Defending America the rock star way

By David Hackworth
web posted November 1, 1999

They have villas in Europe and Asia and magnificent residences in the USA. They have private jets, servants, aides, chauffeur driven limos and helicopters galore. Nope, They're not rock or movie stars -- they're public servants who run our Armed Forces. Our top brass have become American royalty, fat cats in boots and helmets who live high at the expense of the taxpayers and the grunts they command.

Take the general in charge of our Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs who recently blew $268,010 on remodeling the kitchen in his modest 10,660-square-foot government-issued dwelling. He used readiness dollars earmarked for spare parts and combat gear to sharpen our fly boys' and girls' chances of making it in the friendly flack-filled skies of places like Serbia. His restaurant-sized kitchen includes three sinks, two refrigerators, two ovens and two dishwashers, including a commercial model with a 90-second cycle. Meanwhile, many of our Air Force grunts live in dilapidated houses that haven't been remodeled since current Air Force Academy chief Lt. Gen. Tad J. Oelstrom was a captain. And for the past decade, a 100 grand per year in readiness dollars have also been spent on sprucing up his or his general officer assistant's pad.

But it's not only the generals in blue who get away with grand theft as a way of life. Recently Navy brass quietly used $6 million in readiness funds -- budgeted for our fighting ships and planes -- to spiff up three senior admirals' official residences in Hawaii, Washington D.C. and at the Naval Academy. Of course, none of the admirals knew their underlings had broken the law or that readiness and building funds, earmarked to repair navy rank and file quarters, were used. Nor did they know that in the past 7 years another $4 million had been similarly drained off and used to doll up their Beverly Hills-quality mansions. Meanwhile, many Navy enlisted folks live in trailer parks they barely can afford. While many lower rankers in Hawaii live in the low rent part of town, the brass admit they spent $528,000 remodeling the office of the top admiral in the Pacific, including a $54,000 new kitchen, a $30,000 marble-tiled bathroom, $12,000 in new carpets and $3,000 for an etched-glass shower.

Or maybe you're into rocks? An Army general in Bosnia sure is. He had his engineers set up a one ton rock with his First Cavalry insignia emblazoned on the front of it at his headquarters in Tuzla. Now that the Cav is being replaced by the 10th Mountain Division, the not so economy-minded general decided to ship this expensive paper weight back to home base in Texas as a battle souvenir. Reported cost to the taxpayer: by air $50,000 and by ship $20,000. A Cav trooper says "Not sure where the money to ship the rock home came from, but you can be sure the grunt down at the bottom of the totem pole got the shaft."

This attitude of me-first, the regs-don't-apply-to-the-brass and nothing-is-too-good-for-the-troops-and-that's-what-they'll-get-nothing isn't confined to just the star wearers. An Army colonel at Fort Bliss, Texas used the lion's share of his brigade's Operations and Maintenance funds to renovate his office and command building instead of taking care of his troops living quarters, equipment and vehicles. Meanwhile, his soldiers lived in barracks with broken plumbing and an air conditioning system that didn't work because funds weren't available to get it repaired. And according to a captain in that brigade, "Had the whistle blown and we'd gone to war, we'd've had to tow half our vehicles out of the motor pool." A day doesn't pass where a brave airman, soldier, sailor or Marine doesn't email me and blow the whistle on such misdeeds. They ask not to mention their names because they're all-volunteers. Being caught blowing the whistle on such wrongdoings means end of job, end of career. There is a law: The Whistle Blowers Act, but because of Congressional neglect, it's all gums and no teeth.

These abuses of authority would slow down if Congress did its job. But that'll require an attitude adjustment. James Exon, a former Senator, said our lawmakers have more important things to do then to "decide whether a general needed a new sink in his kitchen."

I think not.

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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