The thinnest red line in history

By David Hackworth
web posted March 1999

The year is 2020 and you are a fly on the wall at a Pentagon briefing for the commander in chief.

"Mr. President, the Army chief of staff just confirmed his rifle squad of 11 generals is good to go," says the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "The chief of Naval Operations is ready to support, skippering our one ship with a hand-picked all-admiral crew. Our Air Force chief of staff is above the area of operations with his all-general crew in our one Stealth-Platinum bomber, ready to provide air support. The Marine commandant stands ready in reserve with a small amphibious fire team of his best generals. And not only are all 700 of our headquarters online, I'm proud to say their Internet reports are timely and flawless."

Sadly, if our military continues to build new major headquarters, promote more generals and expand the officer corps, and the price of hardware keeps skyrocketing, the above scenario may well become the real deal. In 1945, a fighter aircraft cost about 100,000 bucks, about the price of a WW II M-4 tank. Today, the sticker price on an F-22 fighter is around $70 million a copy while M-1-1A3 tanks run $2.5 million a pop. Today, with an active duty force of 1.4 million, there are more senior headquarters than in 1945, when we had 13 million folks wearing boots.

The U.S. Army presently has 30 Generals for each of its fighting divisions. In WW II, it had only 14 Generals per division and the divisions were 20 percent larger. The Navy has almost more Admirals than ships. During WW II, the Navy had 470 admirals and 61,000 warships - one admiral for every 130 ships. In 1999, the Navy's got 222 admirals for 354 ships. Do the math. The Air Force, the most officer heavy of all the services, actually has more Generals than bombers. In WW II, it had one General for every 244 aircraft. In 1999, it's got one General for every 23 airplanes. Even the once-lean Marine Corps has the inflation disease. With only three active infantry divisions, it has 12 more generals than it had during World War II- when it had six fighting divisions. Since 1945, the teeth that bite into the enemy have gotten smaller while the officer corps and the logistical and command tail have grown faster than kudzu weed. If this trend doesn't stop, our forces will have Generals galore - blubberous battalions of staff weenies and supporters - and few warriors. The Pentagon defends the rank inflation and the bloated tail and the lack of combat troop muscle with the argument that it's in the management business - that its logisticians and managers handle a $300 billion budget and keep together the largest infrastructure in the world.

Spare us this drivel! Since the tail replaced the tooth and managers took over from Patton and Halsey-like leaders, we stopped winning wars. Well-led troops are what put holes in enemy soldiers, fix airplanes, run ships and make things happen.

In WW II, there was one officer to 11 riflemen. Today, the ratio is one officer to six grunts. Take our forces in Germany. Our fighting units there have been cut by two thirds since the Berlin Wall fell, but not so the palaces for the top brass. There are three times more Generals than infantry battalion skippers. All stay busy conducting inspections, micromanaging the troops and writing papers which become more hoops for the troops to jump through. And our four NATO combat brigades have four headquarters with fat staffs above them, breathing down their flak jackets, whipping up irrelevant to-do lists.

It's the same in South Korea, where we have two combat brigades supervised by a four-star general and multi-star studded echelons of higher headquarters above them. But staffers and critical rear echelon supporters, however well supervised by a galaxy of stars and bars, don't take objectives. Matter of fact, I've never seen a general and his staff in an attack. During my last 53 years of fighting in or covering the profession of arms, I've learned this truth: only well-trained, well-led and well-armed warriors win battles.

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.




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