David H. Hackworth
November 3, 1998
TANGOING WITH TERROR
In a tough school, I learned "THE MORE SWEAT ON THE TRAINING FIELD, THE LESS BLOOD ON THE BATTLEFIELD."
A lot of men are still sucking air because I followed this adage and trained them relentlessly. I'm sure I came off as a raving maniac back then, but these days, as they play with their grandchildren, most probably understand my passion.
Infantry combat has a habit of producing obsessive trainers. For the past 50 years, on four continents, I've seen thousands of young kids meet the widowmaker because they were not trained to be hard as granite, forged by iron discipline into perfect warriors.
I saw the body bags and litters, and I learned the battlefield is no place for anything less than perfection.
In 1998 our soft and lost Army seems to have forgotten this absolute. Too many of the kids graduating from Army basic training are walking cannon fodder who will wind up dead before the first battle has ended.
I was taught as a boy soldier in Italy by a very tough platoon sergeant who'd slugged it out during World War II with the famous "Bloody Bucket" division. "LEARN IT RIGHT AND YOU WILL DO IT RIGHT THE REST OF YOUR LIFE" and "LEARN IT WRONG AND YOU'LL SPEND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TRYING TO GET IT RIGHT" were among his favorite chants.
"And in battle" Sergeant Steve Prazenka often thundered, "you meatheads that get it wrong, the rest of your life will be very short."
After learning from Prazenka and other NCOs who'd witnessed too many peach faced kids turn into purple mush during their terrible journey from Kesserine Pass to the Elbe River, I went to war.
In Korea, I saw hundreds of soldiers killed or wounded because they hadn't been prepared. Somewhere along the way, I understood Prazenka's dedication about getting it right. I became exactly like him and most other combat leaders who'd tangoed with terror.
Maybe it was when I saw new replacement O'Toole die his first day with my squad. No one in Basic Training told him not to pick up an enemy grenade. Maybe it was when replacement Davis drowned in his own blood from a minor wound. No one had taught him basic first aid. Or it could have been when new guy Bell thought a wooden door was good cover. A burst of machine gun fire ripped right through it tearing out his guts and ending his young life.
I could recite hundreds of incidents from 12 hot conflicts from Osan in Korea to Vietnam's MeKong Delta to Sarajevo in Bosnia of kids who zigged when they should have zagged because they hadn't had a Sergeant Pracenka to show them the right way to make it through the nightmare.
I wouldn't let my two sons join today's Army. The initial entry training has been too watered down, made too politically correct to accommodate women and to give the recruits that warm, fuzzy Boy Scout summer camp feeling.
A Fort Benning Drill sergeant says "A private can tell a Drill to ---- off and be told ' The private's having a bad day, leave him alone.' No more Article 15's (Unit punishment) - way too many in the brigade this month. If a gung ho private squares away a dirtbag, it's the Drill Sergeant's fault, so relieve him. My battalion Sergeant Major's favorite saying is 'This is a business. We are putting out a product. Don't take too much pride in the product because the soldier's going to graduate whether you're here to train them or not'".
A rifle company commander doesn't think much of the product that Fort Benning's pushing out. "The troops coming out are in terrible physical condition. They're weak with a rifle -- most can't zero in under 18 rounds and usually just squeak out Marksman. In my estimation, if a guy isn't with us for at least three months and two field problems, he would be a casualty in the first five minutes of battle."
If I were King, I'd close Army entry training and send all future Infantry grunts to the Marines. The Corps still produces trained and disciplined soldiers who know how to make it on a killing field. Even Sergeant Prezenka would think they're ready to face the bear.