05 December 2010


By Andy Weddington
Sunday, 05 December 2010

"Like I said; I got in when you could not serve when gay, served with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and got out before they made it mandatory." Anonymous Marine

The U. S. Marine Corps exists for one purpose--to train for and fight and win battles. That is it.

Anything, person or thing, not a force-multiplier for building, starting with training, unit cohesion and combat readiness is senseless and wrong; in theory, principle, and reality.

Last Thursday and Friday I sat and watched, via streaming video on the Internet, nearly every minute of the Senate Armed Services Committee's (SASC) hearing(s) regarding repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"  (DADT). Frankly, damn scary "Reality TV."

Yesterday morning I reviewed Westat's "Findings From the Surveys" delivered to the Department of Defense Comprehensive Review Working Group analyzing the impact of repealing DADT (the documents available on the DoD website). Nothing in the 160+ pages of findings made a case, even an ever-so-slight one, that repealing DADT would be a force-multiplier for building unit cohesion and combat readiness. In fact, especially from the Marine voice, the impact of repeal would be to the contrary.

General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, made his case during Friday's testimony.

A moving piece of our Commandant's remarks was quoting a note he received from a lieutenant, on his third combat tour presently commanding an infantry platoon in Afghanistan, who spoke of the closeness of his unit and what repeal of DADT would bring about--destruction of unit cohesion thereby negatively impacting his unit's combat readiness. Regrettably, I do not recall the exact compelling words offered by the lieutenant and I failed in my search for that note, but suffice to say it made on impact on General Amos or he'd not read it. A SASC member asked that he reread it. (Note: Thirty years ago I led two infantry platoons. We did not fight together but trained intensely. From that experience and more, I echo the sentiments of today's lieutenant. And I'd be willing to bet good money the majority of my peers, and his, concur. Cohesion is built by tapping the core of human nature--a delicate condition not susceptible to whimsical change. And training proceeds from there.)

General Amos bears the burden of leading the Marine Corps and serving as official spokesman. His grave responsibilities require candor; particularly in defiance of shallow pop culture, political correctness, and pressure to comply with same. He did not sugarcoat his concerns, “If the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat.” He also said, “Based on what I know about the very tough fight in Afghanistan, the almost singular focus of our combat forces as they train up and deploy into theater, the necessary tightly woven culture of those combat forces that we are asking so much of at this time, and finally the direct feedback from the survey, my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time.”

From the Westat survey he noted, “Of particular concern to me is that roughly 56% of combat-arms Marines voiced negative concerns...negative benchmarks for combat-arms Marines ranged between 66% for unit effectiveness and 58% for unit cohesion.” And he noted these negative sentiments were irrespective of rank within all combat-arms communities.

The Westat survey, as surveys do, tried to painstakingly quantify the repeal issue. But much of all things human are not necessarily quantifiable. And it's more difficult to get to the bottom line when ignoring the obvious. Specifically, the question, "Do you think DADT should be repealed?" was purposively, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified, not included in the survey--a point Senator McCain found incredulous and bewildering saying, "We send these young people into combat...we think they're mature enough to fight and die. I think they're mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness."

Beyond the quantifiable might there be a real, though difficult if not impossible, variable that's been only cursorily addressed in the formal research (Westat survey) and ignored in the contentious discussions?

Might the resistance to repealing DADT actually be largely an issue of morality, not bias?

To define, a moral--which relates to virtue, ethics, principle, and rightousness--is a principle of right and wrong; knowing, believing, and living life according to the difference between the two conditions.

On the other hand, a bias is a prejudice.

Ah, the question, what's the connection between moral and bias? No, it's not just semantics.

Perhaps the Marines (and all others) contempt for homosexuality is a moral objection, not a bias. That is, and like it or not, many see homosexuality as deviant to nature, against God's teachings, and therefore morally objectionable. Simply, it's wrong. Whatever emotion a homosexual stirs in another--from uncomfortableness to disgust to even hatred--is reality. Whatever "training"--stressed in the Westat report as a necessary measure at all levels of the chain of command should repeal be realized--is not going to change one's deep-rooted morals; that play a critical role guiding thinking, trust, human bonding, and overt behavior.

Analogies to race and gender integration in the armed forces during the 20th century have been offered as germane but neither seems especially relevant. For resistance to those socialization movements--skin color and gender--were more of conquering a bias--a prejudice (a false prejudice, a belief, that blacks and women were not as capable)--not moral objection. As those efforts proved over time biases--prejudices--can be overcome; though a small minority remains suspect. There will always be skeptics.

Homosexuals may be capable but that is not the issue. The issue is a moral one; sexual orientation. So the poser is, is it reasonable, feasible, even possible--especially if based on religious beliefs--for a person or entity to change another's morals? Through "training"? And even if "training" (and other measures) compels overt "acceptance," is there any reason to assume genuine equitable inner acceptance--where morals rests? Ergo the concerns of a significant number of Marines, especially in combat-arms units, who believe repeal will hurt cohesion and readiness. A degradation of cohesion, the degree moot, negatively impacts combat readiness which in turns translates to greater risk(s) in training and combat.

There is an enormous difference between homosexuals serving in the military and serving openly in the military; especially in the Marine Corps. That, too, is just the way it is. In short, moral objection, not bias, is the problem. It's rather simple. And yet it's complex and likely not solvable no matter the scope of any training regimen or dedicated leadership. Strong-arming will fail.
General Amos told the SASC members, “We asked for their opinions, and they gave them to us. Their message to me is that the potential exists for disruption to the successful execution of our current combat mission should repeal be implemented at this time.”

