A Further Perspective

Don’t Ask, Just Tell

Let's look at what lifting Don't Ask, Don't Tell will actually mean for the U.S. Military.

By 10.22.10

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Just after entering the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama said that she and her husband never knew any people in the military before coming to Washington. This is surprising because during the Senate years, in a time concurrent with two active wars, the Obama's had ample opportunity to bring at least one military member into their home life. Nor can it be because it is too difficult to find and associate with members of the military in Chicago, since it is located only 30 miles from U.S. Naval Station Great Lakes, the largest recruiting training station in the Navy. Or perhaps they could have met one at one of the numerous Illinois National Guard deployment sendoffs or at a visit to Scott Air Force Base, the base responsible for mobility, airlift, and logistical command and control for the U.S. military and the home of both the joint U.S. Transportation Command and the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command. Constituencies are great, especially the ones you don't have to meet.

Spend time in virtually any place in this country, particularly outside of urban centers, and American families will either know someone in the military or will themselves be a part of the military community. As a general proposition, not knowing any military families is fine. It becomes problematic, however, when you are a public official in charge of the military and boldly pronounce how things should be in the Armed Services. The recent ruling by the Federal District Court declaring Don't Ask, Don't Tell unconstitutional illustrates the disconnect perfectly. The court declared there was "no compelling government interest" to have a policy where homosexuals can serve but must do so privately and without telling or showing anyone.

Intellectual essayists and pundits alike all profess from a high perch that the current military policy on homosexuality in the military is out of date and must be changed. Any protestations from the military merely reinforce their insulated view of the people who make up our Armed Forces, namely that they are uninformed and bigoted. Of course, the brain trust doesn't understand that the military is one of the truest crosssections of America in terms of families, hometowns, and communities, and that they are not a they. For most, they are us. The pundits are they -- they who have not served. They are those who don't even consort with "military types."

Cultural elites notwithstanding, homosexuality and its integration into society are anything but certain right now. Indeed, in our towns and communities, America is in the midst of a giant cage match over homosexuality's legal and cultural future. There is no need to rehash the arguments for this piece, but suffice it to say while there is an "elite" consensus there is certainly no American consensus. Yet, policy makers want to force homosexuality into the Armed Forces. Politicians, activist groups, and concerned citizens casually profess that it will be "fine" and the military must just adjust to today's cultural reality and allow gays to serve openly. Let's look at what this will actually mean for the U.S. Military.

Currently, the military holds annual training on everything imaginable, much of which is a result of political dustups after incidents. Such training must occur in every unit and command worldwide and is based on an instruction that undoubtedly took hours to produce and even more hours to be approved from layer after layer of military and political bosses. Not surprisingly, there is a Don't Ask, Don't Tell training instruction that explains the rules as they currently exist in the services. With any major change in the policy, unlike the minor modifications of last spring, new training must be held and an entire command must be shepherded into a room for the new guidance -- in every command, in every service, worldwide. So if the ban is lifted we know there will be more training. But training on what?

One type of expected training is on homosexual lifestyle accommodation, this, in fundamental opposition to not only standing military guidance but also widely held cultural views. As soon as there is a beating of an openly gay man on a ship then what must a commander to do? Unquestionably, a commander would send the attackers to a Courts Martial for trial under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Punishment, however, will not suffice. He will need to hold additional sensitivity training and merely telling the crew to leave all gay crew members alone will of course not do. The situation will inevitably demand that the Commander "educate" the crew on homosexuality. He will have to teach them, probably with Power Point, what homosexuality is and that it is an accepted and equal lifestyle in the military. Further, since openness is the official policy, he will in essence have to vigorously defend homosexuality. Beyond an official position of lack of tolerance for any derogatory activity towards homosexuals, he will have to express empathy, genuine or conjured, about how oppressed homosexuals are within the military. He will have to request that his team embrace them and make them feel at home in their choice regardless of what it is doing to morale or team cohesion. Starting to see the problems?

To those who currently tolerate homosexuals but retain their Godgiven right to reject homosexuality as a practiced lifestyle -- could you do the above as a leader? Even for your country? It is one thing for the military to ask its members to accept homosexuals, but another for the military to ask its members to accept and live with homosexuality, the homosexual lifestyle. Last, it will demand a third step: senior officers and noncommissioned officers will have to, under the color of Military Law, proactively endorse and eventually foster homosexuality. You will undoubtedly lose great leaders: men of discipline with strong values -- unshakable belief in right and wrong -- the type who devote their lives to protecting you. Many will not cave in to this political demand.

Flash forward five years. Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been lifted, and a commission has been called by Congress about why there are not enough homosexuals in senior leadership positions. Will there be pressure, subtle or overt, to make a homosexual in charge of a ship? Within five years, what if there is still not a homosexual Captain in the U.S. Navy who is in the top eleven out of over 1,000 Navy Captains to command an Aircraft Carrier -- a weapon system of unparalleled capacity possessing the ability to single-handedly wipe out dozens of nations at a time. Will the political pressure on flag officer leadership force a homosexual into command, regardless of ability? If so, will his sailors respect and follow? The consequences are realistic and dire. Currently a homosexual can gain such a command by merit alone, but for the cultural crusaders who fundamentally believe gays must be open no matter what the cost, competence is not a compelling military interest.

Historically, the military is afforded wide latitude to manage conditions to ensure military readiness. Ensuring that our military can prosecute a war at full capacity and defend our nation and its way of life is indeed the most "compelling government interest" there is. Most Americans understand that the military environment is necessarily different from the civilian one. They recognize that discipline and troop morale are paramount necessities for an effective fighting force. Increasingly, however, policy makers don't understand these intricacies and the unintended consequences of their imposed will -- and why should they? Like the Obama's, they have zero or near zero experience in or even around the military. One thing is for certain, only the military is capable of properly judging how morale and readiness will survive a lifting of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Since we are in the middle of two wars and many leaders are on their fifth and sixth tours with countless daily pressures in battle, let's not let the courts or politicians force the military into anything. Instead we should allow the military evaluation process to play out and let the real experts give us their recommendation.

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About the Author

Adam Paul Laxalt is an attorney and former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Judge Advocate General's Corps, who served on active duty from 2005 until August 2010.