DADT Study Data Argues Against One-Size-Fits-All Approach

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Comprehensive Working Group report was briefed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and JCS Chairman ADM Mike Mullen on Nov. 30, 2010."

The Pentagon study on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was designed to study how to welcome openly gay Service members into 100% of military units.  However, it elicited information that argues against such a one-size-fits-all approach.  The study identifies military units in which welcoming gays would be problematic, and it sheds light on what privacy infrastructure will be best to accommodate gays more widely.

The survey, conducted by the contract research organization Westat, is the raw data.  It is 324 pages long, and dwarfed by its large appendices of statistics and documents.  It is accompanied by a report consisting of the Pentagon’s interpretation of the survey.  But much can be learned by focusing on Question 71a in the survey:

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how, if at all, would it affect your immediate unit’s effectiveness at completing its mission… In a field environment or out to sea?

For the military as a whole, 44.3% responded that the effect of DADT repeal would be negative; 44.4% said neutral and 11.4% said positive (appendix E).  Most striking is the difference in numbers for different units.  For the Navy, negative was 35.3%, but for Army combat arms it was 57.6% (appendix J) and for Marines it was 59.4%, rising to 66.5% for combat Marines (appendix L).  Furthermore, Marines were prepared to act on their concerns at twice the rate of other services (volume 1, p. 6 and table 4.24):

Among all Service members, Marine Corps members were most likely to say they will consider leaving sooner or will leave sooner than planned (38.1%) if repeal occurs.

From the Pentagon study it is clear that implementing DADT repeal overall will be far from trivial, and for Marines, implementation is likely to involve particular difficulty.  Members of all service branches focused on the same underlying issue (volume 1, p. 141, volume 1, p. 135 and volume 2, p. 64):

Privacy concerns were the most frequently commented upon issue, regardless of a respondent’s Service.

… respondents appeared to be most concerned about the possibility of showering or rooming with someone who was known to the respondent to be gay or lesbian.

“If my roommate turns out to be homosexual, I feel like I am part of his target audience. It is a violation of a social norm; for example you wouldn’t have me room with a female.”

Why are the Marines so different from other service branches?  Part of the difference may be that Marines are exempt from a Defense Department rule for troops to have private living quarters; Marines have two people in each room to promote a sense of unity.  Marine commandant Gen. James Amos alluded to such concerns when he said of DADT repeal:

There’s risk involved … I’m trying to determine how to measure that risk … There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women — and when you talk of infantry, we’re talking our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers.

A second factor distinguishing Army and Marine combat units from other units may be the lack of privacy inherent in such combat situations.

Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham chaired the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Comprehensive Working Group.

Proponents of DADT repeal have not ignored such “opposition in small pockets of the force“.  But they suggest that such problems will be transitory, and give two reasons why across-the-board DADT repeal will work better over time.  However, both reasons seem unconvincing:

Generational change: Reform proponents suggest that “resistance within combat arms groups is likely higher because of older commanders” and therefore the situation will improve as older commanders retire.  However, the age data in appendix H for Question 71a shows little effect of age.

Familiarity: One of the key implications being claimed from the study is that when straights and gays get familiar with one another, concerns about gays in the military will go away.  However, information in appendix P for those who “Served With Gay or Lesbian Service Member” shows the familiarity effect to be tiny.  For Question 71a, negative responses drop from 49.5% for those who haven’t served with gays to 43.0% for those with such familiarity.

The size of the familiarity effect is so small that it may be due not to familiarity at all, but instead due to ascertainment bias.  As documented in appendix E Question 85, “Shared a room with a person believed to be homosexual” is 46.9% in the Navy and 26.8% for Marines.  People in units in which gays are effectively “out” are more likely to be in units in which there is no problem with gays being “out”.  Therefore, a sample weighted towards people in such inherently gay-friendly units would be biased towards underestimating the difficulties in other units such as combat Marines. (A simple example of such an ascertainment bias is the “full airplane” fallacy: if half of flights are 90% full and half are 10% full, the average load factor is 50%, but the average load factor experienced by fliers is (0.1 x 10%) + (0.9 x 90%) = 82%.  Similarly, the posited familiarity effect may be a result of the lower percent of perceived homosexuality in the Marines.)

