Copyright by John T. Reed

The death of General Schwarzkopf was reported today.

As with Petraeus, he is extravagantly described as one of the greatest generals ever. And as with Petraeus, it’s bullshit.

I was a cadet at West Point from 7/1/64 to 6/5/68. Schwarzkopf also graduated from West Point in 1956. AP and Fox said got a degree in engineering there. No, he didn’t. I and he got a BS degree with no major specified subject. In recent decades, West Point started giving degrees in a subject the student majored in. Schwarzkopf did get a masters degree in mechanical engineering from USC.

If you were a top student at West Point, and you made your superiors like you after graduation, you were often sent to graduate school then immediately sent to West Point to teach the subject you just got a masters degree in. When I was there, about 98% of our professors were precisely that, recent graduates about 32 years old who went into the regular army, then went to grad school for two years, then went to West Point to teach for two or three years. Most big shot West Point grad generals were teachers at West Point when they were around 30. I am talking about the academic departments. Some grads go back to be tactical officers or other admin jobs at West Point. Those are not “crown prince” assignments like being a professor there.

When I was a cadet, Schwarzkopf was a mechanics professor. We all had to take the same subjects including mechanics of solids and mechanics of fluids (junior year courses). I took those courses when he was teaching them, but our classes were only 10 to 15 cadets and he was never my professor. Some of my friends had him and said he was nothing special.

I remember thinking he was two things I thought West Point did not like: fat and single. So I was surprised that he was chosen to be a professor—a “crown prince” assignment as I said above.

Ladies man

He lived in the bachelor officers quarters at West Point. I thought, “Well, I guess that makes sense since he’s a bachelor.” Then I graduated and became a bachelor officer. I lived in the bachelor officers quarters for 30 days during an internship at the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY. The walls were paper thin, the room was tiny, and I shared a bath room with a stranger in the adjacent room. From time time time, we would forget to unlock the other guy’s door when we were finished using the bathroom forcing that person to find another bathroom if the miscreant was not home. It was like a really cheap motel only a cheaper one than any you ever actually stayed in. You would probably have to go to a really bad neighborhood to find a room that matched a BOQ room.

I also stayed in BOQs when I was hitching rides on Air Force planes to Hawaii, Spain, and Germany during summer leave. They all had a sternly-worded sign at their entrance commanded “ABSOLUTELY NO FEMALES ALLOWED!”

I swore I would NEVER live in a BOQ. For one thing, I was a heterosexual and would only live in a FEMALES WELCOME building.

When we were assigned to Fort Gordon, GA, my West Point roommate/ranger buddy/best man and I wanted to avoid the BOQ. The deal was if they had a vacancy at the BQ when you arrived, you were given it. If they had no vacancies, you were given a Certificate of Non-Availability. That would result in our getting money in lieu of the BOQ room.

We stealthily drove into the parking lot of the housing office and sat the like cops on a surveillance detail. An officer our age arrived and entered. When he came out, we accosted him. “What’s the deal on housing?” “Oh, I got one of the last BOQ units. They only have a couple more. You’d better hurry” We thanked him and went back to our car. Eventually, one of our West Point classmates who was attending the same course we were arrived and went in. When he came out, we accosted him,

Yo, Joe!

Hey, Jack! Steins!

So what’s the deal on housing?

Oh, I lucked out. I just got the last BOQ room. Sorry.

Hey, you know what. We gotta go in and get signed up, too. Catch you later.

We then ran into the building and got our Certificates of Non-Availability. Had we waited, some other officer might have moved out of the BOQ creating a new vacancy.

What would we have done if they were never filled? Lived off base without any housing allowance and paid the entire amount out of our own pockets. We would NEVER have lived in the BOQ.

We were 22-year-old lieutenants at the time. When Schwarzkopf was living in the West Point BOQ 50 miles north of New York City, he was 33!!!!!

Here is an email from a West Point class of ’91 guy about BOQs with [my comment in red]:

