How DADT Highlights Admiral Mullen’s Political Posturing

by TIM WILSON December 5, 2010
Gays have served in the Armed Forces of many nations with great distinction over many centuries. They have served with bravery, merit and compassion in all branches and services. Although never officially recognized, this contention is acknowledged by every sensible student of military history. In particular, the numbers of gallantry awards made to personnel in units or roles where compassion was an asset both supports this contention and bespeaks the wisdom of enlisting from a wide spectrum of society.
However gays have always, until now, maintained a low profile during military service. Not that long ago, they were forced to maintain silence and use the utmost prudence in order to avoid punishment. Currently they are required to be discrete, as their fellow military are required also to be, about their sexual preferences. This sensible policy accommodates both the sensitivities of the majority and the willingness of patriotic gays to serve their country with minimal fuss.
The discomfort of many testosterone-charged men when dealing with gays is evidenced by their strong reactions in many walks of life. Yet it is exactly that type of highly motivated young man that is most needed in combat units. This is not said to denigrate the role of the many superb young females who also go into combat, but the physical differences between the sexes result in far fewer women being able to achieve the rigorous fitness standards, particularly for physical endurance, required by and necessary for the most arduous military combat roles. Conversely there are vital roles for which women are more suited than men, and in which they outnumber and outperform their typical male counterparts.
Over the past few decades, gender has become less a ruling factor in allocation of military roles and more of a guide. This gender blindness has proven a sensible policy to maximize the availability and usefulness of the best and widest possible pool of personnel. Female pilots, drivers, gunners and many other combat roles are now commonplace. Yet until quite recently, we have continued to struggle with sexuality, and now seem to be at a juncture.
I have served alongside quite a number of military personnel who I suspect were gay without animosity. In the very few cases where sexuality was overt, it was usually a problem, whether homo- or hetero-sexual. I also personally saw a couple of instances where harassment was averted by the implication of homosexuality, without having to resort to legal accusations of sexual misconduct (which I also had to deal with on a few occasions). Such matters were never anything but a terrible distraction from the main business of the practice and conduct of warfare.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a policy of official blindness over sexuality. Military personnel wear uniforms, still different for the sexes, for good reasons, not least pride. That pride would take a hard knock if cross-dressing became part of the system, and would hold up the majority to ridicule for the sake of a tiny minority. Yet where should the line be drawn? Some may be more comfortable cross-dressing –that does not mean they should be officially allowed to do so.
Many good soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coastguard worry that open homosexuality will lead to numerous difficult situations, not least in trending toward such matter as choice in uniform selection. What if an openly gay NCO orders his recruits to shower naked? What if an openly gay officer favors other gay subordinates during her annual performance reviews? At an extreme, what if a unit commander, openly gay, insists that his (or her) subordinates all wear the same uniform, forcing some to cross-dress?  Even the absurd has to be considered, especially if one reviews the incongruous behavior of many of the openly gay community who like to display their pride in their sexuality.
In the recent polling of active duty military on this whole matter, combat units were particularly averse to the concept of gays serving openly. Yet far fewer had a problem with gays serving under DADT. Since DADT does no harm to gay personnel, allowing them to serve under the condition that they are discrete about their sexuality, while open homosexuality makes a majority of combat troops uncomfortable, what is the point of changing a successful policy? It would seem the majority are being required to pander to a minority, due almost entirely to political impulse. With voluntary recruiting for a military actively engaged in warfare, this seems a ludicrous proposition.
As a result, the reaction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, is incomprehensible. It seems both arrogant and counter-productive to declare that troops who balk at serving with openly gay members “may find themselves looking for a new job”. That was more the comment of a petulant political tyro than a mature leader (or an administrator rather than a combat leader) concerned with the welfare and effectiveness of his subordinates. Perhaps he was aware the impending testimony of the heads of the Army, Air Force and Marines would disagree with his unswerving support for his Commander-in-Chief’s policy whims and hoped to dissuade them from openly airing their reservations?
Since, according to the DoD’s own much-touted poll, some 67% of Marines and 58% of combat soldiers envision problems with changing the current policy in favor of allowing openly gay sexuality, it would seem that Mullen is willing to allow a significant reduction in combat unit morale and to gamble that recruiting will remain strong – a strange stance for the professional head of the military, especially when engaged in shooting wars.
My personal opinion is that, should DADT be repealed, recruiting will remain acceptable, but there will be a lowering of overall quality, with a significant number of experienced combat troops leaving as a direct result of this policy change, and a lowering of quality in future recruits. I also expect to see an increase in legal actions arising from any change. I hope I am wrong, but like Admiral Mullen I won’t be around to suffer any deleterious effects. I have retired, as Admiral Mullen will shortly. He has served with distinction for a very long time. What a sad end to a meritorious career that he should so succumb to political posturing as his major legacy. Contributing Editor Tim Wilson is a retired British Army officer who now works as an independent consultant. He worked for 2 years for USAID in Iraq post-retirement and spends much time traveling.

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