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 that 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, “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

It was different in the Draftee Days, when non-volunteers 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. Secretary of Defense
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.

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 Cohen’s meetings
with potential Hollywood hypesters such as Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and
Robert De Niro were “taxpayer business.”

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

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 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.

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