Mr. Reed,

As usual, I enjoy reading your insights and such about the Army. In your recent column about General Schwarzkopf, you wrote about BOQs, which got me laughing. I stayed in the Ft Drum BOQs for about a year (1994-1995) after I got there after Korea. I think there was some debacle about people trashing the place, so the base stopped paying for cleaning people. I got a letter under my door one day from a LTC who was living in the building - the base basically said (to him) "you are the senior most person, so you are in charge of building cleanliness". [This is typical military thinking so if you thought the Army would be a really cool career, a word to the wise] Since I was the 2nd most senior person (cant recall if I was a 1LT or CPT at that point), he deligated the building cleanliness duties to me (hence the letter). [Typical military-thinking response to the typical military thinking of superiors—shit flows downhill. Now you know why I became self-employed after the Army.]. I grumbled to myself, but to make a long story short, divided up the duties among the rest of us (there were about 12 people staying in there) - the rooms sound exactly like you describe, with the shared bathroom arrangement. I assume they were converted long barracks. Anyhow, 2 other guys convinced me to rent a house with them in Watertown - I was so glad I moved out of there. Between my $500-ish and their $300-ish for quarters, we met all the expenses (rent, phone, cable, utilities). The BOQs were really warm in summer (and A/C units were not allowed) - dont know what I was thinking staying in there. [I do. You were thinking you were saving money—before you realized life is too short and you were horrified at the thought of still being in a BOQ room 20 years later as a lieutenant colonel.] Seemed like the shared toilet was the world's loudest toilet and would wake me up when the other guy would use it at night (not to mention the lovely scent of his crap sometimes, which drifted under the door). He never locked me out though, thankfully.

Mike Schultz


But wait, there’s more!

Stalking female friends and relatives of cadets

One weekend, my mom came up to visit me. She worked for a small mortgage company and brought a woman who worked with her. The woman was single and on the scale of 1 to 10 on looks, about a 3 or a 4. I spent time with both of them Saturday afternoon then was to meet them at the Hotel Thayer for supper. My mom’s companion was not with her. It was later explained to me that she went by herself to get a drink at the bar of the Hotel Thayer, which is inside the gate of West Point, and got picked up by one Major Norman Schwarzkopf, whose name I immediately recognized.

So let me explain this to you. Apparently, fat bachelor Major Norman Schwarzkopf’s way of “meeting chicks” was to hang out at the Thayer bar on weekends in the hopes of meeting a visiting eligible female friend or relative of a cadet. There were extremely few other guests in the hotel on weekends there. There was a good chance that by doing this, he might hit on the friend or relative of a cadet in one of his mechanics classes. Keep in mind the age here. We were 17 to 26, most under 23. Now what age is appropriate for a 33-year-old major to date? I would guess about 28 to 34. When I was a bachelor, I only dated my age or up to three years younger. So why would a single female age 28 to 34 be visiting a West Point cadet who was primarily 17 to 22? A much older sister? A divorced child bride mom of a freshman? My mom’s friend was in her 30s I think, but I do not recall anyone else of that age ever coming to West Point with my visitors or with any other cadet’s. That leaves the likelihood that Schwarzkopf was trolling for either older sisters, or moms older than him, or even the girls who came to West Point to date a cadet! Our dates told us that come 1AM, when we had to be in our rooms alone, our dates would get hit on by enlisted men stationed at West Point who had no curfew. I do not know if Schwarzkopf did that.

The officers at West Point were supposed to be paragons of what we were to become after graduation. What he did was creepy, risked a conflict of interest in grading a cadet, and I would not be surprised if he had gotten in trouble with his superiors had they found out about it or even seen him at the Hotel doing that. Officers were expected to be drinking in the West Point Officers Club, where there would be no free females to pick up.

And suppose he got lucky? Where the heck was he going to take her? Not the BOQ. It prohibited females and was on the Plain directly across the parade ground from the houses of the Superintendent, Commandant, and Dean—all generals. At that time, the BOQ was to the left of the baseball field in the poto I just linked to. You can see the supe’s house on the right of the photo. Not to mention the fact that you would hardly take a woman there even if it was allowed. Talk about making a bad impression with regard to your station in life! A 33-year-old with a masters degree living in a tiny room in a government (SRO single room occupancy) rooming house! Anyway, I never heard about any second date between them.

The Sugar Bowl

At times when I was a cadet, Army’s football team was pretty good. We were ranked 20th in the nation one week. Our coach Tom Cahill won NCAA major college Coach of the Year when I was there. We beat Navy when their QB was senior Roger Staubach who had won the Heisman Trophy as a junior.

I believe Schwarzkopf was an Army football player. I only played intramural football there.

Anyway, Army had never played in a bowl game. Rumor was we were going to be invited to the Sugar Bowl. Suddenly, Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced that West Point’s football team would not be permitted to play in a bowl game if it was invited because it would be unseemly for cadets to be participating in such a festive occasion while soldiers were dying in Vietnam.

Say what!?

We were really pissed! When we arrived at the mess hall for supper that night, the sugar that was usually in heavy silver bowls was in a pile on a plate instead. A large banner was hung from the poop deck saying, “No Sugar Bowl for the team, no sugar bowls for the Corps.” The Corps is the Corps of Cadets, the official name of the student body at West Point.

