This week, thanks to a not-so-subtle request from President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address, the folks in Congress decided to have hearings related to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
As part of those hearings, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, called for a repeal of the policy that mandates that gays and lesbians be kicked out of the military the minute they decide to come out. Shortly after the hearings, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and former Secretary of State), Colin Powell issued a statement in support.
As I watched portions of those hearings, I thought of my high school American History classes.
In 11th grade, my American History teacher at Pemberton Township High School was a dude named Mr. Cantalupo. Now, there are two things that I remember about him: one, no matter what we were actually studying in history, he found a way somehow to connect it to the Vietnam War. I don’t know what his issue was with that war, but I guess it made sense to him.
And two, an assignment he gave us that taught me something about my parents. We had to interview someone for our history class that had been through a war. World War II was preferred because it happened to be the unit we were studying at the time.
Fortunately, I knew someone who had been through World War II: my dad.
Dad and I sat down and he told me the story of how he snuck into the Army at 16, was discovered shortly after boot camp, and was taken back to his mother in Kentucky to await his 17th birthday and the chance to legally enlist.
But before the Army discovered that they had basically began training a kid to use an M-16, My dad got the chance to see up close the reception a Black man got when he said he wanted to fight for his country. He told me a story that included harassment, threats, and in some cases lynching, especially on the Southern bases.
Before former President Harry S. Truman integrated the Armed Forces, Black soldiers were segregated, given menial jobs, not allowed to advance, and were basically denied the opportunity to serve their country in the best way possible.
But hey, unlike the gays and lesbians currently serving in the military, at least they weren’t kicked out for being Black.
Now I’ve heard all of the arguments against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. It’ll mess up unit cohesion. It’ll lead to harassment. It’s just not a good idea.
But just like the arguments that I hear when the subject of allowing gays and lesbians to get married, these arguments don’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Let’s just deal with the unit cohesion argument because it’s the one that is most easily refutable.
When you’re in a battlefield, you tend to think of just one thing: getting off of that battlefield in one piece. My guess is that anyone you’re with on that battlefield is thinking pretty much the same thing.
Because of this reality, it makes more sense (at least to me) that if someone was harboring a secret crush on you, they’ll put it on the back burner long enough to make sure that you both make it home. If that’s not unit cohesion, I don’t know what is.
Also, most of the folks that we’re kicking out of the military due to their sexual orientation are just the folks we need right now: folks that can translate Arabic. You remember Arabic, don’t you? The language that the folks who are coming after us in the War on Terror speak? The one that we don’t understand?
At a time when we need folks who are actually willing to fight for their country, we really can’t afford to continue letting folks who want to serve not do so because we don’t like who they sleep with.
Eventually, my dad spent 32 years in the Army, was given all kinds of awards and commendations, and rose through the ranks to become a Command Sgt. Major, the highest rank that an enlisted man can achieve in the Army.
Maybe by repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay and lesbian soldiers might finally get the chance to Be All They Can Be.