1961: I am assigned to the office of the Quartermaster General, Personnel and Training Division. Our desks are in a huge room that occupies an entire wing of an old "tempo" behind Fort McNair.

Our job is to introduce anew piece of equipment into the Army: the rough-terrain forklift truck. Every detail of the introduction is worked out in the big room: getting the Quartermaster School a few early models off the production run so that it can begin training instructors; designing training aids and writing manuals and lesson plans that will be ready when the course starts; deciding on maintenance allowances -- what parts and how many of them will be stocked at various support levels, and ordering the parts; picking the soldiers who will operate and repair the machines, writing their job descriptions and giving them a skill identifier. Things hummed in the big room. Jigsaw puzzle pieces were fitted together.

But now the Army is to be reorganized. Along clean, functional lines. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's Project 80. Training is one function. Personnel another. Supply a third. Maintenance a fourth. Major commands, each headed by a three or four-star general, are to take charge of these functions. In separate locations.

What common sense has joined together, modern management will rend asunder. I write myself a note: "It's a good thing we were created by God and not Bob McNamara. He would have designed us differently. In separate components: a bucket of blood, a bundle of bones, a package of tissues and a swirl of hair."

Our big room is closed. Its occupants head in four different directions.

1963: I am a member of the new training command. A maintenance problem is affecting the training of mechanics. Two years ago, two captains, visiting each other's desk, could have solved the problem in minutes.

I now compose a staff paper that is designed like a multi-stage rocket. I send it to my colonel. If he agrees, he can detach the top part and send the remainder forward to his two-star. If the two-star buys, he can detach his section and ship what's left to the four-star. 'if the four star accepts the paper (after an oral briefing: four-stars don't read), he will remove the top and dispatch a slim letter to the four-star, 150 miles away, who commands maintenance. There, the letter will gather stages until it is plunked heavily, a thick document again, on a captain's desk for preparation of reply.

Four months later the problem is solved. But others crop up. They are left unsolved. It is too cumbersome for two captains to correspond via the chain of command.

1968: I command a battalion in an Armored Division. A team from Washington is here to brief us. Computers will be placed in the division to help us manage supply and maintenance.

"Each morning you will get a deadlinereport," the team leader tells our general. "You'll learn immediately how many vehicles are deadlined. More important, you'll know why. It could be that the shortage of one part, CV Boots, may be responsible for a majority of the deadline. You could then order priority management action to get this part requistioned and flown in . . . ."

The general frowns fiercely. "What in hell do I need a computer for?" he growls. He stares at an equally grizzled warrant officer. "If that sonuvabitch chief can't tell me why the trucks are deadlined, I'd fire him . . . .

The computers come anyway. We stop paying attention to maintenance. Emphasis shifts from repair to mark sensing forms that can be keypunched during the night to feed the hungry computer. We don't need wrenches anymore, only stubby pencils to fill out feeder reports.

1971: Another Armored Division. A crisis is upon us. The division's printout of outstanding requisitions doesn't match what the support command's computers say they owe us. There are significant divergences, not only in minor parts but in major items: tanks, airplanes, trucks, artillery pieces.

A team from the support command descends on us, to be met by an equally large division team. A tennis-court-size area is soon covered with printouts, requisitions.

A new, dreaded word has entered our vocabulary: reconciliation. The issue is to line up two programs. But that's not the real issue. The real issue is to fix blame, either on the division or the support command, so that somebody can be hanged.

The crisis is solved. For one month. A month later, the two programs are again out of whack.

1974: I command a brigade in an Infantry Division of the all-volunteer force.

I give the young battalion commanders the benefit of my wisdom: "Maintenance," I tell them, "is what it's all about. For a good maintenance program, you must take your brightest soldier and make him your parts clerk. In other words, grab a Harvard grad and put him in the motor pool."

"Sir, we don't have any Harvard grads," the battalion commanders said.

"Well," I suggested, "Yale and Princeton and Amherst will do.

"Sir," said a bold battalion commander, "this is the all-volunteer force. The best I can do is somebody who has finished one year at Arkansas Eastern Community College."

1980: Ten days before our rescue attempt. Congress finally addresses the military maintenance problem. Stern words in the Congressional Record. An Army maintenance magazine has used pictures of scantlily dressed woment to attract the attention of male mechanic readers. The Army has been censured. Conrrespondence between Congress and Army leaders is entered into the record. The pictures have been investigated, found wanting in both clothing and taste. Army leaders admit to sexism. The magazine will be purged.