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Hurry, hurry, read all about it. Our once mighty military machine is sputtering like a 1940 Ford that’s trying to climb a steep hill while hitting on only one cylinder.

This must be true because just last week five four-star generals and admirals laid this message on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings on military readiness. The brass hats breathlessly delivered the word to the astonished senators as though they’d awakened that very morning and realized in a blinding flash that our $300 billion-a-year Armed Forces was suddenly broken.

Our grunts — those that do the dying and the hands-on work from the rank of recruit to Lt. Colonel/Navy commander — have been telling me, and their
skippers since 1993, that they’re grossly short people and spare parts. That they are spread all over the world trying to do too much with too little and that their combat “cutting-edge” been turned to butter because of Salvation Army-type duty in places like Haiti, Bosnia and Africa.

I get about 3,000 e-mail messages a week from warriors, their wives and their moms and dads. Then I pass this skinny on to you and anyone else who’ll listen.

A Marine sergeant observed the Senators and brass hats in action. “The Joint Chiefs were ducking and weaving while the senators were tearing them
new buttonholes for not sounding off earlier.”

If the brass didn’t see this crash coming, they’re either deaf, blind, brain dead or into deep denial. And they should immediately be held responsible. Naval and Air fleets and ground combat units don’t just fall out for reveille one morning and discover they can’t turn on their engines or crew their war machines. Only last year, a bunch of grunts in Germany gave me information that our elite multibillion-dollar Army Corps there couldn’t fight its way into a Quaker convention.

The same Senate committee that toasted, roasted and chewed out the brass last week not only heard my warnings. They ordered the three-star in charge
to come to Washington and asked him point-blank if I’d gotten it right. No, no, he said, “Hackworth is wrong.” He insisted we’re good to go, fightin’ fit and lean n’mean. The senators got and bought the party line.

Now suddenly that man’s Corps is as sick as the rest of our forces committed in over 150 countries around the globe. Why? Because he and a battalion of other admirals and generals didn’t tell it the way it was. And that’s why the senators lit them up with flame throwers.

The senators, especially military academy types like John McCain, wanted to know what happened to the military code: Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t
steal. For the last three years while our military readiness was melting, our uniformed people up at the top have known it. But they clearly did not do their duty and sound off. Apparently they got their stars because they were more diplomat than warrior, more deceiver than defender of the United States of America.

Early this year, the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Hugh Shelton, assured the same senators that our military was in good shape when he
should have blown the whistle on his commander in chief’s frivolous Robo-Globo Cop Salvation Army missions. And also told how Clinton’s feckless social experiments such as trying to put women in every squad, ship and airplane are destroying the finest military in the world, the one that enabled Stormin’ Norman to knock out Iraq almost before Saddam got in the ring. Nor did Shelton and his chiefs earlier tell the senators that their own pork addiction was part of the problem — forcing the purchase of unneeded subs, ships, planes and other hardware along with keeping hundreds of bases that should have been closed when the Soviet Union kicked off.

America’s military chiefs are guilty of dereliction of duty. Just as another bunch of four stars were a generation ago when they sunk our nation
in the swamps of Vietnam and then provided the chorus for Westmoreland’s con song about light at the end of the tunnel, humming along for eight bloody years while our young men died.

Kosovo is blinking. Is history repeating itself?

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