Is Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for the lack of military leadership?

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As an Army 2nd Lt stationed at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam war, I still vividly recall the military brass scrambling to deal with one crisis after another while pretending that they were in control of a war that had already been largely lost. With Robert McNamara at the helm, competent military leaders were replaced by faceless  bureaucrats who were more adept at tabulating body counts than combat itself. Working at the Pentagon during that period was a surreal experience and one that has no doubt contributed to a somewhat cynical attitude toward our military leadership.

The emergence of Secretary Rumsfeld as spokesperson for the Iraq War reignited this cynicism as evidenced by his response to an young enlisted man requesting better protective gear: “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  Many consider this to be a public admission that Rumsfeld was far more interested in military tech toys and hardware than the troops that were fielding this equipment.  Human resources – our frontline troops – were seen as little more than just another military asset to be deployed in  a way to support the overall mission as defined by our military leadership. In other words, how much firepower or protective gear does a soldier need to accomplish the mission the military leadership has set forth for them? With this vague philosophy and “value judgement”, our military leadership can justify providing our young men and women with  “adequate” equipment rather than the “best” equipment to have a chance to survive combat.

No where is this more evident than the US Army’s blatant disregard for the safety of our frontline troops in its testing and procurement practices for body armor. In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a 110 page report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed before Fielding.” This devastating report proved conclusively what many had been saying for years: Army and DOD test procedures were flawed and overwhelmingly skewed in favor of contractors rather than our brave young men and women serving in combat areas. Read senior investigative reporter Roger Charles’ insightful analysis of the GAO report on body armor on the Soldiers for The Truth.

The Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training. In the past four-plus years SFTT’S active campaign has focused on ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of organizations like SFTT and concerned Americans, our military may soon get the leadership our troops deserve.

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Remembering P.F.C. Theartis Watts, Jr., (USMC)

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Theartis Watts was an 18-year old rifleman in my Marine infantry platoon in Viet Nam in 1968. He was a big-city kid from Philadelphia with an incredible knack for finding delicious Vietnamese fruits and vegetables to augment our C-rations, and he had one of the most brilliant smiles I’ve ever seen. When he smiled, which was often and in the most dire circumstances, his entire face lit up. Theartis won a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for conspicuous gallantry on April 13, 1968 in a nasty firefight a few kilometers east of Hue City. When my platoon sergeant and his radioman were killed, Theartis took over the radio and established comm with our company commander. Since my radioman had been wounded, and his radio rendered inoperable by enemy machine gun fire, Theartis’ action to secure an operable radio, while under heavy enemy fire was critical to making higher headquarters aware of the severity of our tactical situation.

 

After I transferred out of the platoon, Threartis remained behind. It was in this position on August 17, 1968, that he led a night-time patrol of Marines in an area south of Da Nang. When in their ambush position, Theartis detected a group of shadowy figures approaching. Under his Rules of Engagement, he was authorized to open fire without further action, but due to ongoing problems with RVN Popular Force (local militia loyal to Saigon) patrols wondering into Marine-only areas, Theartis challenged the approaching group. The response was immediate bursts of automatic weapons fire from the group, which proved to be a hard-core VC patrol.

 

Theartis was fatally wounded in the first bursts, but his Marine patrol was able to return fire from their concealed positions and secure the ambush site, forcing the VC patrol to flee. Theartis knew well that by issuing this challenge when he could have just opened fire on the unidentified figures he was taking upon himself the risk that by giving up the element of surprise he would both forfeit the Marines’ tactical advantage and put himself at mortal danger.

 

P.F.C. Theartis Watts gave his life in an attempt to insure that no friendly Vietnamese forces would suffer another “friendly fire” encounter as long as this 18-year old Marine was in charge.

 

[ See  here for Theartis Watts, Jr. on the Virtual Wall. ]

 

Contributor:  Roger Charles

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