Tag Archives: DADT

A Month Later, DADT Survey Participation Lags

On August 12th, the Navy Times, which has been closely covering the DADT survey sent out to 400,000 service members last month, reported that only a quarter of the troops returned the survey in advance of the August 15th deadline, leading Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to issue a statement pleading with troops, “If you have not yet responded, please participate. Your response will help us assess the impact of a change in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law”.  In light of the low response level for such a seemingly controversial and time-sensitive issue, it begs the question, why are troops not responding to a survey that could help smooth or derail the path towards DADT reform?

One factor is simple and straightforward: time. Simply, people are busy, and a long and relatively repetitive survey that requires them to think back to their past experiences with gay service members does not fit easily into a busy schedule.  It is quite easy, for someone who does not have strong feelings on this issue, to consciously choose to leave the “voting” up to others.

That leads to the other main reason that comes to my mind: passion.  Policy makers assumed that because they are required by their constituents to have a passionate view on DADT, that everyone has a passionate view on the issue.  The truth is that many Americans have no clear view on this issue, and service members are no different.  One can feel that being gay is wrong, but still be respectful enough of our founding principles to accept an unpleasant (to them) reality.

Much of the debate so far has revolved around the impact of gays on unit cohesion under high stress, enclosed environments or combat situations, where unit cohesion is of great importance. In those cases, much like the decision to add women to submarines, caution is warranted, so long as it does not serve to obstruct progress. It is understandable that service members in those settings might have a strong opinion on this issue.  But many service members don’t serve in those types of situations. They may be shore side administrative staff, vehicle maintenance crew, or, like myself, a public affairs specialist. These issues just don’t have the same affect on mission readiness for them, which I believe has contributed to the surprisingly low level of participation on a survey that has been impossible to avoid about during the last month.

I was not invited to complete the survey, though I read a copy of it in July, but I do feel very strongly that DADT needs to be reformed. The survey itself was an imperfect creation, clearly created by a committee. Yet, given the issue and the stakes, the survey did a very passable job of allowing the respondent to come to their own conclusions, and not be led along a certain ideological path.  The one serious concern I have is the line of questioning that asked respondents to share their opinions on how others in their unit felt about gays.  In court, this would be thrown out in a second, and with good reason.  If I was, say, a raging homophobe, it would be in my best interest to claim that my entire unit was disgusted by the presence of a gay service member.  Or I could state the opposite if I personally had no issues with gay soldiers.  The survey would have been best presented by focusing solely on the direct knowledge and beliefs of the respondent.

As a Navy reservist, I did submit comments through the voluntary website created for all service members and their families to share their thoughts., which has notably received 67,000 short responses.  While I echoed the most mainstream arguments about civil and human rights, I focused my comments on a point that has received little mention in the media coverage: what happens when a civilian joins or serves alongside a military where gays don’t “exist”.   As a reservist, I have a civilian life.  In that civilian life, I encounter gay men and women on a daily basis.  Growing up in urban coastal cities, I grew up around gay men and women, and saw friends come out as they discovered their true proclivities.  To me, while it differed from my own experiences and preferences, it was a normal part of my life.

We talk of the shock service members will face if gays are suddenly able to be open about their sexuality (which I doubt will be as severe as critics predict; they overestimate human ability to hide one’s true nature from one’s closest acquaintances. My personal belief is that every gay service member has unit members who know or think they know the truth), but what about the shock currently faced by the millions of men and women who straddle the civilian and military worlds, and who know that there are second-class citizens on one side of that divide?  It is extraordinarily difficult for me to accept that putting on a uniform makes gays suddenly disappear from the world.

Ultimately it is in the best interests of the nation and of the military to allow gays to serve openly in the military, without threat of disgrace or need for disguise.  And I believe that the low response rate to the survey, which I read as indicating a lower level of passion about this issue than otherwise assumed, only reinforces the argument that the repeal of DADT will have a minimal negative impact on general unit cohesion and readiness, and that the majority of the men and women in uniform already understand that, despite their personal beliefs about homosexuality.

This is an exciting time for the future of equality in the armed forces – women and minorities are putting on one, two, three and even four stars; women will soon begin serving on a trial basis on SSBNs; the Navy continues to beat Army in football (no, that’s not equality, that’s just a happy fact); and we may soon take the next big step toward creating a military that mirrors civil society in its equal treatment of all citizens.

