April 4, 2002
By Shelia Samples
It's over. It was an affair that lasted for the entire 30
years I worked for the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the
"Field Artillery Center of the Free World." Unabashedly in
love, I thrilled to the power and thunder of artillery firepower
and was unshaken in my belief that on the battlefields of
tomorrow... and tomorrow - the sheer weight of the formidable
artillery would "scoot and shoot" over any enemy foolish enough
to challenge it.
And then, suddenly, it was gone - crushed by that same weight
- overcome by both the present and the future. It's over.
As it lumbers off into the distance, I mourn its passing,
but common sense tells me it's for the best.
Artillery rounds, to successfully hit their targets, require
a concerted, orchestrated effort on the part of many highly-trained
soldiers. Fire-direction folks have to compute info they get
from forward observers who hang out with infantry and armor
maneuver units so they can get a "bead" on enemy targets and
call for fire. Of course, the surveyers get the undivided
attention of everybody on the battlefield, because they have
to tell the howitzer guys exactly where they are and
position them so they're actually where they "think" they
This strange war in Afghanistan has made it painfully clear
that, terrain and mobility aside, there is no place and there
is no time on "tomorrow's battlefield" for heavy artillery.
Field commanders know that, Donald Rumsfeld and his hawkish
cold-war warriors know that, and former defense secretary
Dick Cheney knows that. So why is this administration throwing
away wads of money on obsolete weaponry? Is it because they're
awash in it, because they have fistfulls of the stuff to spare
- a $48 billion defense increase in this year's $396.1 billion
budget alone - a budget which has spiraled to $2.4 trillion
over 10 years?
This country's military budget is already many times larger
than all the "axis of evil" countries combined, and you can
throw in another axis or two for good measure. If our perceived
enemies compete with us with existing weaponry, we'll have
to loan them something with which to fight us.
Take the Crusader howitzer (please!) Why did I know if I
sloshed around in that dreary cold-war swamp, I'd come up
with United Defense Industries and Poppy and James Baker's
Carlyle Group? Why did I know when given the task of reshaping
the army - transforming it into a lighter, more deployable
force - Rummy would visualize Al Qaeda appearing on craggy
mountainous ridges in heavily armored vehicles? Why did I
know that the money passed on to defense contractors would
be spent for weapons that had little or nothing to do with
the actual threat? Am I a lucky guesser or what?
Journalist William Greider, in his investigative piece on
military economics, "Fortress America: The American Military
and the Consequences of Peace," says there's no better example
of military waste than the artillery dumping ground at Fort
Hood, Texas, the home of the famed and deadly Third Corps
"It's the Grand Canyon of armor power," Greider said. He
pointed out that Fort Hood boasts one of "the largest, deadliest
and costliest displays of firepower on earth. Row upon row
of tanks, trucks, missiles, helicopters and howitzers...hundreds,
thousands, tens of thousands - pointing... into infinity,"
Perhaps it's because George W. Bush remembers Poppy's success
with Fort Hood's legions of M-1 Abrams tanks which had a devastating
effect during Desert Storm against Saddam Hussain, the Bush
family nemisis. Perhaps, but someone should tell Junior that
in today's "drive-by shooting" style of air warfare, not only
tanks, but the 40-ton Crusader and its accompanying ammo vehicle
will just be in the way - will stub its toe on the battlefield.
Someone should tell him this is not his daddy's war.
I was there, at Fort Sill's "load 'em up and move 'em out"
phase of Desert Storm. To transport the Crusader and its allied
equipment to tomorrow's battlefield, we're not talking hours
or days. We're talking buses, trucks, trains and planes. We're
talking weeks of preparation and travel to get everything
in place in another part of the world. The San Francisco Examiner's
Conn Hallinan calls the Crusader a "white elephant," and says,
"You can't fit it in a plane, it breaks any bridge it crosses,
and you couldn't get it to Afghanistan on a dare."
So what's the deal? Why are we going ahead with production
of the Crusader? Is everybody at the top just plain stupid?
Yeah. Like a bunch of foxes. Oklahoma's representative, the
right good reverend Julius Caesar Watts, Jr., says the Crusader,
with its parts factory in the tiny town of Elgin in the heart
of Watts' district, is a really neat idea. It creates jobs
for lots of folks, and provides security and votes for lots
of others, not the least of whom is Mr. Watts himself... and
- oops! There's that pesky Carlyle Group again, with its $6,250
contribution to the good reverend.
The Crusader has jumped on and off the drawing board since
1994, and $1.8 billion has been spent on it - $475.2 million
this year alone. That's a lot of bucks to build an obsolete
weapon that nobody - even George W. Bush - wants. Immediately
upon being selected president, he claimed the Crusader was
too heavy and slow, not "lethal enough," and instructed Rummy
to "transform" the defense posture "from top to bottom." He
wanted Rummy to come up with a streamlined future-facin' fightin'
force. Or something.
For a while, things looked bad for the Crusader and the Carlyle
"home team." But when Bush lucked out on September 11 and
joyously proclaimed, "I hit the trifecta!" Carlyle was suddenly
back on track - back in the Crusader-building business. It
won't work. It will ultimately put scores of Americans in
harm's way. However, when you're also in the empire-building
business, if you consider these things at all, they can be
brushed aside as nothing more than "collateral damage."
I still lie awake at night, so close to the firing range
here in Oklahoma, and I thrill to the thunder of artillery
fire, as I have for so many years. But I know it's over. My
heart still tells me I am hearing the sounds of freedom, but
my head tells me those sounds are nothing more than echoes
of the past and - however magnificent - there's no place for
them on future battlefields.
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and former
Public Information Officer at Fort Sill.