrote to his senior sergeants -- on official Guard Letterhead -- saying "Pass the word to all soldiers to send a letter on their behalf to their representatives."

Prinett said "This wasn't an order, only a suggestion." I told him it read, looked and smelled like and order to me. He said "No way, shape, or form can I order my soldiers to write to their congressmen."

True, Prinett's letter did say "Please consider contacting your Congressional representative at your earliest convenience." At least, the Sergeant Major said "please."

I told him that in most Armies, when the Sergeant Major says "jump," most soldiers reply "How high?"

Prinett says "We're a democracy and my soldiers can write to whomever they please."

Yeah, Sarge, but a little nudge from the Main Man doesn't hurt.

Prinett's letter sure sounds like lobbying to me. One Connecticut Guard sergeant told me, "We got the Sergeant Major's letter distributed through our official chain of command, and I was told to write to my Congressional representative or face the music."

All of our services are taking their lumps. Active forces have been cut by over one third since the end of the cold war, and the budget trimmers are sharpening their knives for another go-around.

But the active force leaders don't order, suggest, or even hint via sugar coated "please" letters that their troops lobby congress to stop the post cold war modernization of our armed forces.

With their campaign, the Guard is putting its program needs before America's need to defend this nation. And unfortunately, the Guard has such powerful supporters in Congress and among the nation's governors that it has far more clout then the active force.

The truth is the Pentagon doesn't need a huge active Army or an overstuffed Guard anymore. It's reforming itself for the future not wallowing in the past, rightly contending that at least a third of the present Guard is redundant, simply not needed anymore.

Defenders of the Guard say the active Army see the Guard as an enemy, a drain on their dwindling resources. They argue the Guard is a bargain and the Army should cut its active forces rather than the part-time Guard.

The best doctor for life and death surgery is always the lowest bidder with the poorest preparation. Right?

Politics and pork are the biggest roadblocks in cutting the Guard's size and preparing for the 21st Century's new face of war that calls for Come-As-You-Are hard-hitting, agile combat groups -- which try as hard as they can, the Guard can't produce with their less than 40 days a year active duty training.

Sadly, most lawmakers see the Guard not as a ready to go fighting force, but as a jobs' program and the producer of a lot of dough for their states, a sacred cow they've milked for decades. And most refuse to give up their taxpayer provided welfare sustenance.

I'm sure the politicians receiving the letters the Guard is generating will defend the Guard's budget even though it makes more sense for America to have a strong first team rather than a bloated and obsolete Guard who historically has always been slow getting off the mark.

When will our lawmakers realize that warfare has changed and there won't be anymore horse cavalry charges, Normandys or Desert Storms? When will they do their sworn duty and put America first over a National Guard welfare program that died when the Berlin Wall tumbled down?

The end