In 2008, I worked on our class’s 40th reunion memory book. One of the memories was a confession from the guys—turned out they were my classmates—who had stolen the sugar bowls. That sort of stuff is usually done by one class there. They explained how they did it without getting caught and where they hid them. I think the bowls might have been real silver.

The New York Times found out about it. The brass at West Point was embarrassed—embarrassing the “crown prince” brass in front of their Pentagon superiors was probably the worst crime a cadet could commit. They issued the usual threats and orders to return the sugar bowls. We were taken to a lecture by the Commandant wo basically said when the Secretary of theArmy issues an order, you follow it, period. We already knew that. They were stonewalled by the cadets in question. For days, we had no sugar bowls. Very unusual for cadets to disobey direct orders so blatantly.

Their final ploy was to have a professor—Schwarzkopf—speak to us from the poop deck at supper. I remember asking other guys at my table, “What is his standing in this? Isn’t he just some mechanics P?” Everyone shrugged.

I surmise that the brass thought he had some sort of rapport with us or that his bombastic manner would persuade us to return the sugar bowls.

His message, which younger readers might not understand, was that college kids all over America had recently taken to doing demonstrations against the war and against all sorts of other things back then. Our Baby Boomer generation was the one that started that crap. They were mainly interested in parent baiting one of the Chicago Seven later confessed. Schwarzkopf said we were West Point cadets, supposedly the top college students in America, and now the America people were being told even the West point cadets engaged in protesting against authority. I was not one of the bowl kidnappers so I can’t say for sure, but it seemed to work. The next day, the bowls reappeared on the tables.

Mine field

Schwarzkopf’s big deal during the Vietnam war was walking into a mine field to get a wounded soldier and carry him out.

On its face, that is stupid. Walking into a mine field could have gotten Schwarzkopf killed or wounded. Then you’d have two guys down. What would that accomplish? Not only nothing, it would make things worse.

Furthermore, the wounded guy was still alive. Picking him up and carrying him could have detonated another mine which could have killed or further wounded the wounded guy.

Brave, yes, but also stupid, in a case where the stupidity nullified the bravery.

The more appropriate action would have been to dig toward the guy with bayonets searching for mines or getting a chopper to hover above him while a healthy soldier got a harness on him to lift him to safety probably only about 20 or 30 feet away.

Could he have been bleeding and not had time? Yeah, but it is hard to make that sort of determination if you are not a trained medic or doctor and have to make it from outside the mine field. And even if you make that determination. you are still risking two to save one. Not smart.

But let’s get back to the whole idea of an enemy mine field. I also did a tour in Vietnam.I was there the year Schwarzkopf went into the mine field. The nature of that war was that we did the mine fields, not the enemy. We had fixed fire bases and the fortress aspect of their perimeter consisted of clearing all vegetation, laying concertina wire and various types of mines especially Claymores.

The enemy in Vietnam did not fight from fixed positions because our artillery and air power would have vaporized them if they remained in the same location for more than about ten or fifteen minutes.

So am I saying the North Vietnamese did not use mines? No. They used them, but not in mine-field configurations. Rather, they would stalk American units who were moving around on search-and-destroy missions. Each night, the Americans would set up a perimeter and go to sleep with some guards posted. The enemy would then during the night plant mines on the path they suspected we would take the following morning.

Frequently, they used bouncing betty mines. Most of their mines were set off by trip wires not pressure from stepping on them like the more famous type of mine. Those famous types of contact plate mines have to be buried. Remember the mines are being laid in a hurry in the dark near the American guards. It is hard, if not impossible, to bury a mine and camouflage it so it cannot be seen in the daytime when you have to carry out the work of camouflaging it in a jungle at night in the dark. Also, buried mines are better hidden when they have at least a few days for the vegetation to get back to normal and the evidence of the digging gets washed away by rain.

When you suspect trip-wire mines are there, you can see the wires if you focus on looking for them. Army scout dogs can hear them if there is a breeze and they are so trained. You can also find them by feel if you move your hands forward slowly enough to touch but not trigger them. Once, on guard duty in Vietnam as commander of all the guards, I set off a trip wire used by my fellow Americans to give me a hard time (set by another battalion; they did not know me; they were just assholes—Military Intelligence—think they are exempt from things like having their guard positions checked). It was attached to a flare—ineptly—so although I triggered it, it did not go off. Had it gone off, I might have been shot by another soldier not in on the joke.

Anyway, the North Vietnamese rarely created actual mine fields. Rather, they anticipated our direction when we resumed moving in the morning and booby trapped the paths. The pattern was to put a trip wire across a likely path and attach it to a bouncing betty or some other explosive anti-personnel weapon.

