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Military Policy on Gays is Costly and Dangerous

March 5, 2005
By Gene C. Gerard

The military spent over $200 million to recruit and train personnel to replace service members discharged over the last decade for being openly gay, according to a Congressional report that was just released. The report found that over 10,000 troops were discharged for violating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that was instituted in 1993 under President Clinton. The policy allows military personnel to serve only if they do not disclose their homosexuality to anyone, including family members.

The estimate of $200 million was conservative, at best. The report only reviewed enlisted personnel who were discharged, and did not include the figures for replacing officers. Additionally, the report only contained the estimates of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. The Marines declined to participate in the study. The report also did not consider the costs of investigating and discharging the personnel, nor did it contain the costs of processing legal challenges and reviews of the dismissals.

It has always been known that the military’s policy on gays was illogical at best, and discriminatory at worst. But this new report shows that it has also been extremely costly. But the cost of discharging gays is not just in financial terms. Some of those discharged have held skills sorely needed in today’s military. Over 90 nuclear power engineers, 150 rocket and missile specialists, and 49 nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare specialists have been discharged.

Since last summer, the Pentagon has called up over 5,600 specially trained members of the Individual Ready Reserve, former soldiers who have completed their military service and do not participate in ongoing training. Requiring these service members to re-enlist has accurately been called a “back-door draft.” The Defense Department said this is necessary because of the shortage of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But to some extent, this necessity has been created by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Twenty-one infantry soldiers have been called up from the Ready Reserve, but over 340 of these soldiers have been discharged for homosexuality. Similarly, the Army needed three more foreign language interrogators in Iraq and Afghanistan last year, yet 15 have been discharged. Over 50 intelligence operatives have been discharged from the Army, but they reported a shortage of 33 operatives. Over 72 military law enforcement personnel, primarily police officers and prison guards, have been called up owing to a shortage of these specially trained troops. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal glaringly demonstrated the need for competent, well-trained prison guards. Yet over 163 law enforcement personnel have been discharged.

Most significant has been the discharge of much needed foreign language experts. Between 1998 and 2004, at least 88 language specialists were expelled from the military for being gay; no fewer than 20 were proficient in Middle Eastern languages. At least 37 were discharged since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This has placed the country, and our troops, at great risk.

The 9/11 Commission noted that the U.S. “lacked sufficient translators proficient in Arabic and other key languages, resulting in significant backlog of untranslated intercepts.” And as recently as last summer, the intelligence community acknowledged that due to a shortage of translators, the average timeframe to translate a suspect communication is 30 days. The Pentagon’s Defense Science Board recently warned that America “is without a working channel of communications to the world of Muslims and Islam.”

The strain on the military, as a result of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, is the most severe it has been since the Vietnam War. In February, the Pentagon announced that five of the six military reserve components failed to meet recruitment goals for the previous four months. The Marines failed to meet their recruitment goal in January, the first time in a decade that this has occurred. The Army National Guard has missed its recruitment goal for the first quarter of 2005 by 24 percent. Given the shortages, the continued dismissal of military personnel based solely on sexual orientation is contrary to protecting the country.

Twenty-four nations allow gay individuals to openly serve in the military. And the U.S. armed forces has ample evidence that doing so has not created the problems they fear. Although not widely reported, an article was published in 2003 in Parameters, a publication of the U.S. Army, which reviewed the experiences of foreign military allies who abolished their ban on gay personnel. The article concluded that there was no negative impact on unit cohesion, morale, retention, or recruitment.

American troops have been serving with gay British soldiers in Iraq for the past 18 months. British military authorities have noted that there have been no problems. The British navy is so pleased with gay personnel that they are now actively recruiting gays and lesbians. Part of this effort includes allowing gay couples to live in housing previously reserved for married couples. Royal Navy Commodore Paul Docherty said they want to change the military’s culture so that gays will feel comfortable working there.

Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts is scheduled to introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the House of Representatives in March. The act will repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It’s time to do so. We should never have discriminated against young men and women who want to serve honorably. And we cannot continue to put the nation’s security, and our troops, at risk.

 
Gene C. Gerard teaches American history at a small college in suburban Dallas, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book "Americans at War," to be published by Greenwood Press. His previous articles have appeared in Democratic Underground, The Free Press, Political Affairs Magazine, Dissident Voice, The Modern Tribune, Intervention Magazine, and The Palestine Chronicle.

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