What does the Pentagon study tell us about how we can accommodate gays in the military?

The data suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach is not wise. We can open many units to gays quickly but we need to be careful not to require 100% of units to welcome gays quickly.

We shouldn’t be pessimistic, however, about changes in familiarity and generational attitudes.  Rather than wait passively for familiarity and generational changes to influence behavior, we can improve the underlying problem with advances in privacy infrastructure and thereby lead to genuine change in familiarity and generational attitudes.

Infrastructure changes need to be done correctly, however (volume 1, p. 135 and volume 2, p. 102):

The need to address the housing and showering arrangements was also the most frequently raised implementation issue in this sample of comments.

“I recommend not trying to make segregated facilities. You’d end up with straight men’s heads, gay men’s heads, bisexual men’s heads, plus the female counterparts. My sub doesn’t have room for 6 different types of bunkrooms and heads.”

A better approach is to do what has been implemented at universities over the past few decades: giving everyone more privacy, with widespread availability of single rooms, separate shower stalls and so forth.  Much infrastructure of this type has already been added in the military to accommodate women, who are now welcome in 80% of units (volume 1, p. 28).  Adding such infrastructure will be practical in some situations and less practical in others, providing another argument against the one-size-fits-all approach to DADT reform.

We don’t need to choose between 0% or 100% of units being open to gays.  Indeed, both extreme positions are demonstrably silly since there is no good reason to bar gay lawyers from the military and there are clear problems with opening submarines and some Marine units to gays, given current infrastructure.

Congress should give the Pentagon the authority to open up units to gays based on the Pentagon’s assessment of their infrastructure for sexual privacy.  Using appropriate infrastructure changes we can continue to move forward, as we have for women in the military, to push openness closer and closer to 100%.

Jumping right to 100% of units welcoming gays is not the best strategy.  It would be particularly tragic if such a push for 100% created a deadlock that left us stuck at 0%.

Posted: 1 Dec 2010

Photos:, by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

16 thoughts on “DADT Study Data Argues Against One-Size-Fits-All Approach

  1. Michael Segal says:

    Some highlights from the 3 December 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee discussion of the Pentagon study, with time-stamped segments from the video at http://armed-services.senate.g

    47:44 to 51:38: General Amos “My recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time.”

    117:53 to 121:27 Senator Webb and Gen. Cartwright: Webb enunciates and gets Cartwright to agree that implementation “service by service” and “combat arm by combat arm” is “on the table”.

    192:36 to 197:26 Sen. Levin and Gen. Schwartz: the clip begins with Levin saying “we like to say one size shouldn't fit all” and then explains why he'd like to have one size fit all, but ends with saying of the language about implementation “If that needs to be strengthened, fine, someone offer an amendment to strengthen it”.

    The key thing that remains unclear is whether the Pentagon sees itself as obligated to open up 100% of units to gays in any particular timeframe such as the next decade, or whether it can just do whatever it thinks is right. The most simple interpretation of repeal is that it removes the legal specification of 0% and lets the Pentagon do whatever it thinks is right.

    Senator Scott Brown has announced that “Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.” (…)

    The other key senator to be heard from is Senator Webb.

  2. Eric says:

    At the legislative stage, military leadership clearly wanted to reserve the power to implement repeal their way, rather than have implementation guidelines imposed upon them, either by the courts or Congress.

    From there, if we assume the recommendations in the report reflect the preferred implementation plan of military leadership, then they wanted a uniform minimalist approach with the least disruption to regulations and policy (although the report highlighted the headaches that will be inevitable in accomodating gay partner benefits and privileges). Military leadership's preference is to remove the DADT penalties and make the necessary UCMJ changes (so no return to pre-DADT, either), while at the same time, not adding categories, accomodations, preferences, nor reporting or other individual action requirements. Military leadership doesn't want DADT repeal to lead to
    affirmative action, a new class system for military personnel, nor separate disciplinary protocols.