"...at this time." has the echo of a survey-inserted clarifying clause. You can bet Marines, generally speaking, mean "ever" as in "never." As training toward combat readiness, even during peacetime, is serious business requiring the utmost of cohesion.

The Commandant's bottom line was he would not turn his back on the negative perceptions of his Marines as they saw the potential negative impact of repealing DADT. He said, “The focus of my complete energy is to ensure our Marines are properly led, trained, and equipped and that their families are cared for so that our Marines can focus their energy on the vital tasks they are assigned.”

Any Marine who had even momentary reservations about the first aviator being appointed to the Corps top post was assured those concerns were without merit. Under "fire" while testifying, the Corps senior Marine stayed true to our creed: "Every Marine a rifleman." He listened to his Marines, manned his post, and stood his ground. Semper Fidelis--Always Faithful--not just a catchy slogan but a way of life.

The data, citing some degree of negative impact not just in the Marine Corps but across all the services, clear.

Spin the Westat survey findings whichever way but nothing quantifiable indicates DADT repeal is a "must do" force-multiplier for strengthening unit cohesion and combat readiness.

Where do we stand? Note that for the first time in ages our President; Vice-President; House Speaker; Secretary of State; National Security Advisor; Chairman, SASC; and for all intents and purposes Secretary of Defense (noted he was an Air Force 2ndLt) do not have military experience?  Irrespective of civilian control of the military--Relevant? Troubling?

Enough of the public spectacle over repealing DADT. The president, and his supporters, should just throw their arms up and declare victory--they tried. Chalk it up as another silly campaign promise that hooked voters--suckers--and died. Most of them do.

It's now time to slap a "Tasker Complete Without Action" note on the ugly baby and put it to bed--in the back of the bottom drawer of an abandoned file cabinet in a vacant Pentagon office. Just to be safe, damage the locking mechanism. Five, ten, twelve years from now some bright-eyed, eager-to-make-a-name-for-themself staff officer relegated to finding their own office will stumble on the now broom closet, tempted by the secured cabinet--unsheath a multi-purpose Leatherman or nail file, pop the lock, rescue the baby, blow the dust off, and set to work. Thereby reinforcing the old Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps Action Officer adage, "No matter what you do or how hard you try, it's impossible to kill a stupid or bad idea."

The following received this morning from a retired Marine...

"While I have never pushed any to that direction, it has always been what I would consider my proudest dream that one of my sons would be a Marine. If this issue comes to pass you can rest assured I will do my utmost to discourage that dream!"

That Marine is not alone. Nor in the minority--not by a long shot.

Human nature is not likely to change in our lifetime. And the myriad logistic and admin problems that would bloom from repeal not worth the time to address. Nor is there space to tackle them.

As repeal authority rests in the Legislative Branch, each lawmaker faces a simple question: "Would repeal of DADT serve as a force-multiplier, peacetime or wartime, strengthening unit cohesion and combat readiness of America's armed forces--charged with our national security and defense?"

Post Script

Westat distributed 400K surveys. Response--28%--112K.

General James Cartwright, USMC--Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked by a SASC member during Friday's testimony, said the uniformed force was approximately 2.2 million.

Merely for illustration purposes...
Assume 50/50 on DADT repeal. 56K of 2.2M--2.5%. And the survey omitted the most elemental question--Do you think DADT should be repealed? Does that methodology pass the common man's acid-test for relevance on such a sensitive, serious matter regarding national security and defense? I know what three out of four Marine lance corporals surveyed would say. Make that four out of four in combat arms specialties.

Author's Endnote

What is it about Marines?

Little more than a dozen years ago I was sitting in a conference room in the Navy Annex--that revered place in the day known as Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps across from Arlington National Cemetery and just beyond spitting distance of the Pentagon. My seat, and that of a captain working for me, was not at the table but in the "back seats" ringing the conference room walls--in attendance as ears and note-takers for a general officer.

Chairing the meeting was the vice admiral in charge of Navy personnel. He was host to a group of flag officers from Europe visiting to learn about recruiting and retaining an all-volunteer force.

The most memorable moment of the meeting...
One of the foreigners asked the admiral, "Admiral, can you comment on the competition amongst the services as you're each pursuing recruits from the same pool of prospects." The admiral smiled. He offered a multi-point answer. His first point--the Navy, Army, and Air Force generally competed for the same recruits, but the Marines draw a different kind of person and those interested in becoming Marines are not interested in being sailors, soldiers, nor airmen. Knowing the reputation of the Marine Corps, the guests got it.

The admiral was correct. And his observation as 'spot on' today as it was more than a dozen years ago as it was fifty or a hundred years ago. The Marine Corps draws a different type of person. So the Westat survey results come as no surprise--at least not to Marines.


ak said...

Excellent Blog Sir. You know, I would recommend the SASC ask DOD to do one more quick survey, one question should be asked. "Are you in favor of repealing DADT."

The above question is the most important question that should have been asked. I wonder why DOD failed to ask it?

Ed Gregory said...

Excellent analysis of the issue as always. I'd add a couple of points to the discussion:

1. Our failure to strictly (or even, fairly) enforce the UCMJ when it came to the [hetero]sexual misconduct of our officers and Marines, left us without a moral leg to stand on in this fight.

2. While I have always agreed that a different breed is attracted to service as a Marine, my extended service on joint duty and recruiting duty also demonstrated to me that the vast majority of those serving in the other branches were nearly identical "in the raw" to my Marines. In our "all-recruited force" (it is not "all volunteer") the single biggest reason a young man or woman joins the Marine Corps over another armed service is that the Marine recruiter got to him first. When I was assigned to recruiting (as an RS and District CO), I always made my Marines live by the credo "First to Contact, First to Contract."