AS the United States Army lumbered through Saudi Arabia to position itself for the beginning of Desert Storm, it was nagged by a problem with civilian truck drivers. Bangladeshis, Bengalis, and other third-world nationals had been hired to help with the massive logistical movement - but at the end of most runs, US officers couldn't keep them from hopping back in their cabs and returning home.
This greatly slowed the cycle of starting again the next day, notes Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf in his surprisingly personal memoir, "It Doesn't Take a Hero." Then somebody noticed that the drivers loved the macho posturing of American pro wrestling. A big tent near the Dhahran supply base was quickly erected, and videotaped bouts of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and others were shown every night.
The exodus home ended. "A lot depended on American ingenuity," writes Schwarzkopf. "People ... solved all kinds of problems that were never taught at West Point."
That reflects a main message of the first round of Gulf war books, intended or not. The US military triumph in the Persian Gulf (and it was a military victory, whatever political events have followed) depended on vastly superior management and supplies as much as fighting skills or superior technology.
This bears out the old officers' truism that amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics. And the professional who was in charge of in-theater Gulf supply, Army Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis, thinks the US military's success in this area might be applied elsewhere.
"Our colleagues in the private sector may now get some good guidance from us," writes Pagonis in his own Gulf war book, a how-to titled "Moving Mountains."
General Schwarzkopf, of course, is the better-known public figure, and his book has so far been a bestseller. This popularity, one suspects, stems not from its blow-by-blow Gulf war replay as its frank account of the tough military life the General led until the 100-hour ground war that capped his career. The son of a multi-talented man who was himself a general, organizer of the New Jersey State Police, and radio personality, H. Norman aimed for West Point to satisfy both his and his father's dreams. An
alcoholic mother made his father's long absences difficult, and it led to family splits that have only been healed in recent years.
As a young officer in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf was wounded, saw the decay gnawing at the spirit of the United States effort, and in one gruesome and powerful scene crawls through a minefield to save a wounded man and prevent general company panic.
He almost quits the Army, stays in, plays its politics (which he explains at great and interesting length), and in 1988 assumes command of Central Command, the part of the US military committed to Middle East action. At the time, his friends thought it a mistake. CentCom was thought such a backwater that, as Schwarzkopf notes, a draft national security strategy then circulating didn't even mention the Middle East. War plans were so unrealistic they called for the US to ship petroleum from the mainland to
the Gulf, home of the world's greatest oil reserves, to meet military needs.
Schwarzkopf took the job seriously. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, plans were more realistic - even though initial airlift and sealift had to be scheduled by hand because planners hadn't gotten around to entering crucial data into the computer.
The CentCom commander's account of the war is concise and breaks little new ground about fighting details. But on the political discussions prior to the war he is quite forthcoming - the sort of thing most memoirs usually discreetly pass over. He does engage in the too-prevalent military practice of slamming government officials in suits (he complains of unspecified "hawks" pushing for war in the White House), and it must be noted here that some Saudi officials have publicly disowned Schwarzkopf's accoun t of some of their discussions.
But even now, months after the war, the abrasive and not-altogether-loved H. Norman seems still to have been the right man in the right place at the right time. So does Pagonis, who though only a fraction of Schwarzkopf's bulk was a large figure in Desert Storm's success.
In his tale of how he moved the cargo equivalent of Richmond, Va., around the world, Pagonis is most interesting working from example. Obtaining fresh food, for instance, a massive problem, was solved by an almost offhand meeting with Saudi Arabia's largest greenhouse farmer. Fresh produce and pita bread were soon staples, augmenting military rations. "A fruit basket in every foxhole" was Pagonis's slogan.
Whether US business execs don't already know Pagonis's favorite precepts is another question. His book contains several chapters on good but basic lessons such as "keep it simple," and "emphasize training."
One of his favorite tools might be useful, though: the stand-up meeting. As this sounds, all participants stay on their feet. Anyone in good enough shape to talk too long is brought back by the obvious shuffling back and forth of impatient listeners whose feet are going to sleep.
"The peer group," notes Pagonis dryly, "has great power."