COLUMN: Gay people in the military: armed forces are no place for social experiments

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:34 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

As promised, President Obama has resurrected former President Clinton’s effort to enable gay people to serve openly in the military, pledging to work with Congress and the military to overturn the law often referred to as “don’t ask, don’t tell." When couched in terms of multiculturalism, diversity, political correctness and innate fairness to all, there are cogent arguments to support this effort.

It is arguably difficult to embrace or defend a policy that denies an American citizen the right to serve his or her country based solely upon sexual orientation. And, the fact that many if not most of our allies, notably Great Britain and Canada, allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly fuels the debate.

There are also the arguments by pseudo-intellectual moralists who support social experimentation as the panacea for all ills.

Critics of don’t ask, don’t tell are uncommonly fond of reminding us of the cost of the program in not only the copious discharges but also the denying of service to Middle Eastern linguists and intelligence specialists. In all seriousness, I am not aware of nor have I found anyone else who can verify qualifications as linguists or intelligence specialists as endemic to the gay community.

There also exists an extremely popular myth among the policy’s opponents that military commanders throughout the chain of command actively conduct “witch hunts” to seek out and discharge gay men and lesbians. As one who has been there and intimately familiar with the procedure, I can state unequivocally that it is untrue. In reality, one of a commander’s worst nightmares is finding an overt gay man or lesbian in his unit – it reduces manpower and causes additional and unwanted paperwork.

The constantly floated concept that discharge of open gay people imperils military readiness by forcing out or refusing entry to skilled or otherwise valuable personnel is also a red herring. Statistics compiled by both the DOD and the Congressional Research Service (pdf) reveal that they comprise less than three fourths of one percent of those discharged before completing enlistment. Conversely, it is worthy of note that more than four times that number were discharged for failing to meet weight and fitness standards.

While it is praiseworthy that gay menor lesbians are patriotic Americans with a desire to serve their country, the 1993 statute, Section 654, Title 10 U.S. Code finds no Constitutional right to serve in the armed forces. Moreover, the statute states “The extraordinary responsibilities of the armed forces, the unique conditions of military service, and the critical role of unit cohesion, require that the military community, while subject to civilian control, exist as a specialized society; and the military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs, and traditions, including numerous restrictions on personal behavior, that would not be acceptable in civilian society.

The very mission of our military, that of fighting and winning the nation’s wars to preserve our national defense, offers the best argument against repealing the law. We cannot afford, either in the name of social engineering or equal opportunity, to denigrate the effectiveness of the armed forces through social experiment. If it were desirable for the military to reflect the makeup of the population, 30 percent would be obese and the median age would be 35, neither of which is desirable in war-fighting circles.

It is no secret that many who favor repealing the law have neither served nor will ever be called to do so, particularly among the most vocal media critics. It is the law of the land and as such is the responsibility of Congress along with the advice and counsel of those who fight the wars to determine the demographics of the armed forces. During my 30 plus years of service, my sexual orientation was neither questioned nor made an issue; accordingly, I see no harm in the status quo. Zeal, patriotism and desire to serve notwithstanding, those who cannot or will not abide by the laws, traditions and customs of the military are a liability.

Polling data generally supports retention of the statute with career officers and noncommissioned officers the most opposed to its demise. The potential for the most harm to the good order and discipline and military cohesiveness is found in the entry level training–recruits are subjected to extremely close quarters and an ultra stressful regimen under the supervision of drill instructors whose sole objective is to transform them into soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Social engineering is hardly relevant to combat readiness and training.

Columnist Thomas Sowell epitomized this in 1993 with “Military morale is an intangible, but it is one of those intangibles without which the tangibles do not work.” One of the Marines 1970s recruiting pitches said it best: "The Marine Corps does not want to join you."

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Gregg Bush February 16, 2010 | 12:37 p.m.

Col. Miller,
At last you have credibility on your opinion topic.
While it doesn't matter that I disagree with you - it does matter that Admiral Mike Mullen - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General Colin Powell (US Army - Ret), General John Shalikashvili (US Army - Ret), former Vice-President Dick Cheney, and the majority of the American people do disagree with you.
Here are my sources - (they are considerably more modern than your "sourcing" from Tomas Sowell in 1993.)

(You do know that the CMR doesn't even source that quote from Sowell - poor scholarship.)
Finally, the same arguments were made before the 1948 armed forces desegregation. I would encourage you to read from the Truman Library. This is a before and after survey of a pilot program with desegregated military units.

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 16, 2010 | 3:47 p.m.

Gregg, while rare in the Marine Corps, you have no idea what the discovery of homosexual activity does to unit cohesion. Most homosexual discharges are for two reasons:
Sexual misconduct on post, or an admission of homosexuality in order to gain a discharge because that person no longer wishes to serve.

As the colonel indicated, no unit commander conducts a witch hunt looking for homosexuals. As a matter of fact, no unit commander conducts a witch hunt for any type of behavior. Each unit's training and operations cycle does not allow time for that. The commander is busy enough with the pressing needs of his unit already without making additional work for himself or herself and their subordinates. And it's unnecessary as serious misconduct of any nature will usually surface sufficient for disciplanary action to be taken on its own merits.

