June 9-10, 2002
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"All The Way, General"

Troops raising flag in AfghanistanI'm pretty impressed with the new general for combat operations in Afghanistan, Lt.General Dan McNeill. And, to be honest, I was prepared not to like him, as he is apparently the 'saluting" general.

As a rule, I don't even like generals, saying that more"tongue in cheek" than anything. But the fact of the matter is that most wouldn't be where they are if they weren't political. It doesn't mean they can't lead but more likely than not, they paid the political gods somewhere along the way.

I like what he has to say about his own personal odyssey that brings him to this point-- he has experience in Vietnam, in Panama, etc.; not bad. And, he has some decided views about why discipline is important. General McNeill's reasoning for instituting saluting makes fair sense on the surface.

On Vietnam, he says, "A lot of good Americans were working hard for their country in Vietnam. It was not the same thing that was being reported in the press while I was there." I agree. He goes on to say something like, the Army fell into the malaise of drug and alcohol abuse demoralizing the soldier.

To me, The perception of the Vietnam War and its outcome had less to do with poor morale of the soldier than with stupidity on the part of leadership. Many fine young troopers crashed and burned after Vietnam and the military should be ashamed.

McNeill seems to intimate that what he is doing now is a proactive move to stem a potential Post-Afghanistan as we had a Post-Vietnam-- not the same, not even close as I see it. Vietnam was an entirely different time and the United States, for one thing, views the military quite differently today. Soldiers, for one thing, after 9-11, are appreciated and respected.

It is true that we did see the military decline in every way after Vietnam and much of it was the Pentagon's "head up the proverbial posterior" approach to things-- the military and civilian leadership, acted stupidly and bereft of courage.

One unforgivable act was to take combat soldiers from Vietnam who had put themselves out there for their country and often summarily fire them, i. e., helicopter pilots. I was at Fort Bliss, Texas at that time and witnessed it first hand. Scores of helicopter pilots, many, having shed their life's blood for the country, back and forth to Vietnam--one, two, three times. It made no difference, no longer needed, gone. They had served their purpose and consequently, they were fish wrap-throw them out.

Equally as bad, the military often sent those who had a few months on their enlistment to regular assignments like Germany. It was a prescription for disaster. Here were all these soldiers coming from combat where every single day, they were fighting. Suddenly, they found themselves in a peacetime environment with an Army that wanted them to have pressed uniforms, spit shined boots, and saluting. Give me a break! And, to make it worse, there was probably some general at the time who thought it was going to help morale.

The news flash for General McNeill is that he is commanding different types of troops in Afghanistan and it does make a difference. And, I hope he gets it. Special Ops troops, meaning, Special Forces types, by in large are seasoned, more mature and really rely on their unconventionality for who they are. They are mission-oriented, get the job done and they have a way to do it.

Then, he has conventional troops, the 101st Airborne Division, which really isn't airborne; and, this makes a difference in itself. I constantly explain this to people. Traditionally, the 101st was a paratrooper unit, meaning jumping out of airplanes, but now they are a "leg" outfit, merely thrown in there with the 82nd, making up the 18th Airborne Corp. The 101st has not been airborne since 1968 in Vietnam.

Many of these young 101st airborne troops may need the discipline and the tradition of the military and I surely understand this. It is a juggling act and so balance is very important in a combat situation.

Good luck, General McNeill, just be smart.

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