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What Iíd say to the
Joint Chiefs of Staff

by

RADM Alan M. Steinman,
USPHS/USCG (Ret)

With President Obamaís inauguration, thereís a new attitude in the White House about gays serving honestly in the military. Our Commander-in-Chief has publicly stated he wants to see the end of the infamous "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" (DADT) law. In fact, the official White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/civil_rights/): states that explicitly:

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

But the President has also stated publicly that he will seek the advice of his military experts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on this issue. With that in mind, hereís what I think the Joint Chiefs should consider when they discuss DADT with their new Commander-in-Chief. First, DADT was enacted by Congress with the absolute concurrence of the then Joint Chiefs because it was assumed that the mere knowledge of the presence of a gay or lesbian service member would impair unit morale, degrade unit cohesion and therefore adversely affect combat readiness. There were no military or academic studies to support those assumptions. In fact, the study commissioned by the Pentagon at the time gays in the military was being considered in 1993 found exactly the opposite. The Rand Corporation, specifically empowered by DoD to investigate the issue of gays serving openly, concluded that there would be no adverse impact from allowing gays to serve openly (see: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR323/index.html)

Itís now fifteen years since DADT was enacted, and the Rand Corporationís study has proven correct. Despite all the hand-wringing and fears about what would happen if known gays were to serve alongside their straight counterparts, the attitudes of our current troops is quite different. In what I like to refer to as The Reality on the Ground, there are thousands of known gays and lesbians serving right now, in both theaters of war; and unit morale, unit cohesion and combat readiness are undiminished. A 2006 Zogby International Poll of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans (the only scientifically valid poll of military personnel yet conducted Ė in contrast to the highly biased recently published Military Signal poll of some of their subscribers) found the following:

1) 23% of the troops said they knew for certain there were gays in their own unit, and the majority of these troops said this fact was widely known by others in the unit;

2) 45% of the troops said they suspected there were gays in their own unit;

3) 73% of the troops said they were comfortable working around gays and lesbians

So, the Reality on the Ground shows that 68% of our current fighting force either knows for certain or suspects there are gays in their own unit, and the vast majority of them donít care. Certainly combat readiness is unimpaired, as by all evidence our military effectiveness if just fine.

Since DADT was enacted, nearly 13000 troops have been kicked out under this law. Admittedly, in the grand scheme of military personnel end strength, this is a fairly small number, but it does include men and women with critical specialties, such as linguists, pilots, doctors, nurses, combat medics, engineers, ordinance disposal experts, etc. But far more significantly, about 3000 gay and lesbian troops voluntarily leave the military each year because of the stress of living a lie and fearing that at any moment the wrong person will find out about them and have their career terminated (http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute/publications/EffectsOfDontAskDontTellOnRetention.pdf). That translates to a loss of over 40000 personnel who left the service voluntarily and quietly over the last 15 years. And every one of those troops was trained, experienced and paid for. None of them could be easily replaced by a raw recruit out of boot camp or a nugget officer out of a service academy or OCS. THAT is a fact the JCS needs to consider carefully. Weíre losing trained and experienced men and women, both through voluntary attrition and through DADT discharges, all because of an unnecessary law which has not only been shown to be groundless in its foundations, but harmful to military end strength and expertise.

Let me close with a couple of anecdotes. The very first American casualty in Operation Iraqi Freedom was an openly gay Marine, SSGT Eric Alva. Hereís what he had to say about his fellow Marinesí reaction to him:

"Being on the front lines and serving with the people who even actually knew that I was gay, you know, that was never a factor. We were there to do a job. We were [there] to do a mission. I don't think people would have a hard time with it because they know that the person right next to them is going to be there to protect them, in our terms, 'have their back.'"

On a more humorous note, hereís what a straight soldier had to say on a Military.com discussion board about "gays in the foxhole," a common argument offered against gays serving openly:

Having been in a "foxhole" with incoming fire, I can honestly say I was only worried about not dying. The gentleman next to me was putting effective fire back at the bad guys and I was honestly too busy doing the same to even care if he was looking at my butt. If a raving, flaming drag queen can put rounds back onto the bad guys, do it effectively and still oogle my backside, I'm good with it. If that same drag queen hits on me, I'll tell him, "no, thanks." If he does it in a firefight I'll break his legs as soon as the shooting stops. Of course if an unattractive or uninteresting female hits on me, I'll tell her, "no thanks." If she does it in a firefight, I'll break her legs as soon as the shooting stops. It's a pretty simple equation. I don't care what the person next to me does with their genitals. I don't want to hear about Joe Lunchbucket and the guys from Third Platoon pulling a train on a hooker any more than I want to hear about Susie Sunshine and her girlfriend.

Patriotic gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans are currently serving their country honorably in every branch of our Armed Forces in this time of war. Yet the infamous "donít ask, donít tell" law requires them to serve in silence, to lie about who they are, and to violate the very code of honor they are defending by their service. Gay servicemen and women are fighting for their country, being wounded for their country, and some are even dying for their country. Yet Congress, the Pentagon and the White House seem unaware that these brave men and women have to serve in fear of being discovered, fear of being kicked out simply for who they are, or worse, fear of harassment or violence. Our nation needs to appreciate that gay men and women in the military are as patriotic, physically and mentally fit, and mission capable as their straight counterparts. In the Armed Forces, it is courage, commitment and devotion to duty that matter, not sexual orientation.

To the Joint Chiefs I say the following: you have the power to help change this law and allow gays and lesbians to serve their country under the exact same rules and regulations already in place for all personnel. You simply need to tell Congress that, 1) our military has the leadership to handle this issue as we did for integration of African Americans and for expanding the roles of women in the military; and 2) we can no longer afford to lose trained and experienced troops because of an unnecessary law. In the words of President Truman, June 15, 1952, talking about full integration of the armed forces:

ďThe United States needs the imagination, the energy and the skills of every single one of its citizens. Every man or woman who enters one of our Services is certainly entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity."

©  2009  Gay Military Signal