Posted on 15 Aug 2010

Photo: af.mil


Forget the Bravado: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Leadership Issue

I respect General McPeak. He retired before I entered the Marine Corps in 1996, so I didn’t have the privilege of flying or fighting with him. His 37 years of service, and substantial list of accomplishments, however, speak for themselves.

Although I respect General McPeak, I disagree with him. His recent New York Times Op-Ed, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t change,” offers a perspective on the 1993 formulation and implementation of the Don’t ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, and the reasons why it should not be repealed. His argument is that not much has changed in the 17 years since DADT’s implementation, and that the arguments being made for its repeal are imprudent, especially during a time of war.

I will be the first to acknowledge that we are at war, and that everything we do should first aim to support the infantryman on the front lines. Our military is already stretched thin and overworked, and we should be loath to burden our troops with unnecessary tasks. But General McPeak is wrong. Things have changed, and repealing DADT won’t negatively affect unit performance. The repeal of DADT will be virtually seamless and, if anything, have a positive effect on unit performance by enabling military leadership and removing a hypocritical policy. The reality is that the current generation of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have grown up in a different world, and General McPeak’s concerns overstate the complications of repealing DADT, and don’t reflect the attitudes of the members of the military that I served with.

How are things different?

First – Being around gay people used to be a big deal. It isn’t anymore. I served with people that I suspected of being gay. It didn’t bother me, and it wouldn’t have bothered me any more or less if those service members were allowed to serve openly. The reason is that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t determine their professional ability – so why should I care who they date when they are off duty?

Actually, I do care – from a leadership point of view. I care because I was taught from day one of officer training to take care of my Marines, and that I could only take care of them if I knew them. I was taught that I should know their parent’s names, their hometown, their hobbies…..even know their favorite color. But how can I know them if I am prohibited from asking certain questions? And how can I remain fully aware of my unit’s capabilities and limitations if certain members of my unit are forbidden from keeping me fully informed? This may not easily translate to those who have never served in the military, but a Marine’s personal life is his/her leader’s business. Most Marine units have to be ready to deploy at a moments notice – and personal problems affect the ability of a unit to deploy. If a Marine has a personal issue, to include a relationship issue, leaders should know about it. Only then can leaders make decisions based on an accurate understanding of unit capabilities.

General McPeak suggests that we are not asking gay service men and women to lie. But if our leadership is truly taking care of their troops, and thereby truly optimizing unit performance by asking these questions – their troops are lying to them. This is especially problematic in a culture that values integrity and honesty so deeply. It is problematic for the gays and lesbians who do the lying, and hypocritical of military leadership to emphasize the necessities of honesty, but then require an exception.

Second – There will be “adjustments” that come with the repeal of DADT, but the changes will be much less dramatic than you might think. Concerns often include bathroom and shower arrangements, general living arrangements, and the impact of potential relationships within units. Many of these concerns garner nothing more than a dismissive chuckle from most of the Marines I served with. This is primarily because most of us know at least one gay or lesbian outside the service, and the rumors we heard about gays and lesbians in 8th grade were dispelled long ago.

It’s also because the integration of women into “non-combat” units during the last several wars proves that men and women can serve in the same unit professionally, and won’t necessarily disrupt unit performance. Women are still not allowed to serve in infantry units, but since the current wars don’t have traditional “rear areas,” our female service members have been integrated into de-facto front-line units. The nearly 100 female combat deaths in Iraq attest to this, and the evidence that female integration has not destroyed unit cohesion in Iraq is evidenced by the current state of our mission there.

The reality is that gays and lesbians will integrate into everyday military life easily; gays will be required to comply with the same professional standards by which we expect males and females to conduct themselves when serving together.

Will some gay servicemen make unwanted advances on other servicemen while on the job? Probably. But some straight servicemen make unwanted advances on servicewomen in our present system, and they often pay a severe price. From what I’ve seen, sexual harassment is treated sternly within the military, and it won’t be tolerated from gays or lesbians either. More than likely, the vast majority of service men and women will conduct themselves professionally. The ones that don’t will be dealt with using already established procedures. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment; a professional is a professional.

Additionally, I agree that the military is not like any other job. It is not a right to serve in the military. And yes, the military discriminates against all sorts of people for being too fat or too thin, too tall or too short etc. But there are reasons for that discrimination that don’t apply to this debate. Being too fat could preclude an individual from contributing his or her fair share to the unit, for example. But that deficiency, and its remedy, is entirely the responsibility of the individual. Being gay, on the other hand, doesn’t preclude anyone from doing anything unless the prejudice of others obstructs them.

