Colonel David Hackworth

From newsroom interviews and his weekly "Defending America" syndicated column, the world was exposed to Colonel David Hackworth, the aggressive commentator. This was an extension of his hard-hitting fighting style refined in his war years in Korea and Vietnam. Away from the newsroom and fields of combat, "Hack" as he was affectionately called, was a very caring and charismatic individual, deeply loyal to his friends. As a protégé, I have lost track of everything I learned from the iconic warrior and a very special friend.

We started working together after I had administratively recovered from the retaliation against my whistle-blowing on corruption embedded deep within U.S. Army Cadet Command. My continuing fight to clean up a leadership deficit throughout the Army was going nowhere. Meanwhile, military icon Hackworth was addressing the same problems. Hack was making a positive impact. I reached out to Hack and he immediately reached back.

It was during this time in May of 1996 that Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Boorda, committed suicide. The blame was placed on Hack, who as a reporter for Newsweek magazine, had raised the legitimacy question of Boorda once wearing unauthorized valor devices on his Vietnam medals. Many other more serious factors weighed on Boorda's mind that drove him to a terrible resolve. Blaming Hackworth for pushing Boorda over the edge was nothing more than a smoke screen to keep attention away from the real problems that had consumed both the Navy and Admiral Boorda. These problems included scandals within the Navy, a Navy Times article hostile to Boorda published two weeks earlier, and a problematic personal situation in his life.

Much of the media, especially the editor of Newsweek magazine in an attempt to deflect attention away from the publication, turned against Hack. My engaging Newsweek editor Maynard Parker about the fallacy of his logic meant a lot to Hack. Later referring to the editor, Hack told me, "I saved Maynard's life in Vietnam and that was his way of paying off the debt."

While the dust was still settling, Hack and I were working together on his book tour for Hazardous Duty. It was our first time working together, face-to-face, and resulted in my penning the op-ed titled "Twentieth Century Soldier."

The promotion ceremony mentioned in the op-ed was mine, to lieutenant colonel, hosted by Marine Corps friends of mine who were hosting a lecture by Hack. I had refused to allow anyone else to place the rank on my shoulders as "Only Hackworth has gone through more retaliation than I did for standing up for the truth." In 1971, as one of the most combat successful commanders in Vietnam, Hack spoke out against the failed American strategy.

A year after Boorda's death CBS News host Dan Rather and reporter David Martin attacked Hack for the medals he claimed to have earned, I developed a second op-ed, titled "No Question of Honor." Both op-eds were published on Hack's web site and other venues. As it turned out, a subsequent audit of awards conducted by Army Records determined any mistakes made were not Hack's doing, but rather the Army's. One discrepancy noted that Hack claimed nine silver stars when he was authorized ten.

One day, Hack was reviewing a book on Marine Corps icon Lieutenant General Chesty Puller. As Hack read, he said Puller had a Purple Heart. Referring to Hack's eight Purple Hearts, I responded, "He was luckier than you." Those Purple Hearts came up in another conversation between us. Hack was totally into healthy living, to include long distance walking and a full night's sleep. He never could say enough good things about green tea and Vitamin C. Every meal was followed with a set of various vitamin supplements. Having earned eight Purple Hearts it was ironic that Hack was concerned about maintaining good health.

Every year since we'd first met, the friendship grew stronger. His mentoring covered a broad reach. One time, we were about to commence another book tour through New Mexico and west Texas when I, as 647th Area Support Group's deputy, was assigned an "additional duty" – my second battalion command, the 372nd Petroleum Battalion. Years earlier, when I took command of the 95th Division Signal Battalion, with me throughout the ceremony was a copy of About Face. For this second assumption of battalion command, the author was present.

Sitting beside each other, when it came time for me to go to the lectern for comments, Hack emphasized "No more than five minutes. If you can't say it in five minutes it does not need to be said." Years later, I still remembered Hack's limitation when asked to speak at the reception following his funeral service.

Those book tours never had a shortage of American veterans who served in Vietnam. Almost every stop had someone who had served with Hack. One day, while having lunch before going to the book store, our guest, Colonel Harry Helmuth, spoke up and said to Hack, "I always hated lending you my helicopters. You always brought them back filled with bullet holes." Like Hack, Harry was much older than most when he served in Vietnam. Even though both had combat tours as aggressive as anyone, they spoke with fond memories.

