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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 /11 Sivan, 5760

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Death of warrior culture dooms military -- TOM CRUISE, move over. The military has its own mission impossible -- recruiting and keeping key personnel.

After falling 7,000 short of its recruitment goal last year (despite dangling lavish sign-up bonuses), the Army is now offering to help enlistees find civilian jobs when their tour of duty ends. The New Action Employment Service?

For the last two years, 35 percent of those it did recruit failed to complete their initial enlistment -- a historic high.

Young officers are stampeding for the exit door. In 1988, 6.4 percent of Army captains did not re-enlist. In each of the past three years, 10 percent left. Last year, only 35 percent of junior officers said they intend to make the Army a career, compared to 52 percent at the beginning of the decade.

To understand why, the Army recently surveyed 760 officers enrolled in its Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. In the words of one instructor, "Virtually every officer was negative."

Lack of confidence in the brass was reflected in the comment, "Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their career."

Junior officers dislike the shift to peacekeeping operations -- serving as nannies to squabbling Third World clans.

But this is part of a more pervasive problem. An instructor who saw the survey forms commented: "Because of gender integration and homosexuals in the military, there is a feeling that being a soldier is less macho, less soldierly. ... A lot of it has to do with the perception, right or wrong, that the Army has turned into a politically correct social organization."

Alas, the perception is correct. West Point, once the temple of the warrior ethic, now looks increasingly like a sensitivity training session. In April, a luncheon talk by a World War II combat veteran was canceled because some cadets were offended by the vet's earlier objections to women in combat.

In 1997, Col. James Hallums, a much-decorated Vietnam veteran, was relieved of his position as head of the academy's leadership program for criticizing the touchy-feely ethos reigning among faculty. Women complained that Hallums stressed his combat experience in a way that made them feel excluded.

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The Army doesn't want anyone to feel excluded ("Are you comfortable with firing that mortar?"), as Stephanie Gutmann's new book, The Kinder, Gentler Military elucidates.

Gutmann, who spent two years writing her book, visited bases in seven states, observed training and talked to personnel (mostly off the record). "Degrading" terms like wus are out. Obstacle courses have become "confidence courses." Gutmann writes recruits "no longer do a required number of push-ups to a count, the drill sergeant exercises along with them as a sort of role model and they drop out when they feel like it."

In the book, a colonel rationalizes easier physical tests for women as "equal points for equal effort." Before she does a rope-swing, a timid recruit asks her drill instructor, "Will you catch me?" More capable men and women wonder if they're in basic training or on the jungle cruise at Disney World.

Call it the draft-dodger's revenge. Clinton has pushed an emasculated military with a vengeance, removing exemptions for women from 250,000 close-to-combat positions. He's turned the military over to bureaucrats who despise everything it once represented. Recall former Assistant Army Secretary Sara E. Lister's sneering comment that the Marines were "extremists."

The armed services will never be able to meet the economic incentives of the private sector. Once, they compensated with psychic rewards. Foremost among these was the feeling, assiduously cultivated in the ranks, that soldiers were doing something tough and dangerous of which few were capable. Soldiers took pride in surviving a harrowing boot-camp experience. Career men cherished tour-of-duty ribbons and field decorations. Male-bonding and unit-cohesion were more than sociologic jargon.

Now, the warrior culture is dying. Feminists, sensitivity trainers, those who mistake the military for an equal opportunity employer and generals who'll tell politicians anything to earn their next star are tugging on the life supports.

National security will be the ultimate casualty. Try fighting the next war with troops who are used to calling a "time-out" when they're stressed.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate