- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2000

On every U.S. military post, base and ship active duty and reserve America's defenders are short critical gear from toilet paper to spare parts to training ammo, and many live in GI ghettos.

Too often, our warriors' lives are put at risk because they don't have the stuff to make sure the aircraft stays in the sky or that the soldier is trained to a razor's edge to survive the ultimate Super Bowl game of combat.

The word from the brass is to "suck it up." They claim falsely that President Clinton has cut military funds despite the almost $300 billion annual defense budget, about what the rest of the world combined spends on defense.

But for those on top, it's pig-out time. The old saw that "rank has its privileges" is still rampant in our all-volunteer force. And few people have the guts to sound off about different perks for high-ranking jerks because they don't want a ration of harassment followed by job termination.

It was different in the Draftee Days, when nonvolunteers were just about issued whistles at the Reception Center. And how they loved to blow 'em. They trilled for the slightest trespasses, and Congress received red-hot "investigate this" letters from mamas and papas.

Now our all-volunteers feel they have little recourse but to keep their mouths shut, bear the shortages and press on.

Defense Secretary William Cohen, hardly the type to suck it up, recently set the example for his hard-pressed troops on a trip to Hollywood. His vital mission was to sign up some mega-stars to help pump the Pentagon's flagging recruiting program.

Mr. Cohen didn't bring his pup tent or stay at one of the nearby military bases. He and his foxy ex-TV anchor wife checked into the exclusive Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel and slapped the tab for the $10,000, four-day room charge right smack on the taxpayers' account.

And then there were all his straphangers aides, security folks and assorted dog robbers whose total bill, I'm told, ran another 40 grand.

Add the cost of his private Air Force jet from "The Greed Capital of the World" and back more than $100,000 and we're looking at enough dough to go a long way toward solving the toilet paper shortfall at least.

A 110-grand-a-year Pentagon flack explained that Mr. Cohen's meetings with potential Hollywood hypesters such as Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro was "taxpayer business."

The chief spinner also said Fortress Four Seasons was selected for "security reasons." Funny, I would have thought the 25,000 Marines at nearby Camp Pendleton might have provided better and certainly cheaper security for our self-important defense secretary.

Not sure what Army Gen. Hugh Shelton had in mind either when at taxpayers' expense he allowed his enlisted aide to make a 6-foot-5-inch chocolate replica of Gen. Shelton in full combat gear for a plush holiday bash.

"It was some sculpture," purred his Airborne Ranger master sergeant, who draws a fat paycheck for running the four-star's house, along with a fire team of other uniformed attendants,

While many Army combat units are short men and are without seasoned sergeants, why is a highly qualified combat NCO tasked with concocting costly chocolate ego trips to please a four-star general?

Hollywood won't solve the Pentagon's recruiting problems. But if the taxpayers' money was spent as the citizens intended and the top brass put the troops first, there wouldn't be one to begin with.

Just look at the Marines, who still believe in the old-fashioned notion that a leader's primary responsibility is the welfare of the troops. They don't need movie stars to inspire young folks to join up. They operate under the premise the sterner the challenge, the finer the response, and our best and brightest are beating down the hatch to become United States Marines.

What's needed are senior leaders who love and fight for the troops. Leaders who live by the principles of leadership. You know, like now-deceased Marine Chesty Puller always first up, last to bed, last in the chow line. A man who led by the motto: Follow me.

David H. Hackworth, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a columnist and author.

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