One of the book tours also brought Hack together with the 1st Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Bill Wooldridge. After serving as SMA, Wooldridge returned to combat to serve as the Command Sergeant Major of American forces in Vietnam. The lessons learned from watching these old warriors talk over dinner could not have been achieved in a classroom. One interesting item was their comparing notes of official studies each had done about the ratio of Americans killed in Vietnam by "friendly fire." Independently and unaware until that evening, both in the 1960s had come to the same conclusion – one out of three Americans killed in action in Vietnam died by friendly fire.

I observed another group of veterans seeking an opportunity to speak with Hack. They had served in Vietnam as 18 to 20 year olds. Many were still seeking closure. A few days later, I shared my observation with the 9th SMA and Vietnam veteran, Julius (Bill) Gates. Bill confirmed what I saw. People going into combat with experience that usually comes with age were able to better achieve closure than someone straight out of high school.

Hack had already established a warrior's legacy when he started working with Brigadier General S.L.A. (SLAM) Marshall in the 1960s. Together they developed the Vietnam Primer, with Hack in the lead. Marshall had the contacts for publication, Hack had the knowledge specific to Vietnam. An interesting mentor/protégé relationship continued to progress. When the aging Marshall was looking to wind down his writing and radio program career, he asked Hack to consider preparing for being the replacement.

Unfortunately, this mentor/protégé relationship fractured during Vietnam when Hack was receiving backlash for appearing on the TV News Show Issues and Answers. Hack was very critical of U.S. involvement in Vietnam which was basically taking over a failed French operation, the lack of strategy for achieving victory, and predicted defeat by 1975. Every word Hack spoke proved to be true, but truth offers no protection from retaliation. Hack was being slander from all directions, especially senior officers.

In attempt to add further discredit, Hack was brought up on charges that would disappear over time. Friends distanced themselves from Hack. Unexpectedly, Marshall announced during his radio show that Hack had stayed in the war too long and allowed the stress to overcome him. This was a public gut punch that Hack did not expect from his mentor. The anger is reflected in About Face. As time progressed, I realized Hack was achieving closure. As he was doing my mentoring, he talked more and more affectionately about working with and learning from his mentor. Rather than any other name or title, just as when they worked closely together, Hack began referring to Marshall as "Sam". This was yet another phraseology Hack passed on to me.

When Hack asked me to start taking the lead on an organization he had developed titled Soldiers for the Truth (SFTT). This organization was developed by Hack as an action group to address problems in the military. Hack was looking at retiring in about five years and specifically referenced Sam's request to him three decades earlier. Sam had asked Hack to start preparing to become his backfill as radio personality and public commentator about military affairs.

Because I was simultaneously working as Chief of Protective Force Operations at Department of Energy's (DOE) Sandia National Laboratories, commanding my second battalion, serving as President of the New Mexico Chapter of the Reserve Officers Association, and raising a family, the time just was not there. I reminded Hack of something he once told me, "The only troops you can really make a positive impact on are those under your command. The best command in which to do that is battalion." Hack did not get upset with my denying his request to start taking over SFTT.

He also did not get upset later when he realized I had known, and did not tell him, about the Abu Ghraib abuses. In 2003, U.S. Army Reserve soldiers assigned to this detention facility west of Baghdad had photographed themselves committing numerous physical and mental abuses against Iraq detainees. The 800th Military Police (MP) Brigade commander and I were friends from Officer Basic Course in 1975. In October of 2003, I had warned her of a lack of adult supervision at the compound. In January of 2004, within days after she had learned of the problem from Lieutenant General Sanchez, she confided in me the entire situation. When he learned what I knew, Hack acknowledged that both legally and ethically I was bound to secrecy.

I did find a way to get Hack upset. One morning, having not eaten breakfast before we hit the road, I showed up at his door with a can of Coke in one hand and a package of Pop Tarts in the other. Hack was livid. The entire drive to our destination took about an hour. Every minute was taken up by Hack providing a lesson about a healthy diet. Knowing this got to him, I would periodically show up with the Coke and Pop Tarts just to get Hack wound up. It always worked.

He got wound up one other time. I left Hack with friends at a military veterans' event for two hours to coordinate other activities. Upon returning, I learned another retired colonel had tried to pick a fight with Hack over a recent article. In gathering witness statements, I learned Hack had tried to defuse the argument, but when the retired colonel tried to emphasize his point by launching his fist against Hack's chest, the friendly Hack became the hard-hitting warrior. Three blows within as many seconds landed Hack's attacker on the floor. An attempt at a lawsuit failed, as the disgruntled colonel's own lawyer pointed out who started the fight and would not accept Hack's attempt to peacefully end the confrontation.

