Defending America
David H. Hackworth
April 6, 1999


Last week Bill Clinton asked the nation to pray for our three soldiers who were captured by the Serbs. While I'm all for prayers, it's more important for all our soldiers who are now in the Yugoslavian killing field and those who'll soon deploy there -- as mission creep ratchets into mission panic -- for Congress to ask the generals why these three warriors were snatchedin the first place.

Their throwing up their hands and shouting "I surrender" without a fight just doesn't pass the smell test. These were not three recruits who would turn into jelly and throw down their weapons when slugs sung over their heads. All were experienced soldiers from a crack reconnaissance squadron - scouts who had been in Macedonia for months before their U.N. mission was canceled and they swapped their blue helmets for NATO war green. They knew the terrain and had been conducting the same mission for weeks. They were a special unit on a war footing, so close to the fight in Kosovo that they could hear the Serb artillery rumbling and smell the cordite from the explosions. They were indeed in a dangerous place and receiving hazardous duty pay accordingly.

Congress should ask:

-Why were the three scouts in a hazardous zone without their tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are sitting in a motor pool in Germany? (A question I asked the Pentagon two weeks ago.)

-Why were they on patrol by themselves in just one extremely vulnerable Humvee (the 1990's Jeep) without at least three more vehicles - each with mounted machine guns, each covering the others?

-Where was the backup force which is normally on high alert, ready to reinforce when the inevitable cow dung hits the fan.

-What were the ROE (Rules of Engagement)? Were their weapons locked and loaded? Did the soldiers have clear orders to fire if threatened or fired upon?

-Why weren't there dead Serbs on the ground? Trained soldiers don't just throw up their hands and allow themselves to be led away like sheep. They had time to report on the radio, "We're taking direct fireWe're trapped They're all around us." If they had time to yak, then they had time to squeeze their triggers.

Heads should roll. Especially the heads of the American and British generals in Macedonia who hung them out to dry by giving them too much to do without the right stuff to do the job. Our forces in Bosnia have been taking the type of precautions outlined above for four years. When I patrolled against the Serbs in late 1940s less than 300 miles to the North of Macedonia, we did as well because even then a favorite Serb trick was the old hostage snatch.

When we were hit we shot back. Contrary to the hype of the Army's mantra of today, we indeed fought as we trained. We had it drummed into us by our World War II veteran NCOs: kill or be killed.

And The Code of Conduct was imprinted on our very being:- "I will never surrender of my free will."

Since World War II, the ROE and "the more sweat on the training field, the less blood on the battlefield" type of training have been watered down by nervous commanders more concerned for their careers then their soldiers' safety.

When my Screaming Eagle brigade deployed to Vietnam in 1965, Gen. Westmoreland's order was: "You can't fire until the enemy fires first." In my battalion's first fight, a paratroop sergeant had to jump up on a wall and wave to cause three Viet Cong who were goofing off to slap leather. Not following Westy's orders he killed all three the second they went for their guns.

In Lebanon in 1983, 241 warriors were killed by a truck bomb. The sentry on
the front gate wasn't allowed to carry a loaded weapon. The same thing happened in Saudi Arabia in 1996, when 18 airman were killed and more than 400 wounded by a terrorist attack.

I've gotten too many reports over the years of how our armed forces are losing their warrior edge, and a rucksack full of complaints that the troops are no longer being trained - as Private Ryan's generation was - for real combat.

Let's hope the snafu in Macedonia isn't the first sign of a force no longer ready for war.