When one of those went off, you had to be concerned it was not the only one in the area. But in Vietnam, the immediate area around such a detonation probably did not have another one. There may be another farther down the path or on another likely path off to the left or right. But mine fields that are planted like a garden to cover a large field were generally not a North Vietnamese military tactic.

I was not there so I cannot precisely gauge the wisdom or bravery of Schwarzkopf’s action going to a wounded soldier and carrying him back out of that area. My bottom line is I think the public is likely to misunderstand the phrase “mine field” when used in the Vietnam war and there are more appropriate ways to remove a wounded guy from an area that might have another mine than having a large, heavy, former college football lineman just walk in, pick him up, and walk out.

Wikipedia depicts a true mine field in the Schwarzkopf incident saying it was left over from the French war against the Vietnamese and that several men were killed trying to help the wounded guys. They had a chopper with them. It sounds like they should have used the bayonet-probing method of clearing a path to the wounded guys. Or had a guy dangling from teh chopper get him by lifting him staight up. What Schwarzkopf did worked, but it could just as easily have gotten him and the wounded killed. Brave, lucky, and foolishly reckless.

The media now describe him as a highly-decorated soldier. He had a CIB, which I respect for vets of that era, three silver stars (one more than John Kerry) and a bronze star with a V device signifying valor. He also got two more bronze stars.I do not know if those were also for valor. And he got two purple hearts, one for one of the minefield explosions. His other medals were what I call attendance or good bureaucrat medls. You can see the full list at his Wikipedia write-up. Also see my article about military medals in general.

Desert Storm

Schwarzkopf’s main claim to fame is Desert Storm.

Iraq had invaded Kuwait to take over its oil. The UN ordered them removed by military force. Schwarzkopf happened to be CENTCOM commander at the time so he got the job as head guy. Our air power was probably all that was needed, but still thinking in World War II terms, the military decided the air power was mere support for the Army and the Army and Marines wanted to do their thing and get the glory. Schwarzkopf revealed himself to be a man who liked to be on stage making speeches. “Briefings” they are called in the Army.

We were taught how to do that at West Point: at least three rehearsals in front of a live audience. If possible in the same room where you will give the briefing. If you use any equipment, you must have it for your rehearsals.

My briefing at West Point in June of 1966 was on intersection and resection, how to locate yourself on a map using terrain features I did my rehearsals and studied the training manual on that subject and aced it when I got graded. Two years later in ranger school, I was the patrol leader. The lane grader asked me to point out on the map where we were. “Right there” I immediately said. I was right but he was suspicious and demanded I “show my work,” explain how I knew and why I was so sure.

My eyebrows went up, I got a twinkle in my eye, and I proceeded to give him my intersection and resection lecture using the current map and terrain as the example problem. He kept saying “EXCELLENT map reading, ranger” over and over. I later learned I had been recommended to be brought back as an instructor at Ranger School, probably because of that episode.

Anyway, all West Point graduates are trained to give lectures like Schwarzkopf did during Desert Storm. Retired General William Westmoreland, observing the media falling in love with Schwarzkopf as a result of those briefings wondered out loud, “What’s the big deal? He just gave your basic M-1 A-1 U.S. Army briefing like those given all over the world every day.” Or words to that effect.

In fact, Schwarzkopf’s unseemly love of the spotlight in Desert Storm was very unpopular across the U.S. military. He retired right afterward and cashed in becoming a multi-millionaire writing a book titled It Doesn’t Take a Hero and making celebrity speeches.

Schwarzkopf’s U.S. soldiers killed more allied military personnel by accident during Desert Storm than the Iraq military killed on purpose. He arguably should have been relieved for that.

He described himself as the underdog and his war plan as a Hail Mary pass because he said he was outnumbered. You gotta be kidding me. No sane person could see that 100-hour “war” as anything but a fight between Mohammed Ali and a 12-year-old Golden Gloves boxer with a losing record.

The star of the war was actually not Schwarzkopf, not that you would have known it watching him perform in his briefings. The star of Desert Storm was the smart bombs. We had those in Vietnam, but there was no Stormin Normanwho styled on TV and essentially took credit for them. Army infantry General Schwarzkopf, who neither designed nor developed nor delivered the bombs on target, wrapped himself in the smart bombs’ great performance—elbowing aside the Air Force, Naval Aviators, and Marine Air pilots who did deliver them—to take the credit.

