The notion that some things never change has gone out the window in the 21st century. Everything changes. If you don't believe it, look what's happening in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and even in the Marines. According to a story in USAToday, basic training has gone to what amounts to social promotions in public schools. Everybody graduates. The new Armyis bending over backward to help sad-sack trainees. Instead of being thrown to the mercy of tough old sergeants, recruits whoarrive too soft and flabby for regular training get an easier course. The nervous and fearful get counseling to calm themdown. A Fort Jackson, S.C., colonel says virtually anyone can get through the eight to 12 weeks of boot camp. Even at ParrisIsland, home of the legendary and merciless Marine DI, rules have changed. "Drill instructors are there for inspiration,"explains a brigadier general, a definition that must perplex thousands of Corps veterans. Another staple of boot camp gonewith the wind is the tough leather, hard- sole combat boot. Recruits are specially fitted with running shoes. A Navy officer quoted by USA Today points out that few recruits have worn boots or even hard-sole shoes in civilian life. "If you want toknow why young people get shin splints and blisters in training all you have to do is look on the street or go to church onSunday," he says. "Everybody is wearing Nikes." The reasons the services have gone soft on boot camp is obvious. Thewashout rate under the old system was leaving the ranks unfilled. Females were dropping out at a rate of 29 percent. Thenews that this generation of recruits isn't up to the mental and physical rigors of their fathers and grandfathers ought to raise ared flag about lifestyles in these easy and unhappy times, especially as they apply to young folks who, after television, gettheir only exercise by cruising shopping malls. I'm not sure if we could have gotten an army in the field in time to head off Hitler and Tojo if World War II boot camps had included specially fitted running shoes and anxiety counseling. When theWorld War II draft began a lot of boys and young men were found to be in poor physical condition, but many more were likemy farm-boy neighbors. After getting up long before daylight to milk the cows and do chores, they were pleased to find theygot to sleep late in boot camp. By their standards. During the Korean War my job was running a basic training company atCamp Rucker. It was a lucky but undistinguished assignment. While my friends and schoolmates were off shooting andgetting shot at I spent the war "shoveling sand in Alabama," to paraphrase Gen. Patton. My company sent three cyclesthrough the 12-week course under the old rules. That's over 500 recruits. Only one had to be washed out, that for a mentalcondition. Some arrived fat and flabby. All were nervous and scared. I recall a young fellow from Pennsylvania caught witha jaw full of chewing tobacco during an after-breakfast inspection. His sergeant ordered him to swallow the tobacco and notget sick when he did. He swallowed and didn't get sick. In those 12 weeks miracles occurred. The fat ones got lean, the goof-offs turned proud. They all went home with new self-esteem. I hope kinder and gentler boot camps aren't shortchanging our young men and women in the service. The old style worked pretty well. Thousands of veterans call it the most valuableexperience of their lives. Despite tough old sergeants who showed no mercy, someone --- a fellow recruit, or sometimes oneof the tough old sergeants --- was there to prop up those having trouble. Every company had kids who needed help, andusually they got it. The little fellow from Virginia was an example. He wasn't much of a physical specimen, had troublestaying in step, and one night crawled the wrong way on the infiltration course. We could have washed him out, buteverybody pitched in and nudged him along, even though the Army didn't have special courses. At the end of basic training,he was given non-combat assignment in Alaska. He protested. He wanted to go to Korea, to prove something to himself andhis family, he said. I told him orders couldn't be changed. A week later, I was taking a Sunday afternoon nap when I heard aknock on my door. It was the kid from Virginia. "I hope you won't be angry," he said. " I got my orders changed to Korea." Iwas stunned. "How did you do that?" I asked. "I got Uncle Max to change them when I was home on furlough," he said."Who in the hell is Uncle Max?" I asked. "Uncle Maxwell Taylor," he said. Uncle Max was Gen. Maxwell Taylor, WorldWar II hero, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Under interrogation, he let me in on several other family secrets. One brother was a West Point graduate, another enrolled in the Naval Academy. His father commanded the Navy base at Norfolk. Hedidn't want to be the black sheep. I was glad we didn't wash him out.
Death of the Warrior
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 ActionEmployment Service? For the last two years, 35 percent of those it did recruit failed to complete their initial enlistment -- ahistoric high. Young officers are stampeding for the exit door. In 1988, 6.4 percent of Army captains did not re-enlist. In eachof the past three years, 10 percent left. Last year, only 35 percent of junior officers said they intend to make the Army acareer, compared to 52 percent at the beginning of the decade. To understand why, the Army recently surveyed 760 officersenrolled in its Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. In the words of one instructor, "Virtually everyofficer was negative." Lack of confidence in the brass was reflected in the comment, "Senior leaders will throw subordinatesunder 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 thesurvey forms commented: "Because of gender integration and homosexuals in the military, there is a feeling that being asoldier is less macho, less soldierly. ... A lot of it has to do with the perception, right or wrong, that the Army has turned intoa "politically correct social organization." Alas, the perception is correct. West Point, once the temple of the warrior ethic,