On March 3rd, 2010, General Carter Ham briefed Congress on the latest study regarding the DOD’s 17 year old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (DADT). Conservative pundits have already complained that the study will be biased and the left vowed not to wait for the results that are due out the first week in December 2010. So, one has to wonder…why have another study? Is one more study needed, really?
To help answer this question, I turned to a brand new book published from within the Pentagon’s walls by the Air University Press, Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces. This visionary collection of reports, speeches and articles by Lt Col James Parco and Dr Dave Levy, covers the gamut of divisive issues facing today’s military, provides sage advice for policy makers, and will set the tone of the debate for years to come.
Perhaps the most controversial pages fall within Section II: Homosexuality. The two most telling excerpts from this section are the “Report of the General/Flag Officers’ Study Group” and the now famous, “Flag & General Officers for the Military: Statement to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress,” which was signed by 1,163 retired Flag and General Officers. These two pieces highlight the stark difference between emotion and research.
The first reading is a formal study structured much like a military investigation board. The “Report” recommends repealing DADT based on ten important findings that highlight the negative consequences and ineffectiveness of DADT. This article equips the reader with the strength of common sense understanding and information; thus, the reader is unmoved by the “Statement” and it’s desired visceral reaction of seeing over 1,000 signatures from retired senior military officers who are ardently oppose to repealing DADT. Should we expect the “old guard” to jump on board with the rising tide of change?
Well, no. If you consider that the average age of the signatories was 74 (the oldest was 98 and at least one was actually dead at the time of signing), certainly not. On average, these Flag & General Officers were 56 years older than our youngest troops serving today. We should thank these officers for their years of dedicated service to our great nation, and we should recognize that these retirees understandably share the same opinions held by their civilian counterparts.
Luckily though, history reminds us that the US Military has always pushed the leading edge on equality, diversity, and integration. Even so, there have always been the naysayers, yelling that change would hinder unit morale, hurt recruiting and diminish combat effectiveness. Yet, those leaders who fought for inclusion over exclusion are still hailed as the visionaries of their time. As with ending segregation or integrating women, repealing DADT won’t come without growing pains.
To quote from Attitudes Aren’t Free:
“In 1948, President Truman decisively ended racial segregation in the military by executive order. Although racial equality was achieved with the stroke of a pen, the integration of women across the roles of military service proved to be more complicated and continued to lag for several more decades. Despite being one of the most hotly contested social issues in 20th Century, Congress eventually took the lead in the mid-1970s integrating women through appointments to military academies. Still, it would be two decades before women received equal opportunity in select combat roles (page ix).”
As a former Air Force pilot, I am proud of the Air Force’s tradition of leadership in equality. While supporting the 3d Infantry Division’s assault on Baghdad in 2003, one of my classmates from pilot training earned the Distinguished Flying Cross after a surface-to-air missile shredded her A-10. A different pilot might have bailed out, but not her. She finished the mission and somehow limped her plane home. Her heroics in combat saved the lives of our Army brethren. The Tuskegee Airmen proved their combat mettle during WWII, just as female pilots prove themselves in combat everyday in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.
While we debate “don’t ask, don’t tell,” homosexuals serve in uniform and fight with the same voracity as their straight counterparts. Some offer the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation while hiding who they truly are inside. Would we be any safer if women and minorities hadn’t fully integrated into the Armed Forces? Do we honestly need another study on the outdated “don’t ask, don’t tell?” Did we need more studies before African-Americans and women were fully integrated? I think not…but, don’t take my word for it. Take a moment to ask an Iraq War veteran who was saved by a “girl” in an A-10 or ask a WWII Bomber Crewmember who flew quietly and safe under the umbrella provided by the Tuskegee Airmen. I think they would agree.