    The problem with partial repeal is, since presumably gays will continue to join the combat arms, partial repeal creates the divergent disciplinary, partner benefits, etc., systems that the miltary leadership wanted to avoid with the uniform minimalist approach. If DADT is retained in the combat arms after DADT repeal, a DADT violation in the combat arms presumably would lead to re-class rather than discharge, but it would still be controversial.

    As far as whether partial repeal would lead to full repeal, I expect the issue would be raised at the 1 year review. I assume (without basis) the implementation of a partial repeal would be modeled on the MOS limitations for female soldiers, so it wouldn't bar openly gay soldiers by unit nor entail a branch-by-branch review that would potentially bar openly gays soldiers from near-combat MOSes like medics, engineers, and MPs that currently allow women. I believe a smooth post-DADT transition in the Army that surrounds, works with , and supports the combat arms would lead to DADT repeal in the combat arms – assuming DADT is retained only in the combat arms, and not retained in entire units nor in MOSes that work with the combat arms.

    Personally, I sympathize with the military leadership and prefer the 100% repeal they recommended. Get the hard part over with as fast as possible, work out the kinks sooner, and let the repeal be done in the simplest way possible. Partial repeal is more palateable for the combat arms and legislatively expedient in the short term, but will be more complicated for the military in the long term.

  3. Michael Segal says:

    One of the most important paragraphs of the Pentagon interpretation report (…) has gotten almost no attention. It reads:

    “Our judgment is that the levels of reluctance of gays to “out themselves” described in the previous section, even if permitted by law, would be even higher in warfighting units. This, coupled with the low number of gay men estimated to be in the military (relative to their representation in civilian population), leads us to conclude that, if the law were repealed, the change in culture and environment in warfighting units will be minimal.”

    This appears to be an oblique reference to the actual experience in the UK, which I detailed in a previous post (…/). I wrote:

    “This incremental approach is a good approximation of what actually happened after courts ordered the British military to open up 100% to gays. Although de jure there was immediate full access for gays, de facto an unspoken DADT remained in many units, particularly in the early years. The details were not well publicized since the remaining de facto DADT was a violation of the court order.”

    Although the arguments for DADT reform working have been the flawed claims about generational change and familiarity analyzed in this post, the actual mechanisms for DADT reform working will be different. They will be:

    1. the reluctance to out oneself as has occurred in the UK, and
    2. the individual privacy infrastructure changes.

  4. Eric says:

    “2. the individual privacy infrastructure changes.”

    This issue will be interesting because the report recommends against separate accomodations as a matter of policy and leaves it up to individual commanders to deal with conflicts that arise from openly gay soldiers in close quarters.

    “1. the reluctance to out oneself as has occurred in the UK”

    My experience with American military culture, albeit as a combat support soldier and not a combat arms soldier, is that there is heavy pressure to normalize behavior in reasonably clear ways. After all, soldiers are first and foremost 24/7 teammates, with the social mechanisms that implies. Outside of the norms, however, individual, even strange, differences are tolerated among soldiers that come from a wide diversity of backgrounds. Pre-military prejudices often persist to some degree – the Army is not a brainwashing cult – but soldiers figure out what's important, or they don't succeed as soldiers. A common mission and uniform, a disciplined value-based society, and interdependency have a way of clarifying things.

    Hopefully, sexual orientation would become a non-issue and settle into the category of tolerated differences. Gay soldiers shouldn't feel compelled to out themselves, but neither should soldiers fear bullying or ostracization by fellow soldiers. That's where training, education, and most of all, leadership make a difference, and where Ivy ROTC can make a difference.

