DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
31 March 98

QUICK, GET A MECHANIC.

The U.S. military machine is sputtering along like a WWII tank that's made too many invasions. This isn't exactly hot news; Navy Chiefs, Army and Air Force Sergeants and junior officers have been shouting "We're nearly broken" for years.

But up to now, the top brass have been saying they're full of it. Now big dogs like Navy Secretary John Dalton are finally admitting that the grunts are right: Our military's combat readiness edge is marshmallow dull.

No doubt, the Army and Air Force Secretaries would second Dalton's concerns, but things are so bad under Bill Clinton's military mismanagement that these two top positions -- along with thousands of infantry slots -- have been unfilled for months.

What's troublesome is how our security apparatus can be in such bad shape when we spend $32 million an hour on defense and intelligence -- almost $300 billion a year.

Since Stormin' Norman whacked Saddam, our forces have been cut by about 40 percent. This means that we now have less ships and airplanes and almost a million fewer warriors, although the defense dollars have not been proportionately cut.

So on a dollar-per-sailor/soldier/airmen basis, we're spending more per head on our warriors today than we have at any time in our history. And this is without a serious conventional opponent in sight.

Here's why our well-financed military machine is sputtering:

It's over-committed. Clinton and his national security clowns cut the force, but they increased the missions by 300 percent. Since the military didn't budget ahead for hair-brained missions, the dough for these save-the-world operations has come out of the service's hide.

Over-commitment has gobbled up dough that would have bought spare parts. So mechanics are back to scrounging -- stealing from vehicle/aircraft A to get vehicle/aircraft B up and running. Cannibalization wears out parts and frustrates mechanics. Things are so bad that some first hitch grease monkeys believe spare parts come from equipment rather than from the parts room. Cannibalization also puts the operators at high risk -- especially pilots -- because tired maintenance crews make mistakes. Maybe that's why so many military aircraft have been falling out of the sky.

A shortage of money has cut training. Poorly trained soldiers die faster than seasoned warriors who continually practice their trade with live fire exercises and spend plenty of time in the boonies scooting and shooting.

Buying the wrong stuff. Even though there's not enough money for spares or to train, the Pentagon continues to buy more unneeded wonder weapons -- Sea Wolf subs, B-2 bombers and fleets of new fighters and the way pilots are quitting -- almost 3,000 in the past two years -- there will be no one left but the admiral and generals to fly these wildly expensive toys.

The Pentagon is now shaking its tin cup at Congress, begging for $2.5 billion supplemental funds. Because of the balanced budget agreement, Congress can no longer write in the needed money with the stroke of their lard pen. So congressmen are looking at which domestic programs can be raided. Will it be school lunches for missile launchers? Or welfare programs for wonder weapons?

If Congress were composed of courageous visionaries, it would:

Streamline our military and get rid of the bloated, redundant structure that has not had a major tune up in 50 years.

Close down dozens of obsolete forts and bases that were needed when Ike was doing Normandy but now are a total waste of defense dollars.

Freeze buying more cold war wonder weapons. For openers, kill the planned trillion dollar fleet of fighter aircraft and concentrate on getting what we have up to snuff.

Insures our military is ready for the new face of war: Irregular combat in cities around the world and terrorism in the USA including attacks with weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing focuses a politician's mind like an election. If you're concerned about the quality of our fighting forces, let them know before November.

Defending America -- with the right warriors and equipment, the right organization and the right missions -- is serious business. Our forces have been hung out to die too many times since 1775. It's about time we got it right before we fight.

THE END