Defending America
David Hackworth
30 September 97


This week General Henry H. Shelton takes over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He will be the first down in the mud, multiple war, combat-experienced leader ever to hold that job ­ he skippered a rifle company in Vietnam, was an assistant division commander during Desert Storm and led a Parachute Corps during the invasion of Haiti.

Over the past five decades, his predecessors have mostly been very smart, very slick, uniformed bureaucrats. Yes men, political hacks with first-rate connections to the powerful. They're known in the soldiering trade as Perfumed Princes, the Go-Along-To-Get-Along Gang. Most left the chairman job to become millionaire lobbyists for defense contractors, hustling their uniformed buddies to buy wonder-weapons that generally are unneeded or don't work but are great for the contractors' bottom-line.

On every combat ship, on every air base and in every fighting battalion, warriors are looking forward to Shelton becoming the main man with desperate eagerness. They well know that hard charging professionals are fast becoming extinct in today's very politicized, touchy-feely Clinton Army.

Understand --this doesn't mean that all 1.4 million active duty personnel are all lathered up about this change at the top. At the most, there are not more than 200,000 concerned warriors out there. The rest are merely civilians in uniform, putting in time at a job with great benefits in a socialist-like G.I. utopia with almost more child care centers for single mothers than firing ranges for real warriors.

Warriors serve because it's a calling. They join up to defend their country, not their jobs or the free services available at the hospital, the discount goodies at the commissary and PX or their retirement plan. They know too that if a strong leader up at the top doesn't change things quickly, the warrior ethic which has allowed America to win on many battlefields will soon totally disappear.

And without the warrior ethic, Americans had better learn Chinese and how to swing a hoe in the paddies as slave labor.

Among our warriors, things are desperate. These guys aren't just macho shooters. Yeah, they're mainly triggerpullers, but in their ranks are also airplane mechanics, cooks, medics, logisticians, engineers and legal beagles . Being a warrior isn't a designated skill level, but a mindset.

In 52 years of being around our military, I've never seen lousier combat readiness or lower morale. Airplanes falling out of the sky, tanks with no engines, three men rifle squads - - and soldiers and sailors with such total lack of faith in their senior leaders, from bird colonels and navy captains all the way to the perfumed sleezebags who sit in most of the over-staffed head sheds.

Our military has seen bad senior leaders and bad times before, and except for Vietnam, a miracle has always surfaced to convert disaster to victory. A miracle that's always been a great leader.

U.S. Grant took over the Union forces during our Civil War and turned a losing Army into a winning force that saved our country. In 1917, John Pershing converted a flaky army of guardsmen and draftees into a hardcore force that broke Germany's back. George Patton did the same trick in Africa, after relieving a fumbling Perfumed Prince. Then, for the next three years, he and his boys kicked Nazi butts all the way to the Elbe River. In 1950, Matt Ridgway took over a defeated U.S. Army in Korea and in six weeks turned this rag-tag mob around, converting it into a blitzkrieg force that chased a million Communists back up the Korean peninsular with their tails between their legs.

No such inspiring leaders were in command during the Vietnam War. And we lost our first war. Our forces have been sliding down a kinder-gentler increasingly politically correct slippery slope ever since.

I pray that Hugh Shelton will be the miracle that will convince Clinton, Congress and the America people that the purpose of our armed forces is to defend America and not be like a fraternity or sorority at a very liberal rich kid's college.

Shelton has the right credentials, but can he win over the entrenched dorks who think teaching poetry at West Point and giving sensitivity training to the troops is more important than learning how to kill enemy soldiers?

The end