11 February 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 12 February 2010

There aren't many issues that spark more emotion and heated debate than whether or not homosexuals should be permitted to serve--openly--in the United States armed forces. One public case that attracted national media attention, in the mid-70s and long before "Don't ask, don't tell," is that of Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988) who was discharged (characterized as "general") after revealing his sexuality to his commanding officer. Matlovich, awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart (wounded by a mine) during his service in Vietnam, died from complications of HIV/AIDS. Buried with full military honors in Congressional Cemetery his headstone reads: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Ironically, his grave is on the same row as famed FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover--an interesting fellow in his own right.

Thirty five years after Matlovich's discharge and nearly 22 years after his death, the emotion and heated debate continue...

"Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, and overall military readiness. We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."

So goes the sentiments of what was originally 1,050 (at last count 1,152) retired United States military flag officers (generals and admirals)--including 47 who wore four stars--regarding the move to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell."

Their perspective continues, "As a matter of national security, we urge you to support the 1993 law regarding homosexuals in the military, and to oppose any legislative, judicial, or administrative effort to repeal or invalidate the law..." They aver allowing homosexuals to serve would disrupt the military’s efficiency, and could impair recruiting and retaining the manpower necessary to fight the global war on terror.

The stars-only club aired their concerns last spring in a letter addressed to the president and Congress. Figuring the average career for each of these patriots exceeded 30 years--probably closer to 40 for the more senior--there is an aggregate of service somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 years or more. Do you think just maybe they know a little something about the requirements for and trials and tribulations of military service? And, that just maybe each gave their decision to sign in support of the letter serious thought?

The contentious matter has been percolating since Mr. Obama took office (on the campaign trail he promised to change the law)--with advocates sympathetic to the homosexual condition and cause pressing the president to mumble an incantation and wave his healing hand making repeal so. That he did not do such on 21 January 2009--the day after Inauguration--frustrated and angered many. He kept assuring them it was on his plate but a collapsing economy, a couple of wars, rebellion against healthcare reform, and a few other personal matters on the homefront and around the globe were of higher priority. Not to worry.

During last month's State of the Union the president, during his closing remarks, said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do."

Is it?

General Peter Pace, a retired U. S. Marine Corps four-star general, decorated combat veteran, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (under President George W. Bush), and respected as a thoughtful leader said he opposed homosexuals serving in the military, “I believe homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” he told a reporter with the Chicago Tribune in 2007. Hordes "second" General Pace's belief.

To be clear, there is no “constitutional right” to serve in the military. The issue has nothing to do with individual desires and rights. The issue(s), as seen by the proponents for current law, is good order and discipline, morale, military readiness, and maintaining the culture of the armed forces upon which our national security depends. Anything that denigrates is wrong.

Since the purpose of our armed forces is to kill people and destroy things in the defense of our homeland and way of life, any policy or law directing change must serve only to improve the force's capabilities to do those two missions. Period.

As such, before taking another step forward, the president and Congress should--must--first answer a simple question: Explain to the country, while keeping a straight face, how repeal of the law--Section 654, Title 10, United States Code--would improve good order and discipline, morale, unit cohesion, readiness, and combat effectiveness in the All-Volunteer Force (A-VF).

Arguments that cite polls showing 50, 60 or even 70% of the public believe homosexuals should be permitted to openly serve are not only irrelevant they are stupid. For 50, 60, or even 70% of the population does not serve in the military, has not, and never will. Nothing is impossible if you do not have to live with the consequences of your decision. Frankly and sadly, most Americans are incapable of identifying a military service uniform (unless the uniform happens to be camouflage and is spotted on one of our warriors in an airport) much less have any clue as to the unique demands of service. They do not know what they are talking about.

Furthermore, those who argue the senseless loss of critical language skills (e.g. Farsi, Pashto, Arabic, Urdu) necessary for fighting terrorism also have a shallow argument. There are other agencies (e.g. Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency) engaged in the business of national defense where those language skills can be employed. For that matter, contract for these skill sets to support the military. "Losing" the skill set does not have to be. And language skills aside, there are all sorts of ways to serve for love of country.

