DEFENDING AMERICA
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
5 September 2000

MILITARY READINESS IS NOT A POLITICAL GAME!

Justin P.D. Wilcox resigned last week over the plague that's destroying our Army. He was a future George Marshall or Dwight Eisenhower. This nation's armed forces cannot continue to lose such dedicated patriots.

Here, in his own words, is why he quit in disgust:

"Listening to the secretary of defense and top brass dispute the Bush/Cheney readiness claims has reaffirmed my decision to leave the Army as a captain this month. I served for the past five years in a declining institution which needs urgent help from its top leadership. My decision to leave the Army stems from my refusal to live the 'readiness lie' portrayed by the nation's top leaders.

"In the age of 'do more with less,' the most frequent topic of discussion for today's Army junior officer is the decision to leave the military. Accordingly, the top brass express their concern with the large numbers of captains departing the Army between four and six years of service. Their concern is so great that they surveyed majors with at least 10 years of service to discover why captains were leaving. It is hard to find out what is wrong when you really do not want to know.

"I was excited to begin my Army career after graduating from West Point in June of 1995, but over the next five years my zeal diminished. I realized that the brass and political leaders expected 110 percent capability but resourced for 50 percent. I received soldiers from Basic Training who could not pass fitness tests, qualify with their weapons, or uphold basic discipline standards.

"At Fort Bragg (N.C.), as a combat engineer in the XVIII Airborne Corps, my unit shot its weapons with live rounds only once a year for qualification and once a year for a live-fire exercise, due to ammunition constraints. Vehicles and equipment were rarely used during the months of August and September due to budgetary constraints at the end of the fiscal year. Newly fielded equipment did not meet the specifications of the equipment it replaced and only became reliable after at least two years of retrofits and recalls. (It is probably not known that from December 1998 until this summer, every new 2.5- and 5-ton vehicle on Fort Bragg, as well as the Army, could not be driven over 35 mph until retrofitted to prevent the drive shaft from dropping during movement and causing the vehicle to flip.) On a weekly basis, I saw more attention placed on landscaping and details in the unit area than on training soldiers in the field.

"For those who claim these statements are merely subjective, I can offer further proof of the poor unit readiness I witnessed. For two years I participated in the unit readiness report for my battalion, as the project officer for the report and the head of battalion maintenance. Throughout the past year, maintenance or personnel issues have prevented achievement of top readiness ratings.

"Excellence is no longer the standard. The pursuit of mediocrity has become the norm. When will a general officer finally lay his stars on the table and stand up to the current administration for his soldiers?

"Junior officers stand where the 'rubber meets the road.' They have the responsibilities of preparing their soldiers for battle and ultimately to prepare them in such manner as to prevent casualties due to inexperience or lack of training. When the brass decide their objectives, the lieutenants and captains bear the responsibility of taking these objectives.
"Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf stated in his autobiography that a commander can delegate authority, but never responsibility. I realized that in the future I could be responsible for the deaths of too many men who could have been saved by proper training.

"I was not prepared to sacrifice good men, knowing that their deaths could have been avoided. I could not in good conscience continue to live the lie of our current readiness.

"When the next round of bloodshed by U.S. servicemen happens due to lack of preparation, the current brass and civilian/political leaders should be responsible for signing the following casualty notification letters:

"Dear Mrs. Smith, I regret to inform you of the death of your son. His death is my fault, for I did not properly train him."

Thank you for your rare courage, Captain Wilcox.