Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Only When The People That Have To Live With It Are Okay With It

The Pentagon’s out with a report on gays in the military that’s actually significantly less positive than it’s being portrayed by people who favor ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

The Pentagon has concluded that allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the United States armed forces presents a low risk to the military’s effectiveness, even at a time of war, and that 70 percent of surveyed service members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all.

In an exhaustive nine-month study on the effects of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 17-year-old policy that requires gay service members to keep their sexual orientation secret or face discharge, the authors concluded that repeal would in the short run most likely bring about “some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention.” But they said those effects could be mitigated by effective leadership.

Sounds great, right? Well, there’s still one big problem:

In a survey of 115,000 active-duty and reserve service members, the report found distinct differences among the branches of the military, particularly in the Marine Corps, whose leaders have been the most publicly opposed to allowing gay and bisexual men and women to serve openly. While 30 percent of those surveyed over all predicted that repeal would have some negative effects, 40 percent to 60 percent of the Marine Corps and those in various combat specialties said it would be negative.

Mr. Johnson and General Ham, who briefed reporters on the report, did not offer a specific explanation for why Marines were more opposed to repeal, although General Ham said that among Marine Corps respondents, a lower percentage had served alongside someone they believed to be gay or lesbian. This summer, when the Marine commandant at the time, Gen. James T. Conway, was asked for an explanation about Marine resistance to repeal, he responded that it was difficult to answer, but “we recruit a certain type of young American, a pretty macho guy or gal.”

In his remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Gates acknowledged the higher levels of “discomfort” about repealing the law among those in the combat branches of the military. He said that those findings remained a concern to him as well as to the chiefs of the service branches, but that the concerns were not insurmountable as long as any repeal was carried out carefully and with what he said was “sufficient time and preparation to get the job done right.”

Most people in the military aren’t on the front lines, trading rifle shots with the Taliban. Instead, they’re part of the long tail in the military that does all the things that makes it possible for our combat soldiers to perform so well. One consequence of that is that they don’t have to deal with as much forced intimacy as the combat troops do in the field. If you’re in an office environment back in the states and everyone goes back to his own apartment each night, whether the guy in the next cubicle is gay or not probably isn’t going to matter very much. On the other hand, if you’re in the field and you have no privacy, whether the guy next to you is gay may matter a great deal.

The military should not be treated as just another liberal social program and this isn’t a civil rights issue. If you’re gay, you can serve in the military right now — in fact, there are gay soldiers serving right now. If you don’t believe that, you could ask Bradley Manning about it, although he’s not exactly a shining example.

At the end of the day, the troops are the ones that are going to have to live with this policy and if they’re okay with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I’m okay with it. However, this report appears to show that our combat troops, the ones that will be most affected by this policy, are NOT okay with repealing it. Until that changes, I think politicians should carefully consider the potential ramifications on the recruiting and unit cohesion of combat troops while they pay careful attention to what the soldiers who are actually doing the fighting and dying have to say about how this will impact them.

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