And who cares that other countries (Denmark, Germany, France, Canada, United Kingdom, Norway, Netherlands, et. al.) have laws permitting homosexuals to serve openly. Not only is our culture different, those countries and their militaries do not bear the global responsibilities--agree with them or not--of the United States and her armed forces. We have never modeled our military--envied by our friends, feared by our enemies, and respected by both--against another's standard. It is indisputable fact, the United States armed forces--role model for the world--are the best manned, trained, equipped, and led on the planet.

Advocates for repeal, looking for quantitative ways to support their case, also point to the cost of recruiting, training, and discharging personnel who turn out to be homosexual. Interesting. But not a compelling case when considering the seriousness of having a ready force. And barely a drop in the bucket when put into perspective against hundreds of billions of dollars stolen by businesses and wasted by government in our chaotic economy.

A Military Times Poll conducted in 2008 asked respondents what they would do if Congress repealed the 1993 law. Those saying they'd not reenlist--10%. Another 14% said they'd contemplate ending their careers. At first glance those percentages may not seem all that significant; maybe even shoulder-shrugging. But, considering only the 10%, the active duty, guard, and reserve forces would lose nearly 230,000 warriors. That's well more than the active duty end-strength of the Marine Corps. And just under the strength when adding in the Marine Corps Reserve. That folks is a telling pulse check of the force.

Along that same train of thought, it's logical to assume the numbers for those choosing not to enlist, as most come from conservative roots, would be even more staggering. The generals and admirals have a point about recruiting and retention and breaking the A-VF. This is not the proper Commentary to discuss it but maybe, since the A-VF is being stretched so thin and some arguments include every "man" counts for homosexuals serving openly, it's time to rethink the present A-VF model. My bet--the country would take on a new attitude were more engaged with defending her.

Since 9/11 records indicate 5,410 discharges were based on homosexuality--with a high of slightly more than 900 in 2002 and a low of 428 in 2009. The low largely attributable to DoD policies still complying with "Don't ask, don't tell" but elevating decision-making to higher levels of command (i.e. flag level). With an aggregate end-strength of all branches of the service--active, guard, and reserve--of more than 2.3 million in 2009 (and it's been fairly steady since 9/11), the losses in compliance with "Don't ask, don't tell" are, by a long shot, statistically insignificant. Of note is the number of Marines discharged is typically one quarter to one third that of each of the other branches.

Leaving the law alone has nothing to do with machismo, prejudice, religious zealotry, or homophobia. And there is no valid correlation pointing to history--success integrating blacks and women into the armed forces--as the righteous path. Those efforts had nothing to do with morals. Sexual orientation is different. Ever-deteriorating morals in our ditzy and irresponsible pop culture, that taints society at-large, do not justify policies that weaken military culture and readiness.

Standards of decency linked to personal conduct and behavior and duty have to exist somewhere. Is there a place--an entity--any more appropriate and important than our armed forces--the micro-culture, seemingly our last bastion of good order and discipline, that ensures our macro-culture, with all its quirks, troubles, and chaos, will continue to exist and thrive?

The moral argument, absolutely valid, is admittedly more nebulous. But the empirical argument of numbers is not. A calculus background is not a prerequisite to figure this one out. A first-grader could do the math. A few hundred losses vice tens and tens and tens and even hundreds of thousands? For what? To appease an aberrant, statistically insignificant faction of society? Even fuzzy math wizardry can't justify an answer other than "X = N" where N = "Nope."

My Friday, 06 March 2009 Commentary titled, TINY TIM & BARACK OBAMA--TIP-TOEING THROUGH "TULIPS" (see "Blog Archive" left ) also addresses repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." In addition to a bit of personal experience while in uniform, my perspective in that article was the present chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, did not seem to indicate he was an advocate for repealing the law. He might be a fair poker player--I got it wrong. Mullen said during Senate Armed Services Committee testimony on 02 February (10 days ago), “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.” And went on to say, “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. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals, and ours as institutions.”

