I write in response to Raymond Ramsay's Dec. 29 letter "Ready or Not?"

As a combat veteran and retired Army Reserve major, I know that military professionals -- which is to say everyone in uniform -- are taught the difference between ''being prepared'' and ''being ready.'' Preparedness is a state of mind. Readiness is a state of training, equipment and personnel.

One is (always) prepared to do one's duty, and this includes being prepared to fight wars. It is only the egotist or the ignoramus, however, who declares himself ready for war. One is never ready. There are always flaws, things left undone, items forgotten, needs unforeseen, circumstances wrongly calculated. Readiness is the degree to which hindrances to successful military operations have been foreseen and removed or negated, not a declaration of unit perfection.

Our military leaders in the Persian Gulf are correct in commenting about military readiness issues. These are a matter of public record. If they require more attention and effort, more time and material, the unit commander is obliged to make the chain of command aware of these needs.

However, senior military leaders are perhaps less obliged to comment on their attitude toward war, on how prepared they might be to loose the awesome destructive power at their disposal. Such public declarations are more properly a matter for Commander in Chief George Bush.

President Theodore Roosevelt's doctrine covering diplomacy and military force was: ''Speak softly and carry a big stick.'' It is for President Bush to determine how he will speak about his attitude toward the use of force in the Persian Gulf, not U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Dugan. President Roosevelt, however, did not say that one had to speak softly about the big stick, nor should such strictures be placed on our senior military leaders today. U.S. Army Gen. Calvin Waller was therefore right to raise issues relative to military readiness.

The message to Saddam Hussein has been clear since the 82nd Airborne Division was deployed to Saudi Arabia in August: we are prepared to use military force. That our senior military leaders also want to ensure that the best possible readiness condition is attained, and make public their concerns about it, is commendable. It should further underscore the message to Saddam, not dilute it. CHARLES F. HAWKINS Oakton

As the debate rages among our leaders as to the readiness of our troops to take Kuwait from entrenched Iraqi defenders, I thought a little perspective from the World War II battle for Iwo Jima might give both sides of the preparedness argument something to ponder.

Iwo Jima was an objective consisting of eight square miles of volcanic ash. This desert of ash afforded the enemy little cover above ground. American naval and air forces preceded the assault on Iwo Jima with 74 straight days of bombardment. We had complete air superiority. The capture of Iwo Jima, however, was accomplished by Marine grunts going ashore and taking it from the Japanese who, like the Iraqi troops in Kuwait, had well prepared defensive positions. This assault cost 25,849 casualties.

For those who argue that our ground troops are not prepared to assault Kuwait, the question is, can anyone ever be prepared for what faces ground troops attacking well prepared defensive positions?

For those who argue that our troops are prepared to assault Kuwait, the question is, after we take back Kuwait, how ready are we going to be to take Iraq? The invasion of Okinawa, which followed Iwo Jima, cost 49,151 casualties. The campaign to secure the Japanese mainland was projected to take 10 years with no cap on casualties. President Truman decided to use the bomb. Let's not kid ourselves on what we must be "prepared" to do in order to achieve a "complete victory." Is anybody ready for that? J. SCOTT MACK Reston