Hack's residential relocation from Montana to Connecticut resulted in having to bring on new staff. For e-mailing out his 27,000-recipient weekly newsletter, my wife, Judy, picked up the mission. Hack offered to pay for the work, but we refused, as all three of us were already working the same military readiness and accountability issues. Payment would have cheapened our contribution to the fight. Judy was also his principle proof-reader when Steel My Soldiers' Hearts was being finalized for publication.

The 27,000-recipient e-mail newsletters, "Voice of the Grunt", went out every Wednesday. Sending mass e-mails were a lot harder around the turn of the millennium than they are today. Add to that all the incoming responses and other correspondence, Judy had a full time job. Hack's schedule did not allow him to read every e-mail, which averaged around 300 per day. Sometimes people would show me a response they received from an e-mail to Hack. If the word "thanks" was missing the vowel "a," it was from Hack. If thanks was spelled out, they got it from Judy and never knew the difference. Judy handled almost all of the responses that required only acknowledgement or appreciation and followed through on much of his administrative work.

It was not uncommon for me to come home on Tuesday evening with a request from Hack to write a special 700-word piece about a specific subject for distribution in the following morning's newsletter. He would provide the key points and direction for the article. Responsibility for further research and development was mine. With my Army Reserve and civilian employment responsibilities, being at home meant merely a different location to conduct work.

Hack's short-fuse writing projects were like placing time bombs into an already tight schedule. I got all his writing missions completed, but it would be years before I realized these projects were part of mentoring, not last minute thoughts on Hack's part. Detailed assessments and written presentations are developed over time. Reporting and opinion editorials have to be completed quickly and with little warning in order to be timely. Current events have a three-day life expectancy before becoming old news. Hack was training me for quick writing: hit the three points, tie them together in a single article, and get it done immediately.

When Hack went on his book tour for Steel My Soldiers' Hearts, he turned his weekly newsletter over to me. During those two months, on three occasions due to my workload, I did not have the time to write special pieces for the distribution. Those three times I was able to use stock articles I had written, but not yet released: "Sergeant Hull" with former Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Wooldridge; "The Harder Right" with former SMA Gates; and "Soldiers' Load Revisited," again with former SMA Wooldridge. The "Revisited" article was a tie back to Sam Marshall's A Soldier's Load and Mobility of a Nation. My article received the most popular response and Bill Wooldridge was delighted with all the e-mails he received, to include from then-current SMA Bob Hall. Most important to me was Hack's approval of my bringing Sam Marshall up to the present. That's when I knew beyond all doubt that my mentor had achieved closure over the once-strained relationship with his mentor.

One thing that always amazed me about Hack was his network of informants. The Military Intelligence Corps should have a course of instruction on the full spectrum of Hack was able to gain information. This ability was very useful to me while I was assisting the principle accuser of SMA McKinney. From the highest elements within the Pentagon, Hack was receiving critical information necessary to help force the court-martial. Hack passed the information on to me, and I to the principle accuser.

Unfortunately the limp verdict on SMA McKinney charges of sexual misconduct and abuse was guilty of conspiracy to cover up a crime, but not guilty of any crime. Criminal Investigation Command had caught McKinney on wire-tap trying to influence one of the women who would testify. That charge could not be overcome by the jury. The rest of the charges came back not guilty and the five accusers were called before the military judge for reprimand. I was livid. Hack allowed me to send out to his 27,000 recipients a special release of the problems of that verdict and the "admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations" mentality within the Army. One recipient of the article, who subsequently questioned Hack, was Army Chief of Staff General Dennis Reimer. Hack stood by me.

Hack did not always need informers to determine what was going on. During preparations for the ground offensive into Iraq, during Desert Storm in 1991, General Schwarzkopf was certain he had officers on his immediate staff providing information to Hack. As part of military deception, Schwarzkopf had led the world to believe he was going to plow straight through Saddam's forces and make a direct attack into Kuwait. As an on-ground reporter for Newsweek magazine Hack personally observed the logistics and petroleum sites staged well into the Saudi Arabian desert to the west of the declared assault sector. When critical supplies for offensive operations stopped going into these sites and cargo trucks were now loaded with luxury items such as soft drinks, Hack knew the attack was imminent.

