DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
December 5, 1995

CLINTON CAME, BUT DID NOT CONQUER

BAUMHOLDER, GERMANY- President Clinton addressed the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division -- who will soon be deployed in the trenches of Bosnia -- here last week.

His message fell short of the target. It wasn't the lousy weather that made his words miss their mark. Many of the gathered warriors felt they were being used as props for Clinton's commercial to win support from the American people for his latest military misadventure.

Sgt. Darrell McCoy, a rifle squad leader, says, "There wasn't anything new. It was all recycled stuff we'd seen on CNN." Another sergeant in the same 3d Platoon of Company "B,' 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, says, "His talk seemed more designed to motivate the American public than us."

I talked to the sharp grunt platoon for several hours before and after Clinton's talk. They're the right kind of warriors with the right kind of grit to do the job, with great leadership from the bottom to the top. Sure they griped, but all good soldiers do. If they didn't, I'd be concerned.

What rubbed everyone the wrong way was Clinton's pledge to accept full responsibility for U.S. casualties. A sergeant says, "We're the ones who are going to die. His taking responsibility doesn't mean anything to me or my family."

Leaving just before the Christmas holiday is another major complaint. McCoy says, "Why can't they wait a few days more? We've been working this mission for over three years now. Why the sudden rush?"

Most of the platoon members felt the one-year mission didn't make sense. A sergeant says, "The year bit is strictly politics. It's a big fairy tale.."

I agree. The one-year exit plan is more tailored to Election '96 than military necessity. How can peace be brought in just one year to a land that has seldom known peace? I reckon the major warring factions will go to ground while our troops are in that dangerous land, then come back fighting after they leave. So why go at all? Perhaps Clinton should show more concern for his troops than for keeping a politically motivated promise to European leaders to put in the American team.

The soldiers of the 3rd Platoon worry about the millions of land mines in Bosnia and when their platoon will get replacements. The platoon is short nine soldiers, and that's a lot of empty foxholes for a rifle platoon, especially a mechanical outfit. I can't figure out why the platoon is short so many warriors, except that the Pentagon has more computer punchers than trigger-pullers.

Why would they let a unit deploy into a possible killing field without enough riflemen? This doesn't make sense, especially since the brass have had a warning order to go to Bosnia for months.

Other worries: Right now, the cold weather equipment most of the platoon members have is old stuff' that won't be up to snuff in frozen Bosnia. The same is true with their body armor. These grunts know how the new body armor saved many Ranger lives in that terrible 1993 fight in Mogadishu, and they want the same life-saving gear.

I'm always amazed at the low priority given to the grunt. He does the most dangerous and dirty work. The whole military is about getting him into the objective area to take or hold ground. Yet he's always the last guy in the goodie line.

Look at the 1996 defense budget. The Republicans have loaded it up with pork: billions of dollars for B-2 bombers, Seawolf submarines, ships and missiles that even the Pentagon doesn't want. Yet our warriors will face the mines and the sniper fire and freeze their butts off without the right stuff. I know it's always been this way, but that doesn't mean it's right!

I suspect Clinton saw the movie "The American President" and is now modeling himself after Michael Douglas instead of JFK. In the movie, Douglas, who plays the president, suddenly finds his backbone and decides to put principle over politics. Too bad the new seemingly steel-spined Clinton didn't stand tall over the Republicans' bloated budget and take full responsibility for getting his soldiers the right stuff rather than for risking their lives with the wrong gear on a bad mission.