The United States is going into a crash program to build up its military might. We want to be in a position to match the Soviets on land, on sea and in the air. There is only one problem. Once we get all the new helicopters, planes and ships built, where do we find the people to man them?

The navy, for example, does not have enough crewmen to handle the ships they're supposed to keep on the high seas now. If we take the New Jersey and Iowa battleships out of mothballs, as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wants to do, this is what might happen:

"Captain, as admiral of the North Atlantic Forces, I turn over the command of the battleship New Jersey to you and your fine crew."

"Thank you, sir. Where's the crew?"

"They're standing over there."

"Six men for a battleship?"

"That's all the bureau of personnel could spare. I asked for 10, but they said they needed the others to man a missile cruiser that will escort you at sea."

"Begging your pardon, sir, and meaning no disrespect, but a battleship calls for a complement of 4,000 men."

"I'm aware of that, Captain. But we're going to have to make it with what we've got. I'm sure with proper training your six-man crew can do the job. They'll just have to double up on their watches."

"You actually want me to take this battleship out of harbor with six people?"

Captain, may I remind you that getting command of a battleship is one of the highest honors that the navy can bestow on one of its officers."

"I'm aware of the honor, sir, and it's been my dream to command a ship like the New Jersey. But I always thought when I got one this size, the crew would go with it."

"I assure you, Captain, once you get the hang of it you'll be amazed how few people it takes to run a battle ship. We've put in an automatic steering system, so you won't need anyone at the wheel, and all you meals have been prepackaged so you won't require a mess crew, and the engines have been fitted with computers so you won't need anybody in the boiler rooms. And when you press this button you can fire your guns fore and aft. So actually the only thing your crew will have to do is scrape and paint the ship when it pulls into port."

"It sounds very reasurring, Admiral. I imagine my first job will be to brief the officers."

"Officers? You're it."

"You mean I have to eat by myself?"

"Don't feel bad. Your only chief petty officer has to eat by himself also."

"What are my orders, sir?"

"You're to seek out the enemy and destroy him at will. But first check with Washington before you engage in action."

"By radio?"

"We couldn't spare a radio man. Here is a bag of dimes. There's a pay phone on the bridge."

"Thank you, sir. That's very generous of you."

"Money isn't our problem, Captain. We have more of it than we know what to do with. Our problem is that the more ships the Defense Department wants to put to sea, the more we have to stretch our manpower. After I leave here I have to recommission the aircraft carrier Oriskany with three squadrons of Grumman fighters."

"That should beef up the fleet."

"Not quite. They only gave me two pilots."

"Would you like to address the crew sir?"

"No, Captain. I believe you better pull up anchor right away before they find out they're the only ones on board. We can't afford to have any of them jump ship."