Admiral Mullen is the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs to endorse changing the law. Is he smartly saluting and obeying in the name of duty and political correctness--alongside his boss, Robert Gates--Secretary of Defense? Not my call. You decide.

You can bet of all branches, the Marine Corps position as to homosexuals openly serving is unwavering--not acceptable. At least that is what Marines--we band of brothers who live by the code "Semper Fidelis"--are expecting from our Commandant. I've not spoken with a single Marine--active, reserve, retired, or otherwise--who favors repealing the law. And, I do not know a single Marine that's bashful about saying exactly what's on their mind. Some are more eloquent than others. Want it straight? Ask a lance corporal--they've been around long enough to know and not long enough to care.

What will be interesting to witness in the weeks and months ahead is whom among active duty generals and admirals will have the courage to side with their convictions and speak out, respectfully of course, against repealing the law. They were entrusted with stars for a reason. We'll see how many of them remember the reason. You better believe the lance corporals will be watching. And so will sergeants, gunnery sergeants, lieutenants, majors, and colonels, too.

The president and the majority anchoring seats in Congress are void the life-changing experience wearing a uniform. How could they possibly relate and know what is best for the military? And in turn, our country?

Repeal "Don't ask, don't tell"?

No, Mr. Obama, it's not the right thing to do. Not from a moral position. Not from a practical position. Not from a cultural position. Not from a readiness position. And certainly not from a national security position. This one yet another lousy decision--stemming from political correctness, dunderhead advice, ignorance, and wrong-headed thinking--to add to the blunder pile.

The right thing to do, Mr. President and Congress, is to 'Leave well enough alone--leave it alone.'

Post Script

The retired officers letter and list of signatories: http://www.flagandgeneralofficersforthemilitary.com/

And, this Commentary stirred fond memories of Dave--a Marine and friend with whom I served long ago, and with whom I've lost touch. Rick, Mike, Jim, et.al.(including me)--also Marines and friends--teased Dave he resembled Leonard Matlovich. Dave was not homosexual. Frankly, quite the opposite--a real lady's man; or so he believed. He hated the comparison but it was the moustache--he refused to shave. Funny? In a 'you-had-to-be-there' and Marine kind of way, yes. Damn funny!


Bruce said...

Well ... I guess that answered my question about where you were at on this subject pretty well, Colonel! Outstanding.

Semper Fidelis, Sir:)

Unknown said...

On the mark!

Unknown said...

During last month's State of the Union the president, during his closing remarks, said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do."


This statement is not accurate: or as a Congressman or a Supreme Court Justice might say "is a lie."

As a citizen, I will give the Commander in Chief the benefit of the doubt and say his interpretation of the DADT is at best "fuzzy", not unlike his interpretation of the Constitution in general, not withstanding his reputation as a Constitutional scholar.

A Colonel of Truth said...

To all readers: For the record, all quoted material (every Commentary) is verbatim as it appears in public record. It has been checked, rechecked, and cross-checked for accuracy. Comments welcome but do your homework.

Anonymous said...

Gen Powell eloquently opposed allowing gays to serve in the military when President Clinton first tried to force them on the services by defending discrimination based on sexual orientation -- which he called a "foundational behavioral characteristic" that could undermine military order and discipline -- while denouncing discrimination based on what he called the "benign, non-behavioral characteristic" of skin color.
Of course, this was when Gen Powell was a moderate Republican.

The forward deployed posture of the US military requires its members to live in close, almost intimate quarters with each other over long periods of time. The introduction of homosexual activity into this environment would destroy any sense of espirit de corps.

This is nothing but another political pay-off by our President in his roll as commander in chief.

Ken in Baghdad