Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recently fired another salvo to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1993 law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the Armed Forces, when he declared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, "No matter how I look at the issue I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Since the military is prohibited from questioning sexual orientation, a clueless statement like that from the nation’s most senior military officer is troubling to those of us who have served in combat units.
Discussions about DADT among groups advocating repeal, some members of Congress, and even some senior military officers often wax eloquent about civil rights, morality, and ethics.
That’s all well and good, but for combat veterans, the argument boils down to one thing—success in combat. Anything that erodes high morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion will be eliminated. The proper way of addressing how repeal of DADT would affect front-line units is not from the lofty, philosophical top-down perspective, but the nuts-and-bolts bottom-up perspective.
My service with the United States Marine Corps in the 1960’s included deployment to Vietnam as a platoon commander. The crucible of combat taught me that unit integrity depends to a large degree on respect, confidence, trust in leaders, and teamwork. Prevailing over determined and well-armed Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units demanded total focus.
For instance, it is not difficult for me to envision the truckload of problems that would have ensued had one of my squad leaders in Vietnam been gay and had an intimate relationship with one of his fire team leaders. Would he hesitate to commit his lover’s team to a flanking maneuver during a firefight? Would passion in the fighting hole at night distract his vigilance?
What if he came down with AIDS or some SDT during a search and destroy mission? What effect on morale would ensue if he cited his lover for a Bronze Star when it wasn’t deserved? Would he be so shattered emotionally by his lover’s wounding or death in battle that he became ineffective as a leader? Knowing he was gay, would other Marines, fearing contamination, hesitate to treat him if he was wounded?
Would violence ensue if he hit on a subordinate Marine? If a junior enlisted man rejected a gay senior NCO’s sexual advances, would he invite undesirable assignments, or lower fitness reports?
Back at the combat base, how would you prevent gay cliques from forming as Michael S. Rose chronicled in his book Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church. How would troop morale be affected by discovering the first sergeant in bed with the company commander? Would straight soldiers feel uncomfortable with gays in the showers or bathrooms? As a “protected class,” would gays contest every assignment, every failure to promote, every lack of achievement award, and living conditions, ad infinitem, thus hogtieing the unit in legal actions?
A study published a couple of months ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that AIDS infections caused by sex between men rose 13% from 2001 to 2005. Why would any rational person want to introduce into the military a population that is at risk for what Mark Stirling, the director of East and Southern Africa for UNAIDS termed “the worst and deadliest epidemic that humankind has ever experienced”?
Col. James M. Lowe, commander of Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va., made an apropos observation when he said, “I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be one. We’re a brotherhood of warriors—nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple. We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good.”