DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
June 4,1996

AHOY THERE, ANOTHER TAXPAYER RIP-OFF ON THE HORIZON

This story should cause all red-blooded American taxpayers to double time to their "battle stations."

Adm. Donald L. Pilling, a blue water sailor and commander of the Sixth Fleet, doesn't live on one of the 32 ships under his command like most of his sailors, but in a luxurious Italian villa near Naples - a pad plush even by royal standards costing the taxpayers $78,937 a year.

When Pilling is away from his palazzo, visiting his units or making his costly government-paid-for-trips to the Pentagon in a VIP jet, his $6,578-a-month mansion is well maintained by a mess management specialist, whose pay and allowances run around $38,000 per year.

There is a Mrs. Adm. Pilling. But Barbara Pilling doesn't live at the Italian estate. She runs a school not far from the Pentagon and lives in a lovely Vienna, Va., home that's still beautifully furnished, although the Navy's official position is Mrs. Pilling shipped all of her furniture to Italy.

Where then, did the Virginia furniture come from? Adm. Kendell Pease, the Navy's top spinmeister, says, "I'm told she is using furniture borrowed from a daughter."

And, following the Navy's time-tested motto that "nothing's too good for the top brass," it admits providing -- at taxpayer expense, of course -- an augmentation of luxury furniture and rugs that costs you $14,841, plus shipment costs to Italy. Three rugs alone ("Handmade in India -wool") ran $5,700, and four Chippendale end tables were $1,244.

An on-the-scene spy in Italy who has been to the villa and eyeballed the furniture and all of the related paperwork, says, "This is bull**. Mrs. Pilling refused to ship her furniture, and the Navy has now spent almost $50,000 squaring the place away.

Whom should we believe - Navy officialdom, which has been caught in more lies than Pinocchio over the past decade, or the whistle-blowing observer?

This source, who is sick and tired of all the bills, also reports that Adm. Leighton "Snuffy Smith, Pilling's boss, was hopping mad about "this abuse of power" and broadsided Pilling" over the furniture with a few unprintable words.

The Navy will probably say the villa is necessary because the good admiral has to do a lot of political schmoozing.

This kind of a mind-set is a carry-over from the Cold War, when defense budgets were big, the Russians were coming and NATO brass could rationalize their mansions to be combat ready.

But that's all changed. NATO's been cut by almost300,000 people -- leaving less than 100,000 troops -- and is scratching hard for a mission.

Yet, not one VIP villa has folded up its drawbridge. By my count, there are still over a dozen more in Europe alone - a few more opulent than Pilling's - all occupied by our new breed of military royalty, while our line commanders fret about getting enough training ammo for their warriors.

The top brass should set the example and live in simple quarters just like their underlings. If they need to entertain some European big shot, let them use the officers club. At least, that's what should be done if America's still a democracy and not a military aristocracy.

Congress, especially the war hawk Republicans, is saying there aren't enough defense dollars. They're now chanting about the readiness gap (remember the bomber gap and the equally phony missile gap?), and they want to add $13 billion to Clinton's already bloated 1997 defense budget to close the gap.

Congress should stop the villa rip-offs and cut the glut of Pentagon waste, duplication and redundancy. Instead of throwing more money at that morally bankrupt monster, it could easily trim billions of bucks off the 1997 budget alone and start looking after our fine troops.

Right now, two-thirds of our serving warriors' houses are "unsuitable," and 11,900 of the lower grades are on food stamps!

Oh, Adm. Pease's response to this story to my assistant, Heidi Duncan, an experienced stenographer, was "Why is Hackworth picking on the Navy?" He now says he can't recall saying this.

Adm. Pease, I call 'em as I see 'em. And I've seen too many young men die when the brass didn't set the right example.