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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is marching in the right direction by challenging the Pentagon’s tired mindset of fighting tomorrow’s battles with yesterday’s thinking.

But he shouldn’t only lock onto weapons systems and probable opponents. He should also factor into his study that people are always the most important element of warfare.

Because SecDef Robert McNamara believed smart weapons and systems analysts were the answer, he never talked to the troops. If he had, he would’ve gotten the word that neither Gen. William Westmoreland’s Vietnam strategy nor all our superpower wonder weapons were ever going to beat an army of Third World warriors wearing sandals made from discarded tires.

Between myself and members of Soldiers for the Truth, we como daily with more than a thousand defenders — regulars and minutemen, grunts and grease monkeys, sailors and spooks — from our armed forces. Common concerns are: They don’t trust their bosses; and they’re thinking of turning in their dog tags.

Here are the top 12 reasons:

Nothing ever changes. Countless surveys, endless sensing sessions, more after-action reviews than empty beer cans on payday — and the brass still won’t accept that our warriors aren’t ready for war and are unhappy.

We don’t train; we perform. Big training exercises don’t prepare warriors to destroy the enemy — they only demonstrate a big unit’s ability to move stuff around a training field and impress the top brass. Brigades that might dazzle in combat air-assault drills too often can’t cut it when they’re down on the ground — with squad leaders who can’t lead … or read a map.

Training and equipment don’t meet mission requirements and are unrealistic. Warriors today have to master many more pieces of gear and skills than 30 years ago — yet the length and structure of the training cycle remain unchanged.

Many skills need field training and aren’t getting any. Army aviators don’t get survival training like USAF pilots. Supporters at Infantry Brigade level don’t get combat training such as patrolling and defensive techniques. This sort of negligence will leave the REMFs hanging out there when the bullets sing.

Whitewash by the gallons. Show is more important than go. Camouflage paint, for instance, is no longer applied to break up a soldier’s facial outline in a wooded area — it’s part of the projected image in case there’s a TV ambush.

The Ranger black beret. This is viewed as an insult to every soldier — those who deserve it and the majority who feel they don’t. Nothing shows more clearly how completely out of touch the top brass are with the troops at the bottom.

Baby-boomer downsizing survivors (majors and colonels) — a.k.a. BDSM&Cs — will throw you under the bus to save their careers. These field-grade survivors of 10 years of downsizing will destroy anyone who makes them look bad or puts their careers in harm’s way.

The BDSM&Cs don’t listen. They’ve driven over so many people to make it, they can’t tell a pedestrian from a fireplug and don’t care.

No two-way communication. In today’s military, the BDSM&Cs believe disagreement means disrespect.

The BDSM&Cs are driven by fear. That accounts for most of the micromanagement in today’s military. They fear the generals and admirals, the family support groups, sailors’ and soldiers’ wives, congressional inquiries, the minorities, uniformed women and anyone from the media. They believe the slightest scratch on their fender will end their quest for making it to the top.

Mentoring and professional development don’t happen. The BDSM&Cs are so concerned with making it, they don’t have time to put down their mirrors and brushes and look after their subordinates.

I don’t want my soldiers’ or sailors’ blood on my hands. Almost all the leaders who’ve contacted us love their soldiers and sailors and serve because of their strong sense of patriotism and duty to country. But all say they’re considering quitting because they can’t ensure that their charges are properly equipped, trained and led.

Army Major Don Vandergriff’s upcoming career-killing book, “Spirit, Blood and Treasure: The American Cost of Battle in the 21st Century,” provides the answers to how to fix our broken military.

Hopefully, Mr. Rumsfeld will read it — or better yet, have the brave major brief him eyeball to eyeball.

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