DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
October 4, 1994

SWEATING IT OUT IN HAITI

PLANTATION LECLERC, HAITI -- I've been around warriors for 50 years, and the grunts we have in Haiti are the best I've seen. The soldiers and their small unit leaders -- corporal to major -- are dedicated, professional and know their jobs. The junior leaders bust their butts to look after the welfare of their men under terrible conditions.

This is not the case with the top army brass -- lieutenant colonel to two-star general -- from the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. From what I could see, these guys are not connected with the grunts at the bottom. Most are micromanaging every detail and are more interested in show than the welfare of their troops, which I learned long ago is a leader's sacred responsibility. They're so busy doing trivial stuff they miss the big picture.

An example: I was shooting the breeze with Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Sunday in a machine gun position overlooking the main gate at the airport. Two Jeep-like Humvees pulled up. Sunday said. "Oh, oh, here we go again."

A hand shot out of the second Humvee and punched the air. Brig Gen. George Close was "playing Patton again," raising hell with the troops and demanding they look good on TV, it seems his main job is to stage manage, making sure all his warriors wear their pots and flak jackets, sleeves rolled down, and look razor sharp in the boiling sun. Sure, guys in dangerous areas should wear all their protective gear, but, certainly not troopers in safe zones.

Close was so busy chewing on the NCO in charge, the sergeant, by now in shock, was too rattled to tell him that a Haitian standing right next to the Humvee had two grenades m his pocket. The Haitian had tried to swap them under the failed weapons-for-cash deal, but when told at the turn-in point that U.S. forces were no longer buying grenades, he'd come to the main gate. Sunday said we could have bought both for five bucks, and "Who knows'? They may have led us to a case."

While Close was disciplining the troops, a grenade exactly like the ones in this guy's pocket was thrown in a downtown crowd, killing and wounding two dozen celebrating Haitians.

A few days before, Close found another soldier with his helmet off. He blistered him so badly "he limped for days." Close had his commander, a fine USAF captain whose troops were responsible for the security of the base, report to his office. The captain waited for three hours, but Close never kept his ass-chewing appointment. Three hours is a long time for a captain to be away from his troops in a potential hot spot.

The 10th Division troops are unhappy. Haiti is desert hot and jungle humid. The mean temperature is 90 degrees, and with all the gear on, our warriors' body temperatures are somewhere between 100 and 110 degrees. Corporal Roger Leff, a 10th Division rifleman, says, "It's hotter than Somalia and Panama."

When asked, "Why are you wearing all that junk'?" Leff answered, "It wouldn't look good if we wore shorts, floppy hats and rolled up our sleeves." Corporal Charles Hazelwood adds, "The brass are more concerned with what CNN shows than how we feel."

Our warriors wear essentially the same nonbreathing uniforms their great-grandfathers cooked in during the Guadalcanal campaign in 1943. The Pentagon has stealth air- craft and satellite telephones, and the big brass -- even in Haiti -- have air-conditioned pads, just like the out-of-touch generals in Vietnam, a war that was lost by incompetent brass more interested in their careers than their troops.

Here, too, the Closes don't seem to care about their warriors' welfare. Sunday and the dozens of junior leaders I spoke with do. Sunday asks, "Why don't we have a light- weight uniform like the Aussies, and why are we dressed for meltdown when there's no real enemy?"

Unfortunately, because the military seldom promotes real warriors to top grades anymore, these questions no longer get asked -- or even mentioned. During the last three weeks, I never saw a general talking to a grunt other than doing "a Close" from a Humvee. If they did, they'd get an earful.