I might remind you that holding rank in the military doesn't always make you a paragon of correct decision making. You only need to see how many generals Lincoln went through before he finally got U. S. Grant, or the conduct of Admiral Ghormley before he was replaced by Bull Halsey in WWII.

Flag ranked officers would do well to remember that it's the private through sergeants that will endure the brunt of the battle and the stresses that go with combat. They don't need any other distractions beyond what they are already experiencing in being away from family, and meeting operational objectives in a severely primitive environment and under extreme physical and mental challenges.

That sir, is not the environment in which to introduce social experimentation. And please, do not try to make a comparison of being black and integration that the military experienced in the 40s and 50s. One is pigmentation received at birth, the other is moral conduct.

(Report Comment)
walt Kozak February 16, 2010 | 4:12 p.m.

BZ Colonel. Finally an oped with stats and common sense to the inner workings of the military. Of course the stats could of been more complete like the fact 83% of DADT discharges are of members who out themselves. Or, 20% are discharged during basic, another 11% in advanced training and a staggering 51% within one year of completing advanced training or 1.5 years of service. Seems DADT works well for those with buyers remorse.

Now to Gregg Bush. Apparently he fell under the Perception Management (PM) spell. Mullen has not issued an official position regarding repealing the law nor has any of the 4 chiefs of staff though we do know the Commandant of the USMC is opposed and word is that Gen Casey (CoS Army) has signaled a wait and see approach predicated on DoD's commissioned study of feeling out the troops and their families (attitude check). As with McCain, Cheney voiced that "if the Chiefs" call for repeal, he (Cheney) would support their position and so far no "official" position has been made by the JCS. So, despite the headlines declaring such by the PM folks, McCain has not flipped and Cheney has not come out in support. Seems as Gregg's sources fall a little short minus the PM spin.

GySgt USMC (ret)
9 Years Career Recruiter

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 16, 2010 | 4:22 p.m.

Gregg, regarding Truman, he hated the Marines. He wanted them reduced to a stateside police force and integrated into the Army. He even made a comment that the Marines had a propaganda machine second only to Stalin's. That caused him a bit of grief based on the performance of Marines in WWII and Korea.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Clifton B. Cates, responded in typical Marine fashion:

We will endeavor to find out why we are behind Stalin, and correct the situation.

As I said Gregg, holding rank or position doesn't make you right.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 16, 2010 | 4:29 p.m.

Apologies to the Colonel and Gunny. There is one additional reason for involuntary separation. That is in the case where military members who are homosexuals are apprehended commiting lewd acts in public. Since I prepared hundreds of courts martials for flag review during my time in the Marines, I think I can speak with some authority on this matter.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush February 17, 2010 | 8:12 a.m.

I read the rebuttals - and then remembered this.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 17, 2010 | 2:50 p.m.

Gregg, you read the rebuttals, could not reply with any authority, so you simply slapped something up on the thread.
You don't know what verbal and physical abuse is until you've been a Marine Corps recruit.

The article you posted begins:

Hostility and discrimination against homosexual individuals are well-established facts.

Also well established is the fact of homosexuals who rape and murder little boys. Of homosexuals having far more sex partners than straights, of IV drug usage being far higher in homosexuals, of homosexuals having unprotected sex, and on and on.

None of which what you posted or I what I just presented has anything to do with the military. What is establish is that the military is not a place for individualism. It's a place for unit integrity and bonding where men will have to place their lives in the hands of people who they can trust implicitly.

When you have had the life's experiences based on daily immersion in the rigors of military life, then that will give you the insight to intelligently comment and counter what has been presented above. Until then, you're just blowin' smoke.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush February 17, 2010 | 7:00 p.m.

Don, I would encourage you to read the whole article.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 17, 2010 | 7:27 p.m.

HST made that wisecrack about the USMC in a letter to a congressman who was lobbying for a separate Marine chief on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He (Truman) went on to say that he regarded the Marines, rightly, as part of the USN which had its own Chief. I've found little else to corroborate Truman's alleged hatred of Marines; as well, I have found no such quote (mentioned by Milsop) as a rejoinder to Truman's comment.

I will add that I served in the military, experiencing the "rigors" therein--alongside homosexuals--and there was never a problem that I experienced or determined, aside from a suicide by an air group commander, allegedly a homosexual.

In my humble, we can ill afford to dismiss gays and lesbians from the military, including the USMC.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 18, 2010 | 11:52 a.m.

Hank, I would recommend to you retired Democrat Congressman Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, Jr.'s book, The Taking of Hill 610. Congressman McCloskey was awarded the Navy Cross, our second highest award for his courage in Korea. Read chapter 9, in which he outlines the entire Truman incident, including Truman's disparaging of the Marine Corps.

Included in that chapter is the narrative of letters from Truman's friend from WW1, Major General Frank E. Lowe. Truman sent Lowe to Korea to find out why the Army's performance was so miserable. Lowe's response - because they don't train like Marines.

