09/18/2001 11:00PM

Two men who have perspective


CARLSBAD, Calif. - Besides his work as a journalist and author, Charles Edward Montague served as a military intelligence officer for his native England during World War I. That pretty much gave him a right to write the familiar line, "War hath no fury like a non-combatant."

It's a fair warning. The sound and fury coming from private citizens and political leaders who have never seen combat always must be tempered with the fact that, basically, they have no idea what they are talking about. Only those who have known combat know what is required to succeed, and to survive.

Ivan Puhich was an 18-year-old Marine when his division landed on Okinawa and was told to take the north end of the island from the Japanese. They did, and then they were asked to do the same thing in the south. That's when things got really tough.

Richard Small wore a green beret during his tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He left the service as a lieutenant 30 years ago.

Quite incidentally, Small is a noted Maryland-based trainer from a famous racing family who has won such major events as the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Santa Anita Handicap, and the Mother Goose Stakes. Puhich works as agent for the young West Coast riding star, Tyler Baze.

"When you join the Marine Corps, you know you're on the front lines," Puhich said. "You expect it. But when we were in combat, I never thought I was going to die. I always thought I was going to survive. Even when I was wounded real bad, I still never thought I'd die.

"If you go in thinking you're going to die, chances are you will," Puhich added. "When we were training, I made sure I asked questions and learned everything I could. It wasn't because I was gung-ho. It was because I wanted to live. And believe me, everything I learned probably saved my life 20 times. If you're not prepared, you have no chance of surviving."

That's where a guy like Dickie Small might come in handy. Since Sept. 11, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Small has been trying to decide what to do next, and how to fit the world of racing into the larger picture of a country that needs all the experienced help it can get.

"We're racing horses, and it feels kind of trivial, when they've still got 5,000 bodies to dig out of the dust in Manhattan," Small said, eight days after the attacks. "I don't really know the answer. Everybody feels sort of helpless. That's part of the reason I went down there yesterday. You just feel like you've got to do something."

Small's answer was to enlist. But don't get it wrong. This is no grandstand play. Small hesitated to even talk about his decision. He took his action quietly, telling only the people who needed to know that he was heading to Fort Meade to fill out the paperwork and offer his service in the hard times ahead. He harbors no illusions that the Army will jump at the chance to use his talents.

"I think it's pretty unlikely that I will have to go," Small said. "But if I do get called, and they're down to 56-year-old lieutenants, I think racing is going to be an afterthought by then."

Small was 25 when he enlisted the first time around. As a Special Forces officer, he led covert operations that remain classified to this day.

"That's the type of soldier they are going to need, and they don't have very many of them," Small said. "Somebody's got to teach them.

"I went to the recruiter yesterday and asked him what it looked like," Small went on. "He said there were a lot of older guys coming in, guys who had been in the service. But no young ones. I'm sure there a lot of fine young people out there. But they've grown up in a different world. Everything is taken for granted. Certainly, the people of my generation took it for granted, too. But there is a time when you have to stand up. This is not someone else's problem."

During his career, Small has developed and trained such top runners as Caesar's Wish, Broad Brush, Concern, Stellar Brush, Valley Crossing, and Special Broad, many of them owned by the prominent Maryland patron, Robert Meyerhoff. Small and Meyerhoff split, however, and these days he trains primarly for himself, with fewer than 20 horses stabled at Pimlico. Among them is the stakes-winning 2-year-old Wooden Stone.

"It's a different perspective now," Small noted. "I just kind of keep things going myself with a few of my horses. I've got a bunch of wonderful guys working for me, guys who have been with me for 10 years. I've taught them everything I can teach them, except how to do without me. I could leave the stable and see if they can handle it. And if they can't, it's not the end of the world.

"As far as the horses and racing," Small added, "they were there the last time I left and came back, and they'd be there when I came back again."