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Because generals develop the strategy and set the policy, and noncoms – noncommissioned officers – make it all happen, the strength of any outfit is its noncoms, the sergeants and the chiefs. Generals command and noncoms lead the troops down at the bottom, where victories are forged in blood. Without good noncoms – regardless of the superiority of generals, weapons and hardware – an army will lose.

I communicate weekly with at least a thousand sergeants and chiefs. Most are no-nonsense hardcore men and women who don’t give a rat’s rear end about high promotions or political correctness, but who care passionately about their troops. They know the truth regarding life and death because it’s their grunts who pay the body-bag price when the bullets sing.

Today’s noncoms have more than a basic load of bitches: too many careerist officers who serve only themselves and don’t look after their troops; the prevailing system of risk aversion, which adulterates the needed rigorous training that prepares soldiers to survive and win on the battlefield; and the malignant policy of political correctness, which puts opportunities for minorities and women and consideration-for-others conditioning over the sharp combat edge. But minus the Marine Corps, it’s the pathetically slack standards that now hold sway in basic training that take the booby prize.

The bottom line is that today’s basic training simply doesn’t instill the required discipline, values and fundamentals of the soldiering trade. “The other day, one of my troublemaker privates exploded, threw her rifle down and yelled she was ‘tired of all the bull—-,’” a drill sergeant says. “I thought, well, she just dug her own grave. My CO, who is big on low attrition, said, ‘She was just upset. You should be more understanding.’ Basic training today is all about numbers – quantity, not quality.”

An Army platoon sergeant from a fighting unit that might soon be slugging it out in Iraq says: “The kids I’m getting fresh out of initial training suck. I basically baby-sit, but I could turn things around if the PC police would get real instead of mollycoddling. I do what I can with what I have because after all the brass and politicians get done screwing everything up, I still have to take what I have here to war and bring as many home as I can.”

A Navy chief says: “New kids fresh out of boot are a very mixed bag and are definitely a reflection of the MTV generation. Too many are out of shape, untrained and about as disciplined and motivated as reform-school grads.”

An Army private who just finished basic training says: “I unfortunately was sent to Camp Snoopy, aka Fort Jackson, S.C. (See my website – www.hackworth.com – for “Porcelain Soldiers,” a chilling, 6,000-word piece my wife and I wrote last year after spending a week at “Fort Snoopy”), because my chosen MOS is helicopter mechanic. I was shocked. The whole problem with gender-neutral training is that it’s anything but neutral. Everyone’s concentrating on the opposite sex, rather than the task at hand. First off, I’m there four days and a guy in the next sack is telling me about having sex in the cleaning closet twice a day. And the actual training itself? A joke. Females are pampered and sweet-talked through the road-marches, and the males are forced to slow down to accommodate them. I’m embarrassed to tell my peers I took basic at Fort Jackson. Even as a mechanic I expected to be as well-trained in combat tactics as in my specialty. I would be a liability on any battlefield.”

The noncoms are dead-right to worry about today’s grunts. Only if they are trained as hard as a tank’s armor plate will the odds of surviving the crucible of combat tip in their favor.

Several weeks ago, I wrote in this space that our troops’ nuclear, biological and chemical training and equipment wouldn’t hack it in Iraq. And now – answered prayers – my congressman, Christopher Shays, is holding the Pentagon’s feet to the fire.

But in order to survive the long war in which we’re now engaged, we desperately need more of the same kind of congressional attention to all the Fort Snoopys out there producing candidates fit only for wheelchairs or the widow-maker. That’s what I want for Christmas.

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