- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

Our nation's armed services are suffering from a crisis of trust, which jeopardizes our security.

A recent Pentagon-sanctioned survey of Army and Marine Corps personnel found that only 35 percent believe what their service leaders are telling them and only 44 percent thought their leaders will make tough, unpopular decisions. Examples of trust-busting Pentagon actions abound.

The Pentagon's politically correct Gestapo is sapping trust. Recently, service personnel at 38 different command locations were ordered to complete confidential surveys about their understanding of the homosexual policy. They are forbidden from revealing the survey's questions under threat of punishment.

The services will use the survey results to address training deficiencies concerning the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" homosexual policy and the new "don't harass" provision. Commanders of units with homosexual problems identified by the survey could face special discipline.

This homosexual-sensitivity training will marginalize the statutory ban, and in the future the only people likely to be discharged for homosexuality will be those who object to their service or the growing number of homosexuals who want out. In 1999, 84 percent of the 1,034 people discharged for homosexuality volunteered for separation.

The Pentagon's politically correct crowd has also pushed a radical feminist agenda, further undermining trust. In 1994, the Clinton Pentagon removed exemptions for women in 250,000 combat-related positions. A recent Pentagon-sponsored survey found that only 7 percent of male officers believe sex integration has improved readiness and two-thirds of young soldiers don't believe women will pull their own load in combat.

The Clinton administration has pushed the services to embrace mixed-sex basic training. Recent government studies have found that mixed-sex basic training hurts readiness. Drill sergeants in mixed-sex units say that much of their time is spent disciplining recruits for sex-related infractions.

Today, 14 percent of the military are women, and the Clinton Pentagon is trying to increase those numbers despite the fact that the unplanned loss rate for females is 2.5 times that of males. Pregnancy accounts for one-third of female attrition, while 40 percent of shipboard pregnancies end in miscarriage or abortion.

The brewing controversy over the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program is another example of broken trust. A growing number of service members face punishment because they don't believe their leaders are telling the truth about the side effects associated with the mandatory vaccination program.

Skeptical soldiers point to conflicting information. For example, Army Surgeon General Ronald Blanck stated in 1994 that the "anthrax vaccine should continue to be considered as a potential cause for undiagnosed illnesses in Persian Gulf military personnel." Many Persian Gulf veterans have fallen ill for unexplained reasons, and others recount the military's decades-old denials of the health effects associated with the defoliant Agent Orange used in Vietnam.

Contributing to the growing mistrust over the anthrax program is failing confidence in the military medical system. Recent government surveys of departing soldiers found great dissatisfaction with military medicine. The Pentagon is now trying to do emergency surgery on the services' medical delivery program known as Tricare.

The trust problem goes beyond social experiments and an ailing medical system. It goes to the bone. Most (62 percent) personnel believe their units lack the necessary equipment to accomplish assigned missions and 66 percent say they are stressed out from high deployment rates up 300 percent over the last decade. Job satisfaction has plummeted along with retention.

Trust is stretched thin by the Clinton administration's misuse of the military for peacekeeping. Today, U.S. service members are stationed in 140 countries where many serve as policemen keeping rogue nations like Iraq in check and ethnic groups like those in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo from killing one another. Soldiers complain that this is not what they volunteered to do and for that reason many leave discouraged. After a tour of peacekeeping, a unit requires perhaps six months to return to fighting shape.

In 1999, Congress tried to renew trust by increasing soldier pay and by reviving the old 50 percent base pay retirement system. No doubt, the retirement fix was wise, but few in Congress realize that the much touted pay increase was offset by reductions in housing allowances. In fact, for many soldiers who must live off base, they suffered a pay loss, not an increase. For those living in government housing, the Pentagon lacks the funds to repair or replace the services' 200,000 old, poorly maintained family quarters.

Given these trust-busting problems, our military is hemorrhaging quality personnel and can't recruit enough to fill the ranks. The crisis won't be easily overcome. Veterans this country's best recruiters who rightly perceive that the modern military has become a liberal petri dish, aren't encouraging their sons and daughters to enlist.

President Reagan understood that trust is built from competent leadership and sustained funding. But since 1988, the number of uniformed members has been cut 34 percent, and the federal budget has been balanced primarily from military downsizing and robbing the services of modernization and readiness funds. Meanwhile, the world today is arguably more dangerous than during the Cold War.

The best and the brightest will continue to leave primarily because they no longer trust the military's civilian and politically correct uninformed leaders. What's left will be a dispirited and shrinking armed service that is racked by political correctness and assigned missions that have little to do with defending this nation's vital interests.

Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is the Family Research Council's senior director for national security and foreign affairs.

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