  5. Eric says:

    ADD: Soldiering is a practical, grounded, results-oriented profession. Soldiers generally value “high speed, low drag” competence above all, and the combat arms hold themselves to the strictest professional standards in the military. As long as openly gay combat soldiers hold their own or exceed the standard, and comport themselves in a professional military manner, I believe everyone else will get over their hang-ups about the gay part at least as well as racist soldiers get over their hang-ups serving in a multiracial military. So, yes, we have a relevant UK model, but I don't think we're necessarily limited to their example.

  6. Michael Segal says:

    “This issue will be interesting because the report recommends against separate accomodations as a matter of policy and leaves it up to individual commanders to deal with conflicts that arise from openly gay soldiers in close quarters.”

    I agree, and I cited in my post one comment from the survey saying “I recommend not trying to make segregated facilities” in order to stress that point. My suggestion is, as much as partical, to increase individual privacy available to everyone. This has happened across many sectors of civilian life, notably at universities as I cited in the post but also in hospitals, where thirty years ago a dozen or two patients were hospitalized in a huge open ward and nobody had much privacy at all.

    It is not as easy to ensure individual privacy in the military, and that is why Senator Webb wanted to be sure that the Pentagon could proceed “service by service” and “combat arm by combat arm”.

  7. Michael Segal says:

    By recommending in the Pentagon interpretation report against “separate accomodations” the report was saying not to have “straight men’s heads, gay men’s heads, bisexual men’s heads, plus the female counterparts”. The report was not recommending against enhancements to individual privacy.

  8. Eric says:

    My reference is pages 140-141 of the report, the “Privacy and Cohabitation” section of Chapter XIII “Our Recommendations”, which concludes, “we recommend the Department of Defense expressly prohibit the designation of separate facilities based on sexual orientation, except that commanders retain the authority to adjudicate requests for accommodation of privacy concerns on an individualized, case-by-case basis in the interest of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline, and consistent with performance of mission.” The section addresses concerns about housing and bathing arrangements.

    I'm not clear what other individual privacy infrastructure areas you're referring to.

  9. chigari says:

    As a retired military officer, I must say the approach taken to this problem is indicative of what happens when politics enters into the calculus of military decision making. To me–and apparently Secretary Gates as well—there is no historical precedent for asking troops if they want change. In the military I was in, change happened when those with the rank said change was going to happen. No one ever asked my opinion about whether I wanted change.

  10. Michael Segal says:

    The transcripts of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on DADT hearings are at: Thursday 2 December : http://armed-services.senate.g…Friday 3 December: http://armed-services.senate.g

  11. Michael Segal says:

    The distinction made during the hearings was that attitudes were surveyed since a leader wants to understand the troops, but no advice was asked because a leader needs to make the decision.

  12. Michael Segal says:

    The text of the stand-alone DADT repeal bill is at…:”H.R.6520 — Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 “

  13. Michael Segal says:

    The URL…: gets mangled by the software for this blog; it only works if the colon is included at the end. In other words, the part after…? is c111:H.R.6520:

  14. Michael Segal says:

    Senator Webb has gotten assurances from Secretary Gates that implementation would be “sequenced in order to protect small unit cohesion.” As reported by POLITICO:…Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, for example, may demand that physical modifications be made to accommodate concerns among some Marines about showering with other Marines who are serving openly. All of this could take time.Amos may have backing on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine, has been pushing the Pentagon to phase in any new policy. Webb said in a statement last week that Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed to him that implementation would be “sequenced in order to protect small unit cohesion.”“We have not determined the specific methodology that would be used should this legislation pass, but I can assure you that the specific concerns that you raise will be foremost in my mind as we develop an implementation plan,” Gates told Webb in a Dec. 17 letter. “Further, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I remain committed to work closely with the Service Chiefs and the Combatant Commanders in developing this process.”

  15. Michael Segal says:

    To access the text of the DADT repeal law, use , which gets around the URL mangling problem discussed above.

  16. […] is a violation of a social norm; for example you wouldn’t have me room with a female.” DADT Study Data Argues Against One-Size-Fits-All Approach | Secure Nation As far as "staring" being considered sexual harrassment? Please show me where this […]

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