Preparing for deployment to Iraq in 2003, where I would serve as the Senior Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer for all Coalition Forces, Hack provided a lot of advice. The lesson that stayed with me the most was something he learned from Sam Marshall: "When an operation is finished you need to debrief the participants as soon as possible. Their stories are going to change and grow. Even a day will be too late to get an accurate report." Sam's and Hack's words were proven right many times over.

Sam was not wrong about Hack having been in combat too long and over exposed to death. It was just the timing of the comments that hurt Hack. I had to remember those words in Iraq when I picked up and pulled apart the two ends of a Bouncing Betty landmine. I was scheduled to leave country in four days, but was out on a special mission directly given to me by Commanding General Ricardo Sanchez.

Hack had already warned me that I was taking too much risk and to be more careful. I replied, "I'm going to do it the same way you did Vietnam." Up until picking up the landmine, my intent upon returning to Baghdad was to extend again. Holding the Bouncing Betty in my hands I realized, "This has gone too far." Just as Hack had already realized that I was at the edge, I came to realize what caused him to go over it in Vietnam. I put the Bouncing Betty back together, put it down, finished the mission, and returned to Baghdad for out-processing. On the lighter and ironic side, I would later reflect, "How bad was it when, of all people, it was Hackworth saying I was taking too much risk."

Unfortunately, Hack and I were never able to again work face-to-face when I returned to the States. He was undergoing chemo-therapy for bladder cancer. His immune system was wiped out and I did not know what desert viruses I was carrying. Unfortunately, the fight with cancer, gained from exposure to Agent Blue while in Vietnam, turned out to be his last battle. Agent Blue, chemically unrelated to the more famous Agent Orange, was used by the U.S. military to destroy rice crops. Bladder cancer was its result in humans.

For years, I provided research and written statements to support Hack's writing. To provide a one week respite for Hack during the most difficult time of his cancer treatment, I ghost wrote for him "Coalition of the Chilling Out?." That article concerned the numerous coalition nations in Iraq staying on their bases while a handful of the nations did all the fighting outside the perimeters. To protect me as the source, Hack did edit all my comments into appearing that several Iraqi veterans provided information. Truth was every comment referenced in the article was mine. Hack was always my guardian.

DOE's Sandia National Laboratories found that out the hard way. As the Chief of Protective Force Operations I backed up the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse investigators for discovering mass corruption within Sandia. Some of it was within the group I was supervising. Examining the evidence I realized corrective action was necessary, instead of joining other management in attacking the investigators. I set out to fix the problems and discovered more corruption and cover-ups.

Senior management then came after me. Hack brought his ally Senator Charles Grassley into the fight. Sandia's continual attempts to lie to Grassley just dug the Senator in deeper. When Sandia senior management realized that any further attacks on me would result in Hack taking the fight to FOX and CNN nationally televised news programs, all attacks on me stop. The investigators later came across Sandia senior management correspondence addressing concerns of the bond between Hackworth and myself. Hack was constantly exposing mountains of corruption within the government. Sandia management recognized that they would have been more like a speed-bump that Hack would have rolled over without losing any momentum.

Subsequently, Senator Grassley and honest DOE inspectors validated every word the Sandia investigators and I said. Without Hack's intensive training and role as a guardian both the Sandia investigators and I would have been instant casualties of the fight against massive internal corruption.

Word came to me that Hack had died while I was working night shift in the Pentagon's Army Operations Center's Crisis Action Team. Around three a.m., when all was quiet, I went topside and took a slow walk around the central courtyard. The day before his funeral, I met Hack's wife Eilhys at Dulles Airport.

As we loaded into my automobile, Eilhys handed me the miniature coffin containing Hack's ashes. It was a strange feeling. Years earlier while we were playing around before a book signing I had tried to pick him up from a chair he was standing on. Hack was just too heavy to cradle. There in the Dulles' parking lot, feeling only the weight of loss, I was holding the physical remains of my best friend and mentor.

Hack's ashes are buried next to Grant Avenue at Arlington National Cemetery. What he left behind is a legacy of a great warrior who still has a profound impact on everyone who knew him and, for generations to come, on everyone who will study him. Problem with trying to document working with Hack is another fond memory comes up, and another after that. But that brings up another lesson Hack shared with me: "An article can always be improved or changed, but the time comes to stop and go final."