FYI, I could find nothing on line either to back up my statement regarding the Commandant's response. But as you know, not all history is found on the internet. Perhaps Colonel Miller can add to this.

But I'll give you a great example to show how events aren't always recorded properly. In the book, Flags of Our Fathers, Mr. Bradley, whose father was one of the six raisers of the flag in the famous picture, says at the end of the book that the second flag stayed on the poll and deteriorated and blew away. In fact, both the first and second flags are at the museum. You can verify this through the curator of heraldry at the Museum, Mr. Neil Abelsma, email Toll Free: 877-635-1775.

Thank you for your service to our nation. Hopefully you didn't spend too much time in a cold, wet hole with a buddy peering into the night and waiting for the next assault, rocket or mortar attack. While each service has its own rigors, that of the infantryman on the ground is particularly grueling compared to many others.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 18, 2010 | 12:38 p.m.

Mr. Milsop: Thanks for the information; I'll check it out. As for Korea, I'd recommend to you David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," in which he writes that post-World War II, the army's readiness and the quality of its recruits tanked. Took a while for that to turn around.
I agree that sitting in a foxhole awaiting the next assault is a harrowing experience, one that I did not have. I spent much of my time on carrier flight decks as a young enlistee. Night launches get pretty scary.
As an aside, I've been researching the military history of my uncle, air group commander aboard the USS Bunker Hill. Before his death off Okinawa, he was awarded the Navy Cross and two gold stars in lieu of a second cross. In reading of the fate of the Bunker Hill, I was struck by how absolutely terrifying it must have been to be under constant kamikazi attacks. I recommend William Kennedy's recent book, "Danger's Hour," from which I garnered much of my information.

Yet it was in my readings on the Pacific campaign that I was most struck by the horrors of war, especially the experiene of the Marines in Pelau, an absolute hellhole (and, as I understand it, unnecessary).

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop February 18, 2010 | 1:54 p.m.

Mr. Ottinger - your uncle must have been some kind of warrior...actually the two gold stars would indicate three Navy Crosses. My father celebrated his second anniversary in the Marines by getting bombed at Pearl Harbor. He was wounded at Midway, and survived the entire Tulagi/Guadalcanal campaign - all six months. He landed at Tulagi weighing 160 lbs, and left Guadalcanal at 98 lbs with a 106.9 degree fever. He did not return to combat for more than a year, participating in the Saipan and Okinawa operations. The LST right next to his was sunk by a kamikazi.

The horrific experience of the lst Marine Division at Peleliu turned out to be unnecessary, but at the time, that was unknown. It was viewed as necessary to guard for the invasion of the Philippines.

Historical hindsight is always 20/20. A good example of this is the Marines wading to Betio at Tarawa. Had the tides been higher allowing the boats to cross the reef, there would have been no protecting wall to shield the Marines at the island's edge, and casualties would have been much higher. General Holland Smith said later that the operation was unnecessary...but again, at the time, nobody could have known that. And the lessons learned there saved far more lives down the road. Most of the participants however, disagreed with General Smith, regardless of their devotion and admiration for him.

My family history of Marines begins with my uncle in the 1920s, my father in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, a cousin in the 50s and 60s, and my two older brothers and I in the 60s and 70s. My nephew is a Marine staff sergeant with 10 years in the Corps and several tours in Iraq. I have another great nephew who is a Marine with four tours in Iraq. I can't speak for other services. But in the Marines, homosexual behavior is destructive to unit moral and fighting efficiency. You might disagree, but I've seen the results first hand.

I think Gunny Kozak's post need to be addressed point by point if anybody is going to make a counter argument stick with any integrity. Thank you again for your service. I'm alive today because of naval air.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 22, 2010 | 10:29 a.m.

I just got back into my uncle’s file, having postponed work on it over the holidays. I need to correct an earlier statement regarding my uncle’s citations during WW II. He was awarded not two but three gold stars in lieu of a Distinguished Flying Cross, the third being awarded post-humously, or as the citation reads, “in absentia.” He also was awarded an Air Medal.

The citation for the third Gold Star is worthy of quoting, I think, not only for the description of the actions warranting the award, but also for the writing style:

“Undaunted by grave hazards, Commander Ottinger boldy led a strike unit into enemy territory [mainland Japan] to execute a daring raid against the Japanese midget submarine and torpedo base and, finding the target area completely covered by clouds, skillfully directed a bombing attack through the overcast. He then led his fighter planes down below the two-hundred foot ceiling to strike furiously with rockets and napalm on enemy barracks and installations and inflict severe damage upon his targets, Again attacking a Japanese airfield on March 24, Commander Ottinger defied accurate hostile fire to launch successful strafing and rocket assaults against antiaircraft positions. His superb skill as an airman, cool courage and resolute conduct throughout upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

It was on this last (March 24) mission that he was killed.

I haven’t verified it as rock-solid, but my research indicates he was flying a Marine aircraft. At this time in the Pacific campaign, squadron delineations eroded in favor of availability of aircraft.

As for the issue that initiated our dialogue, I imagine you may have already seen this in today's Times (or elsewhere).

Best regards,

Hank Ottinger

(Report Comment)

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