Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Don't ask, don't tell, don't care

As anyone who is reading probably knows, I am a Petty Officer 1st Class in the U.S. Navy. I recently returned to drill status as a Reservist after serving for a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Something interesting happened to me at Naval Station Great Lakes Training Center last weekend that... well, to be honest really surprised me. And certainly increased my respect for our young Sailors who are currently training to serve and protect our nation.

I was shopping for computer software at the NEX (that is the Navy Exchange, an on-base department store, for all you non-military types). While browsing, I had my back to three young Sailors when I inadvertently brushed my hand up against one of the Sailors' standing directly behind me.

I immediately turned to apologize and his response both startled and amused me. By the same token, upon later reflection I was proud of this young Sailor's progressive attitude.

As I apologized, he said (while smiling), "Now you owe me dinner." and then he caught me off-guard as he leaned closer and demurely mumbled ala "Friends" Joey Tribbiani, "How u doin'?"

We all laughed and after talking "software-geek" for a few minutes we all moved on. So what is the point of this story? It's simply this.

There are a lot of people in the today's military upper echelons and political circles worrying themselves senseless over the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be permitted to serve in this nation's armed forces.

The fact of the matter is, gays and lesbians are--and have always served our nation in what I consider the finest military force in the world. They have served with honor and distinction ever since there has been a United States of America... even before there was a USA... and to the many people who have voiced dismay that gays and lesbians serve, I have to say that today's youth seem to have little patience for such archaic notions.

So why the fuss? Probably for the same reasons that America wrung its collective hands over the issue of African-Americans serving in a racially-integrated military force ever since the Civil War. Outright and blatant bigotry is the simplest answer, however, things are rarely so simple.

It is no secret our nation has had its problems dealing with segments of the population that do not fit perceived societal norms. Before President Harry S. Truman signed an executive ordering an end to racial discrimination in the Armed Forces, it was not uncommon for black servicemembers to face discrimination from all fronts while serving.

Today, many gay activists feel President Obama should act in a similar fashion. He, on the other hand, claims "don't ask, don't tell" must be abolished by Congressional action. And their anger is perhaps not so misplaced as then Senator Obama, during his campaign for the presidency said he would move to abolish this policy.

Even today, in the 21st century, both political and military leaders alike seem to have difficulty getting past old-time prejudices haunting this man's military. I won't go into the details relating to the more than 12,000 servicemembers discharged since the advent of President Bill Clinton's compromise today known as Don't Ask Don't Tell. Or that 265 servicemembers have been discharged since President Obama took office.

Just last week, Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) announced he is sponsoring House Bill 1283 that will jumpstart the effort to see this bill repealed. Murphy, a former U.S. Army captain and a Roman Catholic, said:

“My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs and deserves the best and the brightest who are willing to serve- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented servicemembers from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear.”

"Old school" opponents constantly decry the dangers of damaging unit cohesion, breakdown of morale and discipline, all the same arguments used to justify racial separation in the 1940s and 50s. Of course, the changes were initially painful, but history has proven them beneficial.

The funny thing is today's youth, for the most part, could care less about one's sexual orientation and the ability to serve in our nation's military. Recent polls indicate that 75% of the American public concur. With such an overwhelming majority seeing no problem with gays and lesbians serving proudly and openly in the military, one has to ask why politicians and military leaders are dragging their feet?

So why did this young Sailor make me proud? Simply put, and it is similar to feelings I have always had about my mother. When I was a kid, my mom had little sympathy for racial discrimination of any kind. She instilled those same values into her six kids. I was proud that this Sailor's comfort in "his own skin" and his own sense of manhood wasn't so easily threatened. To this young man I met last weekend, I saw a glimmer of open-mindedness that gives me hope that when all is said and done, this too shall pass.

Perhaps today's leaders should listen more closely to our young. Cliches aside, they are our future... and they clearly could care less about one's sexual orientation.


  1. Very well written and I couldn't agree more. It is so sad that many well educated and talented people are being kicked out simply for being gay meanwhile they are allowing people who would have never been admitted in even 8 years ago.

  2. That such a world of enlightened youth should come to pass, my friend. I join you in hoping.

  3. No, I did not know you were a Petty Officer. I was in the Army and my SFC retired after 21 years. I wholeheartedly concur with the direction of this post. Tomind hit the nail on the head, is that they are letting in all kinds of people that wouldn't have been eligble for enlistement for good reason (criminal records, for example) and as you have so eloquently put it, keeping out those who would serve with distinction.

    Good entry.

  4. Wonderful entry, Doug, and beautifully put. The encounter with the young sailor was quite amusing!

  5. Beautiful entry.
    I, like many Americans, gay and straight, fight against DADT from the outside. It's nice to hear the viewpoint from the inside.

    And thanks to Beth from nutwood Junction for bringing me here.

  6. Doug, I could not agree with you more legalized segregation and bigotry have no place in our society let alone our military.

  7. Hey Doug - just discovered your wonderful blog via my bud Bob (above). I dig your voice here and your photography is amazing.

    One of my best friends is my partner's brother who served in the US Navy and Naval Reserve for 20 years. He, too, is an open minded military man with a very inclusive perspective. He had a great many shipmates that had the potential to be drummed out under DADT - but in his eyes, all he saw was that they all shared a common commitment and pride in what it means to be in service to our country.

    Look forward to hearing more of what you have to say.

    I'm also a former Hoosier (Go, Chesterton!)