Let’s say you own a small trucking company with 20 drivers, but six of your operators are dysfunctional in one way or another. In the real world – to stay in business – you’d have to sack ’em to survive.

But, apparently, the U.S. Army’s Ready Reserve Force doesn’t need to be concerned about the bottom line as long as we taxpayers have deep pockets. An estimated 60,000 of the 205,000 soldiers on their books can’t deploy to combat zones because of medical problems – and an alarming number of these nondeployables are either wacko, overweight or otherwise physically not up for the fighting game. The Army Reserve also has the largest numbers of females of any of the services – 25 percent – so there are more pregnancies, as well as other family problems. For instance, many serving moms aren’t able to muster sitters when they’re ordered to head toward the world’s hot spots.

Does the Army brass fire these non-producers, as would any prudent civilian boss, or just continue billing us for the approximately one-third of the Army Reserve that’s unfit to fight?

Listen up, and you’ll hear the sound of checks being cut.

That’s partly because the Army Reserve is built around numbers. Generals get stars and colonels eagles depending on the head count. “My command has 12,000 troops and is well above its quota,” brags a two-star who doesn’t give a rat’s behind whether or not 4,000 of his soldiers can pick up an M-16 rifle and close with the enemy.

“In the Reserve, manpower numbers are everything,” says a sergeant major who recently retired because of the rampant corruption. “It’s also why we have loads of deadbeats, people who may or may not show up for drill – resulting in lots of time spent on phone calls, counseling statements, etc., all of which produce nothing – and people you wish would stay home since they just get in the way. All too often the Reserve becomes ‘welfare in uniform’ for slugs. Although filling our ranks with them drives up a unit’s numbers, the truth is they drive down a unit’s effectiveness, and they drive away the better troops who get fed up with continually having to deal with the dregs.”

The war in Iraq has showcased both the Army’s strengths and its weaknesses – and it’s clear that the Reserve falls into the latter category. Now Congress needs to investigate why this important force flunked the course, using at least the same level of enthusiasm that motivated its examination of Bill Clinton’s maneuvers with Monica.

But more likely Congress will mimic the three brass monkeys and see, hear and smell no evil. Why? Pork. With an annual budget of almost $6 billion, the Reserves bring heavy dough to every state. Which means that carrying the 60,000 non-deployables costs you and me almost $2 billion a year for dead wood.

In 1989, Simon & Schuster published “About Face,” a book in which I took the Army to task. Before you could say George Patton, I was sitting in Secretary of the Army Mike Stone’s Pentagon office outlining my bitches. When I told him that the Army Reserve force and National Guard couldn’t hold off a Boy Scout troop on a summer day and needed major surgery, he replied with great prescience, “Hack, it would be easier to clean up the Catholic Church.”

That said, following the tried-and-true example of the Marine Corps – which gives us a great return for our tax dollar with the Marine Reserve – the Army Reserve and National Guard should be merged into one structure. The political generals and colonels should then be replaced by regular soldiers right down to the regimental level. The reservists’ primary tasks should be light infantry, military police, intelligence, medical, civil affairs and transport – they shouldn’t be saddled with complicated missions such as armor, since their limited training period – 38 days a year – makes their ability to be combat-ready impossible.

Only highly motivated, concerned citizens who understand that their national security is at risk and who are sick and tired of being ripped off can make this happen.

And if you don’t believe our Army Reserve system is broken, just ask any reservist below the grade of major for the facts.

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