US Military Morale Sinks To New
By James Harder <>

The Clinton/Gore administration's policy of forcing political correctness on the military is causing many of the best to leave and creating a weak, feminized 'fighting' force.
A military man who has to tell his wife and family that he has been fired from the service is not likely to forget the experience. But having to tell them that he has been selected out by a review board because his unit had too many white males to suit the Pentagon's affirmative-action program made Frank Christian furious after a Selective Early Retirement Board (SERB) decided in July 1992 that his services - and those of 1,031 other lieutenant colonels who are white males - no longer were required by the U.S. Army. "All of us were hurt and felt something was wrong, either with us or the way this was done," Christian tells Insight. Now the U.S. Claims Court has agreed.
Also in 1992, a board at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, selected 610 male colonels for early retirement. No female colonels were selected out. A class-action lawsuit followed, with 83 of the colonels contending that the use of affirmative-action policies in their dismissals violated their right to equal protection. Their case was settled by the government out of court for $10 million.
A similar class-action lawsuit, Berkley vs. U.S., was filed in 1998 to protect the rights of 1,595 other officers. It is still before the courts.
Christian says that the practice of getting rid of white males so that the ratio of female and minority groups will meet politically correct quotas is not the only reason for falling morale. "We're also overworking the forces and giving them inappropriate roles. The purpose of the armed forces is to win wars," he tells Insight.
Joseph Mehrten Jr., a graduate of West Point, draws on his personal experience in a way that suggests where it all has gone wrong. Mehrten complains about what he regards as a failure of loyalty by the higher command and says this is reflected not only in "the general frustrations of being unable to keep talented people, but also in not having the necessary tools to do our jobs." He fulfilled his five-year commitment to the Army after graduation and then moved as a captain into a reserve unit - not because he didn't want to serve his country but, to the contrary, because of the environment in which he was expected to serve.
"You spend all your time trying to work with your broken equipment," says Mehrten, "rather than training the skills that you may need to fight and win a war. That sort of frustration is causing the talented senior and junior NCOs [noncommissioned officers] to get out, which compresses things, so you have inexperienced, untrained people being asked to serve beyond their capabilities."
The current retention rate for West Pointers such as Mehrten shows a dramatic drop from the levels experienced under President Reagan during the early 1980s. But according to Scott Snook of the Office of Policy, Planning and Analysis at West Point, "If you want to look at retention rates and compare them from one year to another, you need to put them into context of what was going on in the world. In general, the West Point retention rates track along with what the Army's trying to do," says Snook, citing recent drawdowns within the military.
The declining retention rate has raised alarm at the Pentagon. The Army announced in late October that it would begin new initiatives designed to retain the appropriate number of company-grade officers. The most recent reports show that of its 15,000 captains the Army has lost 1,725 instead of the expected 1,425.
"It's something the Army's concerned about," says Martha Rudd, a spokeswoman with Army public affairs, who nonetheless insists the Army is taking steps to contain its losses. For example, it has announced a string of new incentives to encourage officers to remain in the service, including the options of earning a master's degree or choice of locations for deployment.
But none of that addresses more basic complaints of many young officers, who say issues such as health care and retirement funds need to be addressed before the necessary numbers of first-rate men and women will be willing to invest their lives in an internationalized military force that some complain is being used for nation-building, social-worker projects and mob control in troubled backwater countries.
However, it is the growing mandate for the military to be politically correct that Mehrten says is the chief cause of declining morale and unreadiness. He says personnel are being forced to attend classes to make them sensitive and caring in place of field training, and he thinks that is likely to get some good people killed.
"By the time we got down to training days, we had maybe one day every other month when I could actually train my platoon on what I knew they needed to know," Mehrten says with a cadence that is all military. And such policies are leading to increasing frustration among servicemen. That, in part, is why Christian decided to fight a legal battle with the military over its affirmative-action practices.
When the kind of retirement boards that led to Christian's early dismissal were initiated in 1989, they were given a clear mandate to promote affirmative action: Don't retire women or minorities at a rate that could lead to a decline in the politically correct ratios. In other words, say critics, merit is less important than social work. With the Cold War ending, the retirement boards were set up to pare down the number of career officers at a time when the military had more war-fighting personnel than the politicians were willing to employ. In the case of Christian, who was in the Army, the boards were given goals and quotas to follow when deciding who to force into early retirement.
It was the nature of these goals and quotas that led Christian to file a class-action lawsuit against the United States in 1997 for discrimination against white male officers - a scenario commonly referred to as reverse discrimination. His lawsuit followed hard on confirming revelations in an inspector-general's report, a year of filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) forms and getting a law degree to help him navigate the legal system. Christian found he was one of thousands of servicemen forced into retirement by these boards based on affirmative-action guidelines.