As with Petraeus, I cannot say that he would not have been a great general in the Civil war or World War II. Maybe he would. But I can see that Desert Storm was shooting fish in a barrel and the use of ground forces at all was probably totally unnecessary and unwise and done very much for the wrong reasons. During his career, Schwarzkopf never had an opportunity to find out whether he would have been a great general. Our recent “wars” belong in quotation marks. And therefore, so does Schwarzkopf’s “greatness” as a general. He was never tested in a way that would make it possible to make such an assessment.

How about a little logic with regard to his being acclaimed as a great general? A general’s job is complex and multifaceted, epecially one in charge of a multi-national coalition like Eisenhower or Schwarzkopf. Like any job, it takes a while to get the hang of it. And being a general during peace time provides little relevant experience for combat. E.g., Petraeus schmoozing with unofficial social liaison Jill Kelley and her civilian Tampa “elite” friends while serving as CECTCOM commander in Tampa.

Also, we were taught at West Point that you should keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut during your first 90 days at a new assignment. The idea was that before you change things, you must learn why they are done the way they are done first. (Ironically, my own Army officer career provided me with a total of eleven months in TO&E jobs, i.e., not counting being the assistant to a guy who was not authorized to have an assistant. Those four different TO&E jobs were at three different units on two diferent continents so, on average, the number of days I had in each assignment was 11 months x 30 days per month = 330 days ÷ 4 assignments = 82.5 days. I actually was in one job four months, at the 82nd Airborne Division, but in the last month or so, I had to watch over a heavy mortar squad rehearsing a firepower demonstration all day every day. No member of my communications platoon was there. So in my experience, the advice to wait 90 days before making any changes was a colossal joke. Schwarzkopf’s “war” was over for 86 days by the time he was supposed to open his mouth.)

But what I am leading up the here is Desert Storm famously lasted 100 hours. If you could go back to World War II in a time machine and ask Eisenhower or MacArthur if they had any generals who were in combat commanding for 100 hours then got removed for being wounded, they would probably have some general whose combat experience approximated that. If you then asked if the guy was one of the great generals in U.S. military history, they would probably say, “How would we know!? He was only there 100 hours!” They relieved generals and other officers a lot during World War II. The typically would not do that until at least 90 days had passed to give the guy a chance to figure out what to do and learn from some trial and error. 90 days is 90 x 24 = 2,160 hours, not 100.

Schwarzkopf was decent, extremely self-confident public speaker and a ham in an easy military action. That is the only reason why he was famous and viewed positively.

Here is an email I got and my response:

Mr. Reed:

I always enjoy your editorials and check them almost daily. Your article on "Stormin Norman" was fun to read and the West Point references were indeed creepy. I was no fan of his even during the war and found him to be a bombastic showoff whose first Kuwait, straight up the middle" plan was justifiably rejected.

The only area where I take issue is your notion that we could have accomplished our task without ground troops. That is an Air Force fantasy that was misinterpreted in Kosovo and has never worked (short of nuking Japan). If you want to kick occupying ground troops out of a country, you have to have ground troops go in and do it. Air power can help, immensely, but all they can do is degrade capability, not go face-to-face with a general and tell them to get out.

I also think it was Desert Storm that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once they saw an army modeled almost exactly on the Russian system, get so thoroughly trounced, they in essence, gave up competing militarily with the U.S.

They put their troops out in the desert in trenches. Perfect air target. And there was the Highway of Death. Had the Iraqis in Kuwait decided to fight house to house, you would have needed ground troops. They did not. One of the main problems was what to do with all the enemy who wanted to surrender. They tried to surrender to a reporter one time and to a drone flying overhead another.

And here is an email from a West Point graduate:


Can't stop reading! Hope you're doing well! Another great series of articles.

Here's a 1990's observation on [this] topics:

Schwartzkopf: when in command of the 24th ID, his nickname (given by all his officers and enlisted) was "Fatass."

In Grenada, the SEAL and Delta teams all referred to him as "Fatass."

In Desert Storm, everyone in the field referred to him as "Fatass."

Nobody could believe that he jumped from 2-star to 4-star general without passing through 3-star rank--wondering what "Fatass" had done to get promoted.
[One of my classmates says Schwartzkopf was a three-star post commanding general at Fort Lewis, WA.]

Not one to pick on someone's weight, but what I did not mention above was the opinion I received from all of the people that served under him from the 1980's on--he was a miserable, tantrum-throwing, rage-filled asshole that intimidated folks and treated them like shit.

Had he actually been a decent guy, I doubt I would have even written this email . . . as I don't think that any of the hundreds of veterans I ran into would have referred to him as "Fatass;" they probably would have used words like, "General Schwartzkopf."

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed