by Bob Roehr
A study by four senior retired officers, each with more than 30 years of service from all four branches of the military, is urging repeal of the antigay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). The Report of the General/Flag Officers’ Study Group was commissioned by the Palm Center research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara and released on July 7.
“The law locks the military’s position into stasis and does not accord trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances…[it] is not working; rather, it is the flexibility of military leaders, often ignoring or violating the policy, who are making the system work,” were among the ten findings in the report.
It believes the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other regulations “provide sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct.”
“DADT has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and preserving the cohesion of their units.” A heterosexual officer told the group that one of his best non-commissioned officers in Iraq probably was a lesbian. If he had been officially told that, he likely would have violated the law rather than conduct an investigation that would have adversely affected existing unit cohesion.
The group was surprised to learn that gays lack confidentiality in their conversations with doctors, chaplains, and counselors on matters of sexual orientation, and that leads some to not seek appropriate care.
Rhonda Davis, discharged from the Navy for being a lesbian, told the group, she once advised a gay subordinate to seek counseling about a relationship problem with another woman, but then realized that might constitute a violation of DADT and compound the problem. “No matter what I told these troops, nothing was the right answer and I felt like a hypocrite.”
The report said, “Not only are service members prevented from seeking healthcare, but also health professionals are prohibited from doing their job.”
It went into great depth on how the policy “has caused the military to lose some talented service members.” A corollary has been a lowering of overall standards and an increase in “moral waivers” to felons who would otherwise be barred from enlisting.
Some gays and lesbians currently serving in the military, are relatively open about their sexual orientation and are accepted by their colleagues. Ironically, often it is the ones who seek to conceal their orientation, in compliance with DADT, who are a threat to unit cohesion. As one witness said, “the problem is that those people are seen as liars and cowards by their peers.”
The report noted that when DADT was adopted in 1993, only 40 percent of the American public supported allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Depending on how the question is asked, recent polls show that support has risen to between 58 percent to as high as 79 percent. The military reflects the general society and attitudes have changed there as well.
The Study Group made four recommendations. Congress should repeal DADT “and return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.”
“The prerogative to disclose sexual orientation should be considered a personal and private matter.” The UCMJ should be updated to become neutral in terms of sexual orientation and enforce uniform standards of behavior.
Finally, there should be immediate implementation of “safeguards for the confidentially of all conversations between service members and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.”
The group consisted of Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, U.S. Army (ret.) and Brig. Gen. Hugh Aitkin, U.S. Marine Corp (ret.), both of whom have endorsed Democratic presidential nominees since leaving the service; and Lt. Gen. Minter Alexander, U.S. Air Force (ret.), and Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan, U.S. Navy (ret.) who are registered as Republicans.