Affirmative-action programs have been a fact of life in the military since the late forties, but never to the extent perpetrated by the Clinton/Gore administration. And many women and members of minority groups who have been retained and promoted because of the SERBs aren't fond of having received rewards based on preferences unrelated to their merit as officers.
Christopher Sterbenz, an attorney from Vienna, Va., has represented many servicemen over the years and has heard their stories of the demoralizing effects of recent affirmative-action programs. "What it really did was irk a lot of the combat-arms people who if we are going to fight a war are the ones who are going to live or die and help decide whether the war's going to be won. If they're not being promoted because they don't fit the right political category, it gets a lot of people upset," says Sterbenz.
A former officer in the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG), Sterbenz loves the Army but says its history on affirmative action has played a big role in the continuing decline of morale. "From a professional perspective, it would breed discontent if you are going to do anything other than promote based on who's the best," Sterbenz tells Insight. And the resultant decline in morale has played a big part in the overall drop in military readiness, says Frank Gaffney, a senior Defense Department official under President Reagan who now is president of the Center for Security Policy. Gaffney says low pay, unreasonable expectations and lack of recognition also have done severe harm to the readiness of U.S. fighting forces.
The Clinton/Gore response to criticism has been to rephrase the orders given to the boards. With lawsuits mounting against the affirmative-action programs, for instance, the Pentagon decided in 1999 to change the language used in advising SERBs about affirmative-action practices. Sterbenz says Army officials now use language that is more race neutral and have done away with explicit statements that gave minorities special preference - not that the Pentagon has dropped its affirmative-action agenda, however.
According to Sterbenz, the Army now is stacking promotion and selection boards with minorities and women to get the benefit of mirror discrimination of the sort against which minorities and women long complained.
Christian's concern was about loss of opportunity for career advancement in the military based on demonstrated merit. While he was extremely disappointed with the actions that led to his forced retirement, he is an advocate of equal opportunity in the Army. He agrees with the opening observation of Chief Judge of the U.S. Claims Court Loren A. Smith's opinion in this lawsuit: "This case, and the constitutional claim raised in this case, is not about race. The court is called to examine whether [this] . upholds the promise of justice for individuals of all races."
In June, eight years after being forced to retire from the military, Christian finally got the answer he had been waiting for when Judge Smith ruled that his forced retirement on the ground that he was a white male was unconstitutional. A hearing on Jan. 18, 2000, will decide how many of the white male officers retired along with Christian will be able to sign onto the suit.
Satisfying as this victory was to Christian, it has done little to reduce the institutionalized political correctness that has undermined the general morale of the military, a condition Elaine Donnelly, president of Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Mich., also says is hurting military readiness.
"You do have to have trust in leadership and you have to have high standards. You have to have a sense that what you're doing is special and extraordinary and that merit matters. You take all that away and it becomes just another job and the disadvantages outweigh the advantages," says Donnelly.
As an active observer of the military, Donnelly remains concerned about continuing affirmative-action programs and their potential to destroy morale. Drawing on recent developments within the Navy, Donnelly cites comments by Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who wants desperately to put women on submarines, as typical of the problem. Donnelly tells Insight that such feminization of fighting forces is stripping away morale. While she sees the efforts of Danzig and others as in keeping with the affirmative-action philosophy of the commander in chief, she says the future morale of U.S. fighting forces will continue to be decided at the White House.
The week before the election, Donnelly put it this way: "I think a lot of that pressure will abate if Bush is elected; if Gore is elected I think it will get much worse."
The Reality as Seen Through the Eyes of a Fighting Man
The following letter, apparently written by a young Army officer, has been circulating on the Internet. It is based on a report of an investigation of the conduct of men of the 82nd Airborne Division conducted in Kosovo last January and led by Col. John W. Morgan III.
As a result of the investigation, five enlisted men received field-grade nonjudicial punishments. One officer was disciplined under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and three officers were given General Officer Memoranda of Reprimand. However, in Morgan's report, reviewed by Insight, he recommends that Lt. John Serafini be court-martialed. The facts in the following letter are reported through the eyes of a soldier deeply troubled about the state of the U.S. military, but they line up with the details in Morgan's report.
Insight attempted to speak with Serafini at his brigade headquarters in North Carolina but he refused comment. The letter is credited on the Web to Bob Lonsberry, but Army public affairs says it has no idea who Lonsberry is or whether it is a fictitious name. The report on which it is based, however, is real.
