Columnist and former soldier
David H. Hackworth is the author of The Price
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The 10th Mountain Division sure isn't the same tough outfit I saw in Northern Italy at the end of World War II or the squared-away unit I spent time with during the bad days in Somalia in 1991 or the liberation of Haiti in 1994.
The 10th troopers still wear the Mountain tab -- indicating they're mountain-trained -- which the men of the division sported so proudly in Italy when they were a superbly conditioned outfit fighting on one of the hardest U.S. battlefields of World War II.
"We don't do mountains anymore," a division sergeant told me -- which the out-of-shape battalions that fought during Op Anaconda proved in spades.
"We saved their butts during Anaconda with close air support while they stumbled around with 100-pound rucks, wheezing from the altitude, sucking up guerrilla mortar fire like magnets," says a Special Forces warrior. "No wonder the Brit Marines were sent in. And then the 10th returns home, gets a parade and 170 medals for coming under mortar attack?"
"Give me one (Special Forces) 'A' Team, and I could destroy a whole damned infantry battalion in this sorry division with one arm tied behind my back," says a division captain who served serious enlisted time in Army Special Forces. "The 10th Mountain was a great unit back when, but it's been slowly destroyed over the years by leaders who are more concerned about haircuts than hard training."
"This is my first experience with a light-infantry division," says a division captain. "I'm in awe at how poorly trained these troops are. In my two years here, we haven't done any mountain training even though there are world-class training areas right nearby in Vermont. We don't go out in the winter except to do PT, and in the summer the National Guard uses most of our training areas. Our big deal is to go out twice a year for two weeks and train up for the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk (Louisiana). All our training is geared toward passing the test there. No deviations, no special situations, just the same old canned stuff we always do. It's like having a copy of the exam and just memorizing that."
"After a recent battalion 5-mile run," according to a 10th soldier, "seventy-five soldiers fell out -- including my 1st Sergeant." He added that his unit has a history of substance abuse and AWOL problems and that "morale is in the toilet" because heavy doses of political correctness and peacekeeping have dulled the division's combat readiness. "We've done peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai until we're blue in the face. This combined with operations in Afghanistan has left only 30 percent of the division at Fort Drum (New York)."
Another problem is that junior leaders are promoted too fast. "The Army says they're short junior NCOs," reports an old vet. "They're promoting when eligible, not when ready, and now we have the unqualified leading the untrained."
"After 9/11 the top brass were going nuts trying to figure a way to get us into Afghanistan," says a division major. "We finally sent one reinforced infantry battalion. A brigade commander told me, 'This is all about getting our boys in the game.' Meaning this was a way to get that critical combat efficiency report and as many glory medals and goodies as the careerists could grab."
Before their boots hit the ground in Central Asia, this lead battalion was joined by the "entire division staff and one entire brigade staff," a senior sergeant says. "Never before have so few been so supervised by so many. The ratio of shooters to staffers was amazing, and when they came back most were wearing combat patches and badges."
When candidate George W. Bush was running for the presidency, he publicly stated that the 10th was not combat-ready. The kinder and gentler folks who were then running and ruining our armed forces ate him alive.
"There's a series of issues that have caused this division to hit the skids," says a division leader. "Many of these problems are infecting the entire Army, not just the 10th. There are great guys here in the trenches that are doing the right thing. All they need is some old-fashioned senior leadership."