Dealing With The Issue Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

A question before Congress now is whether or not to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that was passed during the Clinton administration in 1993. This rule allowed gays to serve in the military, as long as they did not let it be known that they were gay. The military couldn’t investigate a military member’s sexual orientations so long as the member did not serve “out of the closet.”

Our elected officials will be voting on amendments that would repeal this policy, with the provision ensuring that any change would not take effect until after the Pentagon completes a study about its impact on troops. This study is due to Congress by December 1st.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” must not affect the capability of our military to do its job. You have to look at all times whether or not they are capable of achieving their mission and does a change of this policy affect the military’s ability to perform their mission.

A new poll from a Democratic pollster shows a solid majority of Americans support allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military. According to the poll conducted by the Center for American Progress, about 54 percent of the American public believe “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed while only 35 percent are opposed to the law being changed. I have to say that given the results of that poll and the trends of the past couple years, I’m surprised that the Democrats in Congress and the White House support the measure. They don’t have a good record of supporting the majority opinion of the population in this country of late…but I digress.

I am reluctant to second-guess the military on this issue, because they’re the ones that have to make the judgment about how the policies affect the military capabilities and that brings us back to what I said before… Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” must not affect the capability of our military to perform its mission.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he supported a repeal of the policy. Mullen said in February, “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.”

US Central Command Commander, General David Petraeus has testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “I believe the time has come to consider a change to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative matter that should include the conduct of the review that (Defense) Secretary Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force on the change of policy. It would include an assessment of the likely effects on recruiting, retention, morale and cohesion, and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the event of a change and recommend those polices as well.”

According to an unscientific survey taken in 2007 by retired Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent Patton III, most of the younger enlisted troops really don’t care if their fellow soldiers are gay or straight.

According to a 2006 RAND Corporation study, 72 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans polled said they were “personally comfortable interacting with gays.”

As University of Florida psychologist Bonnie Moradi and Rand Corporation sociologist Laura Miller commented in the report, “the data indicated no associations between knowing a lesbian or gay unit member and ratings of perceived unit cohesion or readiness.

Instead, findings pointed to the importance of leadership and instrumental quality in shaping perceptions of unit cohesion and readiness.” According to that report, war veterans ranked “training quality” and “equipment” as way more important on the battlefield; to compare, “knowing a lesbian/gay unit member” was ranked by ex-soldiers as the least important factor, much less important than the quality of the unit’s non-commissioned officers.

There are other statements by both high ranking officers supporting the possible repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and more surveys of how the younger members of the military feel as well. It will be interesting to see what the report being done by the military says about how it will impact the force.

A strong military is key to a strong America. On that, I hope we can all agree. If some of the best people available are being turned away or discharged because of who they might choose to love, we are handicapping our military. By so doing, we are adversely affecting the capability of our military to perform its mission.

We live in dangerous times. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed, but not because of civil rights. It should be repealed so that this issue can be put behind us and our military can be stronger, not as “gay” and “straight” divided, but as Americans united against those who would do our nation harm.

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