Third – General McPeak suggests that unit cohesion might suffer if gays are allowed to serve openly, which would lead to a degradation of a unit’s combat capability. I must admit that prior to serving in combat I might have believed this argument. It seems plausible that “men need to be men” on the field of battle, and that gay men serving openly would somehow betray the sacred trust that only those who have seen combat know. I have served in combat, and have a different perspective.

I was a pilot for most of my career. Two of my three combat deployments were flying tours; one was a ground tour. My ground tour was spent in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005/06 as a forward air controller with an infantry unit. During this tour I participated in more than 100 gun battles in which the enemy attacked us with coordinated IED’s, rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and mortars. I have no doubt that the boys that hit the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima saw worse than I did, but I also feel confident that I know combat well enough to offer an opinion.

What I know convinces me that when people talk of unit cohesion in reference to DADT it is usually for bravado and effect – it is usually not based in reality. I’ll try to avoid the bravado by simply giving my point view:

I formed what I thought was a close bond with my unit before we saw combat, but that bond – the one formed before combat – turned out to be almost completely irrelevant compared to the bond formed in combat. That’s because when the shooting started I didn’t care who had my back, I just cared that they did. If they were pointing their rifle in the right direction, and we were trying to kill the same enemy – that was all the “cohesion” I needed. This is not to say that I didn’t form bonds with the Marines I served with – I certainly did. But the bonds were not born out of an overdrawn machismo, or because we thought we should – but because we fought for our lives together. For me at least, General McPeak has confused the necessity of cohesion with the cause.

This thought is akin to the idea that soldiers don’t care about politics when the shooting starts. For me that was certainly true. I consider myself invested in politics. I care about my country. When I was in Iraq I wanted above all things to return with honor. But when the shooting started, the politics predictably melted away – it was just us against them. If one of “us” happened to be gay – it just wouldn’t have mattered to me.

In conclusion, General McPeak rightly points out that overall unit effectiveness must continue to be our primary concern. I care about civil rights, too, but I agree with the General that individual rights are secondary to unit effectiveness, and to the mission. My argument is not that we should repeal DADT for the sake of taking care of individuals for their own sake, but because leaders would actually be better off with the boundaries removed, and because times have changed. I don’t doubt that there was a time when gays serving openly would have degraded unit cohesion and performance more than was worth the benefit. That time has passed. Young service men and women don’t judge gays and lesbians the way our parents do. They are not only ready to have gays and lesbians serve openly – they think it’s a little silly that the previous generation is still in such a heated debate about whether or not they should.

Photo credit: kjd


The Embarrassment of the Civilian Policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The debate over the Congressional policy, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has taken center stage when it comes to current discussions regarding the military.  We can debate whether or not this is the topic that should be such a lightening rod of discussion or whether it is other pressing matters, such as a continued drawdown in Iraq, the ambitious offensive in Afghanistan, or the writing on the wall that is Pakistan.  But in any event, the debate is here to stay and it remains to be seen whether the policy will die a slow death due to unenforcement or whether the President will actually take the case before Congress.

It must first be unequivocally stated that the U.S. military is by far the most accomplished organization, perhaps in the world, at personnel diversification and integration.  There is likely no other organization that can state that all employees, regardless of gender or race, receive equal pay.  There is not one woman in the U.S. military that makes less than a man, provided she has the same rank and experience.  Blacks and other minorities have held high levels of leadership unparalleled in the civilian world.  It seems an odd juxtaposition to have a man like Colin Powell responsible for our nation’s war strategy at a time when few people of color could be found in charge of a major corporation’s business strategy.  And on a lighter note, no other organization has been able to transition their members onto the metric system. While most Americans rely on preconceived and incorrect notions of what the military is all about, and what military life is like, they would be wise to take note that it is only the military which exemplifies what America is supposed to be.

