8 August 2000


Retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf says U.S. military readiness sucks.

Louis Caldera, U.S. Army headman, says this ain't so -- Stormin' Norman's "flat-out wrong."

Both men are alumni of West Point, an institution whose graduates I've always held in the highest regard, at least until their actions proved otherwise. And sadly there were a fair few of those.

But then West Point produced people like William Ochs, Class of '45, my first platoon leader in Italy, who taught me courage when he and a seven-man rifle squad stopped a Yugoslavian regiment -- 5,000 bad dudes -- from invading Trieste. In Korea, Joe Love, Class of '50, taught me combat leadership when his rifle company defended the Punch Bowl. In Vietnam, Hank "The Gunfighter" Emerson, Class of '47, taught me, by brilliant example, how to skipper a parachute battalion in a counterinsurgency environment. And there were scores of other Pointers who thumped, shaped and mentored soldier Hackworth.

It's rare when West Point graduates get into public squabbles. Luis -- that's how he spelled it when he graduated from West Point in 1978 -- Caldera says our military can go anywhere at anytime and do a number on the bad guys. Schwarzkopf strongly disagrees.

So who's right? Is Luis singing the party line for his pal Bill? Or is Norman bashing the Pentagon to smooch up to Dubya and old boss Dick Cheney?
Let's look at their credentials:

Schwarzkopf, Class of '56, was a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne; a company commander in Berlin in those hot days when The Wall went up; a battalion CO in Vietnam; a brigade CO at Fort Lewis, Wash.; an assistant division commander in Germany; and a division and corps CG in the States. He commanded the Army force during the invasion of Grenada and then, of course, there was Desert Storm. He retired in '91 with 35 years' service and four combat tours under his pistol belt.

Caldera, Class of '78, was a stateside military-police officer for two years, an admin officer at West Point for one year and an MP officer at Fort Dix, N.J., for one year. He quit the Army as soon as he could, in 1983, to go to Harvard Law School, and the half-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded education designed to train him to defend America served him well -- first in law and then playing politics. Combat experience: zero.

My take is that Stormin' Norman is talking to many of the same folks I hear from daily who tell me our Army, Navy and Air Force -- not the Marine Corps -- can't fight their way into a retirement home. Remember, many of today's commanders were his subordinates somewhere down the line, and Norman, like most old soldiers, would keep an ear to the combat-readiness ground. Five will get you 10 that Norman's getting his skinny on the q.t. from skippers and old NCOs. Guys who wouldn't dare pull one on "The Bear," whose vast experience would help him sniff out the truth faster than he used to bark "Gimme 25."

I suspect that Caldera's getting his readiness info from the reports that slide across his Pentagon desk and talks with soldiers when in the field. But today's generals rarely say they're not ready to go, not if they want a career. The plethora of Perfumed Princes that manage -- not lead -- today's forces can't afford to and wouldn't let a truth-teller within rifle range of a visiting fireman from Washington such as Caldera.

But if Caldera, who probably is talking primarily to yes men and women, really thinks our forces are good to go, he should see an eye doc for specs -- because the man from Los Angeles must be blinder than a rock.

Caldera reminds me of another high Pentagon know-nothing, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, who just before the Korean War exploded assured President Harry Truman that our forces were second to none. He was fired, but not before thousands of untrained soldiers were shot down by a superior North Korean army.

Hopefully in November -- no matter who's the new commander in chief -- Caldera and the rest of Clinton's Pentagon political appointments will be given their walking papers and our country's defense will be placed in more competent hands.