DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
March 9, 1999

SOFTIES FILL BODYBAGS

Remember the anti-Vietnam War slogan: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" The way our $300 billion-a-year military is going, soon maybe there won't be anyone left with the stomach to show up.

The Pentagon's solution to weak Army recruits and old salts quitting in droves is pretty much what Gen. William Westmoreland employed in the 1970s: lower the standards. Then it was beer in the barracks, Elvis-length hair and sideburns, and leaders forced to maintain a kinder, gentler approach. But none of Westy's experiments worked. Instead, race riots, fragging and disobedience replaced close-order drill.

Only when fighting generals like Hank Emerson, Hal Moore and Jim Hollingsworth stood tall and demanded a return to hard soldiering did discipline and World War II standards return to the ranks. The problem with today's recruits - according to the word I get from the brass - is that Generation Y-ers are weak whiners and quitters. They say many come from single-parent homes and lack a basic load of values. Most are soft and spoiled - so unwilling to put up with the stress, the training rigors and the hard discipline of the past that about 50 percent put in their quit-slip before their hitches are over.

Yes, most 1999 recruits didn't walk five miles in the snow to get to school after milking the cows and feeding the chickens. No, they aren't mainly from the farm or brought up by stern Moms and Dads with demanding standards at school and church. Yet my take is that they're the same sort of kids from the same type of brave stock that first settled our country, then kicked a lot of butts from Bunker Hill to Kuwait City and made America great. I too can recall being bad-mouthed by the oldies. And then my generation zapped the baby boomers with the same sort of put downs, who in turn clobbered the Generation X-ers, who are now beginning to blister the Generation Y gang.

That's how it goes. The current generation are wimps who have it easy, the old-timers always say. But remember when the wimps went on to perform magnificently in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and The Gulf? I'm convinced that all those who join our forces today need is to be challenged, not coddled, and to be led by romping, stomping leaders - not managed and spoon-fed by sociologists in uniform who think compromise and easy-does-it forges soldiers.

These young folk are far more willing than the brass-and-staff weenies think to make the sacrifices that will turn them into the winners they joined up to become. But the new-breed brass haven't got the word. So things just keep getting softer with the hope that the quit rate won't skyrocket even more. Now, the Army recruits actually have their choice of omelets for a leisurely breakfast and get to use a knife and fork instead of the Basic Spoon most vets still consider a primary weapon. Not only are our selfless drill sergeants worried, so are America's fathers. Especially fathers like Nevada's Nick Olguin, a 10-year Army veteran, who says, "Two of my sons are senior Army NCOs. They'll tell you in a heartbeat what the problem is: The old standards of discipline and hard knocks which turned boys into men are gone in an Army spending too much training time in touchy-feely, non-warrior programs, like the now mandatory 'Sensitivity Training.'

"Soldiers aren't being challenged as they were in the past. Physical standards have been lowered, mostly to make 'coed training' acceptable." Olguin, whose sons have almost 40 years' active service, says, "Some soldiers coming out of Basic Training often cannot even pass a PT test. "Sergeants no longer get 'Sergeants Time' where they work one-on-one with their troops to teach them skills required in war. "Many NCOs are not permitted to go into the barracks unannounced to inspect in the time-honored tradition. Nowadays, inspections have to be 'scheduled.'" Citizen Olguin has good reason to be worried. As do the thousands of parents and small-unit leaders who write with similar messages like this one from a drill sergeant: "I hope we don't go to war and have to depend on what we are being forced to graduate. It will be ugly!"