These facts then beg the question of why America refuses to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.  I must admit, as a former Army officer, I worry about the integration and unit cohesion issues that are likely to arise from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.  And try as I might, have not been able to stake a position either way.  It seems unfathomable to me that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in forward operating bases, submarines, and the like would not have some sort of initial adverse impact on the morale and cohesion of the unit.  But are these concerns any greater or any different than those voiced when our nation took steps to allow minorities and women equal status as soldiers? I do not believe that the struggle of homosexuals is comparable to that of say blacks or women in terms of history, discrimination, and the ever so prescient fact that race and gender are definitively immutable characteristics.  But the struggle of homosexuals is a struggle nonetheless and one which implicates the broader American and military values of fair treatment and dealing and support for civil rights.

However, should our Armed Forces be forced into the foray of the debate, or should that all too convenient and Constitutional civilian leadership factor actually make a clear and distinct decision?  And, “forced” is the appropriate term. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not the military’s policy, it is Congressional policy. The policy passed by a Congress, and signed by a President, both of the Democratic Party.

Senior military leadership has spoken on the issue as Adm. Mike Mullen expressed his disapproval of a policy which, in his words, “forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”  Merrill McPeak, former Air Force Chief of Staff, recently wrote about these issues as a counterargument to the rising animus against the policy. I must say that I was struck by the weak arguments he presented in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and it leads me to the conclusion that the policy is all but dead unless military leadership formulates a cogent response to Adm. Mullen’s compelling testimony.

McPeak’s opposition to repeal of the policy is based on four main ideas; that the costs of separating homosexual soldiers is miniscule compared to the amount of money spent on recruitment and training in general, that many people from all walks of life are banned from military service and that a prohibition on homosexuality should not rise to a civil rights issue, that President Truman’s executive order integrating the military did little until the services were ready to move forward, and that personal performance does not matter in combat.

McPeak’s most untenable positions seem to be in his characterization of the policy as outside the scope of civil rights issues.  It only becomes untenable due to McPeak’s hopelessly illegal proposition that the military is unlike other jobs, that it is a calling, and therefore employment discrimination laws do not apply.  McPeak is correct in this feeling that military service is a calling and one of the most honorable professions.  However, we as country do not allow society to tag public occupations as “off-limits” and immune to the law because its members feel that it is special.  Under McPeak’s analysis we would be able to prevent homosexuals from serving as EMTs, police, and fire personnel because these jobs many times require one to risk his or her life, and surely members of these occupations feel led to a cause bigger than themselves.  McPeak concludes this point by erroneously comparing homosexuality with being too fat or too thin, disabled, or not holding sufficient education with which to serve your country.

Next, McPeak gives short shrift to President Truman’s executive order calling for integration of the armed forces.  McPeak states that the order was not enough for the armed forces to do the right thing and that it was only after the leaders of “each service committed their institutions did we make real progress.”  The power of McPeak’s statement here is amazing.  The basic argument is that the President of the United States gave an order and the military then decided to implement the President’s order on their own time.  It logically follows that if President Obama gave that order today with regard to homosexuals, the service chiefs might do the same.  From McPeak’s point of view the President is not actually the Commander-in-Chief but the Requestor-in-Chief?

McPeak’s final argument rests on the idea that “… It would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat.”  According to McPeak, it is unit cohesion that stands to suffer most from homosexuals serving openly in the armed forces.  Unit cohesion is most likely the strongest argument out there for keeping the policy but McPeak’s arguments damage it beyond comprehension.  McPeak says that in serving as a “fighter pilot, paratrooper, or submariner one joins a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and uncorrupted by the world at large.”

The idea that homosexuals will corrupt military society will not hold weight in today’s debate.  McPeak’s argument sounds less like a concern for unit solidarity and more of the locker room concern that homosexuals just shouldn’t be around when men are working.

There are legitimate concerns regarding unit cohesion and the ability of the military to withstand homosexual integration in the midst of two wars.  However, those on the side of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell must craft better arguments than those brought forth by McPeak.  As a matter of fact, it is likely that had more time been spent on the actual reasons for the policy both substantively and anecdotally the debate may not be at the center of military conversation today.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents civilian control of the military at its worst.  The warrior class of this country depends on real and concrete rules in order to function day to day and defend the homeland.  However, in their attempt to lead, civilians have given that warrior class an albatross that is neither clear nor widely enforceable.  The policy is so inept that both sides of the issue have a tough time formulating legitimate reasons for its repeal or sustainment.  It is quite simply embarrassing.

Those who support this policy have a small window of opportunity with which to shore up support, and those against the policy face quite a task in working with all vested parties to form a workable and intelligent rule.   Let’s get it together guys.


Is One More “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Study Needed, Really?

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.