DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
April 4, 1995

COUNTRY FIRST

Did I ever get beaten up for writing in this space a few weeks ago that the Marine Corps gave America the biggest and best bang for the defense buck!

Two cheerleaders from the Army's Pentagon spin-works bombed my parade. Their raid was so B-52 bad I thought my telephone would implode. They said I was "disloyal to the Army," had "Fallen for the Marines' propaganda" and "needed to be regreened" -- which I assume means being brainwashed to the Army's way of thinking.

These desk commandos verbally kicked me every way but loose. In my defense, while I did admit I'd been an Army dogie for almost 26 years, I stressed my loyalty isn't to the Army or any other service, but to America first and foremost. I reminded them that "I call 'em as I see 'em," and am not beholden to anything on this planet except the truth.

Then their boss called to pour oil on some pretty choppy waters. "Sorry about all that," he soothed. "My guys were a bit rough on you. This roles and missions thing has gotten to them."

Last year, Congress appointed a commission of defense experts to look at our military and cut the overlap that has the different services all doing basically the same job. The last major review of service roles and missions occurred 50 year ago, when the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force.

Imagine an almost $300 billion a year corporation not reworking their organizational plumbing in a half century! Without staying in tune with the times, civilian outfits go bankrupt. But the Pentagon has Joe and Jane taxpayer paying for its high life, redundancy, duplication and waste with hardly a whimper. With no stockholders to satisfy -- just sleeping taxpayers -- what's the urgency of cutting the blubber and waste and getting with the post-Soviet era changing world as we enter the 21st century?

What has the brass all riled up is that since the Cold War ended, the Pentagon's 60-year-old spend-up has come to an abrupt halt, and the commission's report could bring big changes in how America is defended.

The military services are in a fight for their survival. Turf, tradition, big bucks, jobs, power, perks and prestige are all at stake. The brass are willing to spill blood and even tell a few whoppers to win. That's why the Pentacrats are so supersensitive to guys like me.

Meanwhile, it's the old story: The Air Force says it can win future wars best with bombers; the Army says it always comes down to the bayonet; the Navy says only carriers can do the trick; and the Marine Corps says it's Marines who can most rapidly deploy.

Congress should have the wisdom to sort out a "new look," but don't count on it any time soon. Their pork's in the middle of this frying pan, too.

While we taxpayers wait for some answers, here are some figures to chew on. There are 138,415 uniformed and Defense Department civilians within the nation's capital. This force is larger than the Fleet Marines or all the Army riflemen. Their wages run $5.5 billion per year and there's not one trigger-puller in the pack. Here's some more: the Army types who zapped me are part of a team of 61 Pentagon hucksters whose annual PR budget is $667,000. The Marine Corps does the same job with only 26 people and a third of the cash. Congress and We-the-People should be asking why the Army needs bigger bucks than the Marines they're so busily bad-mouthing on the taxpayers' dime.

I still maintain the Marine Corps is the most cost effective and ready. For example, Major Katie Haddock -- AKA "Major Mom" -- runs the PR shop at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. On the side, she recycles soda cans. When I asked if she was a "Greenie," she replied, "We swap the cans for money to buy office supplies."

Major Mom is from the old school, as are most Marines, who, to paraphrase JFK, live by the standard: "Ask not what your service can do for you, but what you can do for your country first...and then your service."