When the bosses screw up, somebody has to be hung out to dry. There is always a scapegoat. This time there are two. Two officers whose careers will be ruined and an entire division which will get a black eye. All because the bosses screwed up with an insane peacekeeping philosophy and because the nation's political leadership is incapable of comprehending what an army is for.
Here's what I'm talking about.
On Monday the chief of staff of the Army released a report which talked about supposed "excesses" committed by American peacekeepers in Kosovo. The secretary of defense, William Cohen, immediately endorsed the report and called for more training or some such nonsense. It seems that members of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed in Kosovo, acted like soldiers, and that has scandalized the secretary and every flag officer who feels obligated to kiss his fanny.
Specifically, the problem was the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. It is a unit commanded in Kosovo by a Lt. Col. Michael Ellerbe. Ellerbe and his troopers were sent in to keep the Albanians from killing the Serbs. His orders were to "identify and neutralize" the bad guys. Now, in the language of Washington, "identify and neutralize" apparently means to find the killers and, while displaying cultural and political sensitivity, offer them a fruit basket and a pamphlet.
But Ellerbe doesn't live in Washington. He lives in Fort Bragg [N.C.], where "identify and neutralize" usually involves blowing things up and sending various bad guys to meet Jesus. Fortunately for the Albanians, Ellerbe's battalion seems to have accomplished most of its neutralizing via a stern talking to. Which is where John Serafini comes in.
He was a lieutenant with Alpha Company of the 3rd Battalion. That means he's a young fire-eater just a couple of years out of college and in command of a platoon of paratroopers in a combat zone. The secretary of defense wants him court-martialed.
His offense?
Well, brace yourself. He, an infantry officer, allegedly "communicated a threat." Something along the lines of: Don't screw with me or you're going to have a very bad day.
Which, if you think about it, seems almost natural for a guy packing an M16. Some people think the entire purpose of an army is to "communicate threat."
Anyway, Lt. Serafini and his men had caught a bad guy and they were interrogating him. That's what soldiers do. And it seems that this Albanian guy didn't know that his role in this little drama was to say, "Yes, sir," over and over again.
Apparently GI Joe was asking this ragamuffin where his killer pals were and no answers were forthcoming. So Serafini remembers that stuff he learned about psychological warfare and decides to try some of it. He raises an unloaded gun to the head of Mr. Tight Lip the Albanian and says something to the effect that now would really be a good time to start talking. And, whoda thunk it, the guy starts blabbing. And the mission was accomplished.
Score that a win - unless you're some pansy at the Pentagon intent on castrating Uncle Sam's Army. If that's you, you see this as "excessive" and "conduct unbecoming an officer." Which is really screwed, because such a culture of military weakness would have rejected virtually every successful combat leader this nation has ever had. Sadly, such a culture of military weakness is ensuring that America's future combat leaders will be spineless sycophants incapable of doing anything but covering their backsides.
So Lt. Serafini and Col. Ellerbe are twisting in the wind, hung out to dry, two airborne soldiers "wearing the proudest patch in the Army" torpedoed by the brass for doing their jobs like the warriors their country asked them to be. And there was one other thing that bothered the milquetoasts back at HQ.
They made special reference to it in their report and identified it as a sign of what was wrong with the 3rd Battalion and, indeed, all of the 82nd Airbornes. It was the motto of Alpha Company: "Shoot 'em in the face."
Apparently that motto - which may date back to D-Day - doesn't fit in today's politically correct Army. The notion of shooting the enemies of America in the face is too gruesome and insensitive for the lip-biter in chief.
Which is pretty weird, if you think about it, because isn't killing people kind of what we train soldiers to do? I mean, the Army is not a social-welfare agency, it's not really just some giant college fund. It's a unique bunch of people with a very unique job using overwhelming deadly force to assert and protect the interests of the United States of America.
These are people who must stand ready day in and day out to administer and face death on the orders of fat, impotent men in Washington. It takes a certain kind of mind-set to do that. A motto like "Shoot'em in the face" helps establish and bolster that mind-set.
Besides, it's not all cheerleading. It's good soldiering. When you're engaging an enemy wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet, isn't a face shot a tactical necessity? And shouldn't the chief of staff of the Army know that? And shouldn't America and its civilian leadership realize that being a soldier is a dirty business? Don't the morons in Washington know that soldiers aren't cops? Don't they know that whacking these two officers like this will kill the morale of countless other troopers?
Don't they know that in recent years the pride has gone out of the military, stolen from it by spineless bureaucrats and the open contempt of a civilian leadership which actively avoided military service itself? I'm sorry this happened to Lt. Serafini and Col. Ellerbe, and I hope somehow they can hear these words. Not just from me, but from all of America. And not just to them, but to all of their comrades:
"Well done. We're proud of you, and grateful."
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