3 of 4 Service Chiefs Oppose DADT Repeal
The commander-in-chief, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all support removing the ban on gays in the military without further delay. A long-awaited Pentagon study showed no reason not to do so. But three of four Service chiefs disagree.
The top uniformed Army and Marines generals told a Senate panel Friday that letting gays serve openly in the military during wartime would be divisive and difficult, opposition that could undercut President Barack Obama’s push to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban.
“I would not recommend going forward at this time, given everything that the Army has on its plate,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Both Casey and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos acknowledged that openly gay service was probably inevitable and they played down suggestions that recruiting and retention would suffer dramatically if it was allowed. But, they warned that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be tougher than a recent Pentagon study suggests and advised that repeal shouldn’t happen so long as troops continue to fight in Afghanistan.
“My suspicions are that the law will be repealed,” Amos said. “And all I’m asking is the opportunity to do that at a time and choosing when my Marines are not singularly tightly focused on what they’re doing in a very deadly environment.” Amos, whose military branch has expressed the most discomfort with the change, said that “assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat.”
Their opposition was backed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who suggested putting off changing the policy until 2012.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead was the only Pentagon service chief to advocate for repeal. Roughead said it was likely that some highly trained combat sailors, including Navy SEALs, might refuse to re-enlist in protest of the personnel change. But, he said, he did not think any long-term damage would occur if certain steps were taken, such as increased training.
So, of the five four-star officers testifying on the matter[*], only two support an immediate lifting of the ban. Both of them are Navy men.
Despite my amusement that, of the old naval traditions, the United States Navy has decided to dispense with rum and the lash but retain sodomy, I’d have not guessed this. While sea duty is in some ways more comfortable than the ground combat that Marines and Army infantrymen endure, it’s arduous and as close quarters as it comes. And the Navy is arguably the most conservative of all the Services in terms of hewing to tradition.
If one Service was going to break from the pack, I’d have bet anything it would be the Air Force. And, no, not because they’re “more gay” but because they’re the newest and least “military” of the bunch. From the moment they won their independence from the Army in 1947, they’ve had more relaxed grooming, physical training, and discipline. They decided from the get-go that their identity was technocratic and that they needed to do things differently to recruit the sort of enlisted soldier who could do the tasks needed to support aerial operations.
Regardless, the three Chiefs who are hesitant to change the policy now — survey be damned — are presumably reflecting not only their own cultural prejudices — these men been in uniform 35 years or more — but reflecting the natural conservatism of the institution. Sure, there’s evidence that nothing will go wrong. But what if it does? Gays represent a tiny portion of the potential force, after all, so why take the risk?
But that’s wrongheaded thinking. Aside from seizing the opportunity to end a form of discrimination that will be looked upon with embarrassment in the not too distant future and complying with the wishes of the commander-in-chief, the fact of the matter is that wartime is when we can least afford to devote time and command attention to ridding ourselves of warriors whose only fault is being born with the wrong sexual orientation.
[*] UPDATE: Actually, the Coast Guard Commandant and the Vice Chairman JCS also testified, even though they’re not mentioned in the story. So, for that matter, did Army General Carter Ham, who headed up the Pentagon’s survey.
Coast Guard Commandant Bob Papp, while technically not one of the Service Chiefs (USCG is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not DoD) supported an immediate lifting of the ban. Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did so as well, testifying that, “It is hard to foresee a time when the men and women of the U.S. military will be more focused and disciplined than they are today. We must be prudent in our approach, but there is little to suggest that the issues associated with a change in the law and DOD policy will diminish if we wait on the uncertain promise of a less challenging future.” Ham, of course, supported the recommendations of his own report.
In terms of prestige with the Senate, the general public, and the troops, the Chairman and the Chiefs are the most important voices here, representing the senior military advisor to the president and the representatives of the four Services. The commanders in the field, notably CENTCOM James Mattis and ISAF’s David Petraeus, would hold much weight as well.
Regardless, the public debate seems to have been won and maybe the political one as well, with Republican Senators Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe announcing their support for DADT repeal. It’s only a question of time, now, before the policy ends.