AUGUST 31, 1999


The Army wants our youth. But un-fortunately for the "Green Machine," not enough of our youth want the Army!

Despite more than a quarter-billion-dollar annual recruiting budget, 6,000 top NCO and officer recruiters (who are mainly combat leaders) and more than 3,000 staff weenies who man the 46 recruiting headquarters-more than enough talent to cadre three tank divisions-our all-volunteer Army isn't mustering enough recruits to fill the squads.

These factors are part of the problem:

· A booming economy, which makes tooling down Mainstreet USA in a new set of wheels more attractive than playing RoboCop in one of Clinton's global villages.

· College fun and games over close order drill and war games in the rain.

· Too many harebrained missions such as Kosovo that are stretching our forces to the breaking point and causing the troops to ask, "Why go to the Balkans to be shot at for nothing?"

· Relatives and friends who because of a recent bad military trip or broken promises, such as reduced medical, hospital and other retirement benefits, are telling young people, "Don't join up. You'll just get used and abused like I did."

· Generation Y-ers without the same patriotic fever or motivation that their fathers and grandfathers mustered when they faced the Imperial Japanese, Nazi Germany or Cold War communists who, in their time, were all major threats to our security.

· And senior brass-both politicians and military leaders-who talk a good game of caring for the troops, but rarely put their efforts or money where their mouths are. Few, for example, have challenged the poor pay and near-ghetto housing, the silly missions or the kinder, gentler Clinton administration policies which have wreaked havoc on the vital warrior ethic.

The brass are pulling out their hair on this one. From long experience, they know that regardless of how high-tech their weapons are, without skilled and motivated warriors the best weapons in the world are worthless.

Many solutions are being kicked around. Unfortunately, most have to do with "dumbing down" the Army by further lowering standards instead of smart moves like immediately fixing the pay, cleaning up the lousy living conditions and taking the teen-age summer camp out of basic training. Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera has proposed accepting more high-school drop-outs. Caldera, a West Point graduate, should eyeball the lessons of Vietnam. During that cruel war, Project 100,000 was implemented to produce more grunts for the killing fields of Vietnam. It took unfit recruits--classified as Category IVs-from the bottom of the barrel and rushed them to Vietnam. The result was human applesauce. Cat IVs sustained the highest casualties of any group and caused such massive discipline problems-fraggings, drug use, racial strife-that by 1973 the Army had been virtually brought to its knees.

Ten smart-and-fit soldiers are better Than 100 out-of-shape dummies. From a decade of combat experience as a soldier and war reporter, I'm convinced that the brighter the soldier, the higher his chances of making it through the nightmare of combat.

Fort Gordon, Ga., recently put out a memo that said, "Keep in mind that the objective is to graduate and ship the soldier to the field. It is notillegal or immoral to give the soldier the benefit of the doubt (on a PT test)." Meaning if the soldiers don't pass, look the other way and move 'em out.

We're back to the quantity over quality system that produced Lt. William Calley of My Lai shame and filled so many body bags in Vietnam. The Army should follow the Marines' example and push for higher standards-not lower. The Corps continues to make its boot training tougher, and the line to become a Leatherneck grow longer.

Meanwhile, almost 37 percent of those who do join the Army-many receiving incentives such as college-tuition aid of $50,000, in addition to a $19,000 enlistment bonus per soldier-become disgruntled and quit or get thrown out before their first hitch is up.

Young people clearly want a challenge. They want to be molded into warriors, not treated like spoiled kids.

Won't the Army brass ever learn?