Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

On Native Ground

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

Printable version of this story

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- There are two groups of people who "support the troops" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are the people who stick the now-ubitquitous ribbon magnets on their SUVs and talk about backing our soldiers while staying a safe distance away from the fight.

And then there are the people who work to make sure that our soldiers are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led - people unafraid to tell the truth, no matter who gets upset about it.

We lost a great man in the latter group with the death of Col. David Hackworth, a champion of the common soldier who died of cancer at age 74 on May 4.

Hackworth was a man who could be mentioned in the same breath as Alvin York and Audie Murphy, except that Hackworth's battlefield exploits took place in dozens of battles in two wars. He was put in for the Medal of Honor three times. In seven years of combat in Korea and Vietnam, he won the Army's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, twice, along with 10 Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.

In short, he was a warrior of the first order. When he spoke out on shoddy training and equipment in his weekly "Defending America" columns, he had credibility gained from successfully leading units into combat.

When he attacked the "ticket punching" mentality of officers who put career advancement ahead of soldiering, he spoke from the hard personal experience of watching the Army's leadership disintegrate into careerism. In Hackworth's world, there were two types of people - "studs" and "perfumed princes." A stud was someone who knew his job and did it well, someone who was fearless, resourceful and utterly reliable when things got tough. Perfumed princes was Hackworth's epithet for officers who had their eyes on becoming generals and rarely got their hands dirty doing actual soldiering.

When he questioned the strategy of the Bush administration's operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the criticism was coming from a man who literally wrote the books ("The Vietnam Primer" and "Steel My Soldiers Hearts") on guerrilla warfare. In a time when billions of dollars are being shoveled into buying weapons that are unneeded and unworkable on a battlefield, Hackworth knew - again, from years in combat experience - that every battle from Lexington and Concord to the Sunni Triangle is won or lost by the man with the rifle - the infantryman.

That was why, of all the awards bestowed upon Hackworth, he was proudest of his Combat Infantryman Badge. There's only one way to get one: serve in a front-line infantry unit for 90 days under fire and survive.

Hackworth knew the key to surviving in combat was good training. He learned the trade from the World War II sergeants who fought across Europe and stayed in the Army after the war was won. These were the toughest of the tough and they passed on what they had learned to the next generation of soldiers.

Their credo was simple - the harder you trained for combat, the less likely you were to die when the bullets were real. Good, hard training, combined with total discipline and accountability, produced skilled, fearless soldiers.

In the words of Steve Prazenka, the platoon sergeant who trained Hackworth: "If you learn it right, you'll do it right the rest of your life. If you learn it wrong, you'll do it wrong and spend the rest of your life trying to learn to do it right."

Hackworth readily embraced this, and carried it with him for the rest of his career. No unit Hackworth commanded was ever lacking in training and discipline and he did whatever it took to get his troops ready to fight.

Good training is the foundation of good leadership. The rest can be found in the principles of another man who deeply influenced Hackworth, Col. Glover Johns. Hackworth loved to quote Johns' basic philosophy of soldiering:

  • Strive to do small things well.
  • Be a doer and a self-starter - aggressiveness and initiative are two most admired qualities in a leader - but you must also put your feet up and think.
  • Strive through self-improvement through constant self-evaluation.
  • Never be satisfied. Ask of any project, "How can it be done better?"
  • Don't overinspect and oversupervise. Allow your leaders to make mistakes in training, so they can profit from the errors and not make them in combat.
  • Keep the troops informed; telling them "what, how, and why" builds their confidence.
  • The harder the training, the more troops will brag.
  • Enthusiasm, fairness, and moral and physical courage - four of the most important aspects of leadership.
  • Showmanship - a vital technique of leadership.
  • The ability to speak and write well - two essential tools of leadership.
  • There is a salient difference between profanity and obscenity; while a leader employs profanity (tempered with discretion), he never uses obscenities.
  • Have consideration for others.
  • Yelling detracts from your dignity; take men aside to counsel them.
  • Understand and use judgment; know when to stop fighting for something you believe is right. Discuss and argue your point of view until a decision is made, and then support the decision wholeheartedly.
  • Stay ahead of your boss.

These are the traits of good leaders in any field. Sadly, the people who live up to them are few and far between. But when you find a person who has these qualities, you will follow them gladly and with pride.

Few things got Hackworth madder than seeing grunts get the short end of the stick. That is why he devoted his energies in the last two decades of his life to making sure soldiers got what they needed and the phonies who sent them off on dubious missions were called out and held accountable.

Hackworth will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on May 31. His legacy is the group "Soldiers For The Truth," (www.sftt.org), a group devoted to military reform that has become the main conduit for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to tell people back home the real story of what's happening at the front. His 1989 autobiography, "About Face," will be read for years to come by all who are seeking the nuts and bolts of leadership. And most of all, his example of speaking out in favor of common sense when it comes to defending the nation will be remembered by all who know the difference between saying you support the troops and actually doing so.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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