Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Don't Care...

Today America swore in its 44th Commander-in-Chief (actually, its 43rd, which you might've annoyingly pointed out to someone today if you paid attention in History class when they covered those late-19th century Presidents that all seemed to wind up in relative obscurity).

But anyway, it's hard to say what this change will mean for the proverbial boots on the ground. In the short term, though, that answer is clear -- nothing. As for long-term commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and the Balkans, however, that all remains to be seen.

One major military policy change that's likely to come about during this Presidency, however, is the repeal of the 15 year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy implemented soon after President Clinton took office.

When this happens (and I say when, not if, based on statements that have come directly from high-level Obama staffers), you will hear lots of vocal, strident cries from small groups of die-hards who will threaten not to re-enlist, or to resign their commissions, or to working towards Obama's defeat in 2012, or whatever other thing they'll vow to do in their moment of righteous anger.

Well, if you're curious, here's the reaction of one servicemember with another couple decades, a few promotions, and several deployments left in the tank -- I really don't care whether someone who wants to serve is straight, gay, or lesbian.

First of all, anyone who doesn't already know that there are plenty of homosexual service members already in uniform either isn't in the military or isn't paying attention. Based on my experience so far -- at OCS, advanced training, at Little Creek, in Groton, and a few times the world over in between, for the most part, no one really seems too hung up about it (that's only my first-hand observation, though...I know the many who've been dishonorably discharged might feel very differently).

Second of all, assuming other already-established codes within the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are respected, the presence of homosexuals in the ranks doesn't really *threaten* good order and discipline any more than the threat of heterosexuality already does. Trust me, I could tell you enough love triangle stories about deployments (both observed and heard second-hand) to bore you. So I won't.

When I think personally about the challenges I'm going to face in the next few years, I will admit that sometimes I worry about things:

I worry about how I'm going to perform in Land Navigation (let's just say I came in dead last during the last major land nav evolution I did, and wouldn't have even made it that far if the bus hadn't swung around to the other side of Fort Story).

I worry about swimming (I was once so far behind on an open-ocean swim that after just deciding to say 'screw it' and run in the hard sand I still finished behind a few of the swim-only folks).

I worry about tons of other things. I worry about tactical performance, I worry about lingo (how many times can you call the 'latrine' the 'head' and get away with it?), I worry about regulations, leadership styles, and which shoulder to wear which patch on the ACUs. I worry about whether I'll be able to keep my feet and legs together after hurtling toward the ground from a perfectly good C-130.

And that's not even deployment.

Overseas, a host of other concerns might pop up -- urban rioting, what pieces of trash and dead animals in the road might conceal, and about whether standing in one spot for too long might allow someone to draw a bead. That's on top of trying to get the Dari verb endings straight and remembering not to expose the soles of my boots when sitting in a meeting with my legs crossed.

And all of those worries come without even mentioning the worries about the people who really matter, including one person in particular who might be spending a lot of time, well, worrying.

Nowhere on that list of worries is a concern about whether anyone in my platoon, company, battalion, or brigade might be gay or lesbian.

That just doesn't factor in there for me.

I just don't care. To me, whether you're gay or straight says about as much for your job performance as whether you're rooting for the Cardinals or the Steelers in the Super Bowl -- in other words, nothing.

When the ban finally does get lifted, I might take a second to stop and recognize how a historical wrong has been corrected, and how difficult things must have been for those who've been dishonorably discharged for an identity that I don't believe they chose.

But then it's back to work. There's too much else on my plate.


faggie mogel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...


Great post. I just had to turn the radio off because some loud mouth talking head was yammering on and on about how bad this is, making all sorts of bogus claims about what servicemembers like you actually think.

A few reactions: most people in the military are younger than us (28), and have grown up in a time that is dramatically more gay-aware/friendly/accepting than any other (going back to Ancient Greece, maybe). These days, it is common for children to "come out" in highschool, or even earlier, whereas just a decade ago it was still kinda taboo.

The speculation in the press that there will be an exodus if this policy is changed is downright condescending. It assumes that because the military draws strongly from the South and the proverbial 'red states', its members are monolithically opposed to homosexuality.

Speaking of condescending assumptions--the way people are talking and writing about this issue assumes that everyone in the military has nothing else to worry about. Well done to spell this out.

And what about heterosexuality? Women serve with men. I also love your point about all the deployment love triangle stories. (Have you seen A Thin Red Line?)

A quick language point. Ever notice when this issue comes up, so do the same tired cliches? Like references to a "foxhole". Seriously? Are we at war with Kaiser Wilhelm? Are we using carrier pigeons? Come on. Another guarenteed insta-humor phrase: "drop the soap". Like everyone's standing around in group showers all day.

All the best,

The New Englander said...


Loved your tearing apart of the cliches there...yeah, a Stryker ain't exactly a foxhole, and I haven't seen a group shower since my last command...and even then, that was 30 sec-1 min. of a very long and otherwise eventful day.

I've asked a lot of other junior officers what they think and most everyone just shrugs their shoulders in a nonchalant way.

It's a high-tech, high op-tempo, high-stress military. Even a junior enlisted infantryman is a lot more likely to be in a training environment quelling a riot in an urban Middle Eastern setting (in a replica at a stateside base, that is) than he is to be getting ready to charge up Hamburger Hill.

There are real stressing, vexing issues about escalation of force, cultural and linguistic concerns, and situational awareness in a chaotic environment where CNN and al-Jazeera will be right behind whatever mistake you make.

So yes, let's save the drop-the-soap style jokes for Sean Hannity and the rest of the double-digit IQ crowd.

..and nope, haven't seen thin red line though I'd love to..will check to see if it's on netflix direct, that's my go-to..