Figures don't lie, but liars figure

By David H. Hackworth
web posted February 21, 2000

Texas cattleman Robert Shoaf must have thought the Russians were coming when artillery shells thumped down on his ranch one night last month. As his cattle property near King, Texas was pummeled with 11 rounds of artillery fire, the foundation of his house cracked and pictures shook off the walls. When the sun came up, his ranch looked like it had been through a night in Kosovo.
Since the Cold War is at halftime and the U.S. Army's Fort Hood is but eight miles away, it didn't take a Texas Ranger to I.D. the perps.

Fort Hood officials admit two 155mm artillery battalions were firing at the time that Shoaf and his family were bombarded. And "shrapnel consistent with 155mm high explosive ammunition" and fuses found on the ranch match the ammo the two artillery battalions were firing the night the incident occurred.

Fortunately, there were no human casualties nor did Shoaf lose any of his prized Texas longhorns to Fort Hood's not-so-friendly fire.

A very embarrassed U.S. Army has suspended all artillery practice at Fort Hood until it finds out what happened -- which won't be hard.

Mistakes like this shouldn't be made by combat-ready fighting units. Before these units slammed a live round in the breech, they had to be determined combat-ready. Leaders from firing section to battalion would've been certified to lock, load and pull that lanyard.

But I'll bet a few folks used the good old M-1 pencil and faked the guilty unit's readiness report. That's how too many commanders in our Army get by these days.

A captain in an artillery battalion at Fort Sill, Okla., recently resigned. He was directed to falsify the combat evaluation of a sister battalion whose performance was substandard. He said the outfit was so bad that "even in the motor pool, they posed a mortal threat to themselves and anyone else in the near vicinity."

He was relieved of the task, and the battalion commander submitted a good-to-go report himself. This very bright and gifted captain resigned not because he was asked to violate what he understood to be his ethical and professional responsibility and obligation, but because he didn't want to belong to an institution that would fake a combat-readiness report.

This sort of cheating leads to friendly fire casualties -- the biggest U.S. casualty-producer in the Gulf War -- and also explains why the Army is experiencing the highest quit-rate of Regular Army captains in its long and proud history.

Just before our botched war with Serbia, another brave officer sent me a copy of Germany-based V Corps' combat-readiness report. The Corps CG had the integrity to declare his unit not fit to fight.

I wrote a column about it. Praising the general's guts and grousing about how despite the millions of dollars the Corps had spent, it still wouldn't be fit to fight when called upon.

The general was called in front of Congress and testified that I was full of it. His mighty V Corps was ready to fight anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

Feeling like a fool, I went back to my source and asked what had gone down. He replied that the three-star was leaned on by a four-star and told to rewrite his report to reflect that his Corps was indeed combat-ready.

The general did. And all was well until -- like the artillery battalions at Fort Hood -- the Corps was asked to put iron on the target during the war with Serbia.

And did V Corps screw things up! Almost half a billion dollars went toward deploying a V Corps lash-up called Task Force Hawk that couldn't do anything right, beginning with the gunship crews not being combat-ready. It took this V Corps unit several months to accomplish what any second-string outfit could have done in a week.

If the Army sticks to its track record, the errant rounds will be blamed on bad ammunition or mean-spirited UFOs. And rancher Shoaf will be given a big chunk of taxpayer money to cover the damage and keep his mouth shut.

Oh, you ask, what happened to the V Corps general who changed his readiness report? He's a four-star now -- the same Congress that accepted his "reworked" report recently confirmed his promotion.

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.

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