J. KARL MILLER: Congress shouldn't rush decision on 'don't ask, don't tell'

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:38 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The current haste to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy at a time when our front line combat forces are engaged in a shooting war by using the last dying gasps of a "lame duck" Congress to enact it is a cause for real alarm.

Particularly disturbing is the opposition to repeal voiced by the service chiefs of the Army and the Marine Corps, the commanding generals of the units actually engaged in close combat — at "the pointy end of the spear" so to speak. Further, when nearly 60 percent of Marines and Soldiers in combat units (infantry/special operations) believe that openly gay troops will pose strong potential for disruption at the small unit (platoon/squad/fire team) level, a red flag is warranted.

For those who question that judgment, that is precisely the level at which wars are waged — up close and personal by maneuver units of Marines and Soldiers led by corporals, sergeants and lieutenants. Ges. James Amos (Marine commandant) and George Casey (Army chief of staff) testified that repeal during wartime would necessarily "divert leadership away from the almost singular focus of preparing troops for combat."

Perhaps it is time to invoke the analogy "can't see the forest for the trees" for those so passionately involved with the details as to lose sight of the larger issue. That issue is none other than that of understanding the mission of the armed forces: "To fight and win our Nation's wars by providing prompt and sustained land, air and sea dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders."

That mission is accomplished by executing Title 10 U.S. Code directives to include organizing, training and equipping forces for operations as directed by the president, secretary of defense and combat commanders. The U.S. armed forces are organized to protect us from our enemies by fighting and winning our wars or, attributed to George Orwell: "Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

The very notion that many in leadership positions — in Congress, the courts and the executive branch — stand ready instead to ignore the judgment of those who actually engage in those combat operations in the name of "social engineering" is absurd beyond belief. Combat units are built on cohesiveness, trust and a mystique of brotherhood, any risk that mars the combat effectiveness of our armed forces will naturally result in endangering the mission and a greater loss of life.

Yes, it is an open secret that gays have and continue to serve honorably in the U.S. military. However, they serve as Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen and not as "gay" Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. In 30-plus years of commanding Marines in both combat and peacetime venues, I neither observed a need nor benefit in the overt advertisement of one's sexual orientation — nor do either exist.

Those leading the procession to repeal don't ask, don't tell, from President Barack Obama, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin to our own Sen. Claire McCaskill to Lady Gaga have one thing in common — they have never served nor will they ever be called upon to do so. Those in support include decorated Marine officer and Sen.ator James Webb, and former prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain, and the retiring chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ike Skelton.

There is no inherent right to serve in the military; it is a privilege extended only to those who are physically, mentally and morally fit. To those who decry "unfair" discrimination against gays, the services also discriminate against the too weak, the too fat, alcoholics, drug users and felons. And, as a matter of interest, it is significant to note that four times as many servicemen and women are discharged for being overweight as those for being gay, according to a report compiled by the Department of Defense and the Congressional Research Service.

Despite the inherent litigious nature of the pro repeal faction, this is not a matter for the courts. The issue must be decided jointly by the president as commander in chief and Congress in its duty to raise armies and with the recommendations of the service chiefs. The Marine commandant stated the obvious, despite the potential for disruption of success in combat, the Marines would carry out a policy change voted in Congress.

That the U.S. military is subordinate to civilian authority is unquestioned. However, when a majority of the service chiefs along with a similar majority of those who engage in close combat, believe that openly gay troops pose a disruption to the good order, trust and discipline necessary for combat readiness/effectiveness, should their misgivings be ignored? Political correctness and social equality are not chapters in Sun Tzu's "Art of War" nor Carl von Clausewitz's "On War" — nor are they relevant on the battlefield.

Finally, I know of the polling procedure identifying 70 percent of the military as either ambivalent or open to serving with gays and lesbians. But the military in which I served for 30-plus years was not governed by opinion polls.

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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Nelson Richter December 15, 2010 | 7:09 a.m.

Would be interesting to go back to the 40's and see how many of these comments are the same used when Truman chose to integrate the military-much to do about nothing!

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robin barrows December 15, 2010 | 9:42 a.m.

If the previous comment was meant to dismiss augments against repealing DADT during wartime – there is anecdotal evidence of social engineering changes in the military during wartime causing a great deal of problems. I can't address what happened during the Korean War but have spoken to grunts who served in Vietnam. There were major problems when minorities banded together and disrupted the good order and disciple of small units in country. You really need to know what happens at the small unit level in combat before passing judgment on such a sweeping change the repeal of DADT would be.

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Paul Allaire December 15, 2010 | 10:13 a.m.

I'm sure that people who are gay appreciate your comparison between themselves and people who are weak, fat, alcoholics, drug users, and felons. Regarding the weak fat part, I wasn't aware that one's physical ability was inhibited by gayness. Regarding the alcohol/drug part, I was unaware that people were getting pulled over for driving while gay. The last, felons, are undesirable because one questions their morality. From reading this I gather that you prefer to serve with those who hide as much about themselves from their peers as possible, which is the same thing most felons would do.

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John Bliss December 15, 2010 | 10:16 a.m.

Colonel, if that "life-stlye" didn't bother me, and it had no affect on their job-performance, I wouldn't care! Since neither of those are true, it is just another case of congress showing how they can screw the fighting troops, while they sit on their arses counting votes. With family on the front-lines, I know that need ppl to back them up 100%, without distraction. For ONCE, let Congress do what is right for the Troops, not what is PC.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire December 15, 2010 | 11:05 a.m.

Say John, why don't you explain how "that life-style" affects job performance?

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hank ottinger December 15, 2010 | 11:20 a.m.

Let's add to that list of those who support repeal Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense. And for the record, gates served in the military. To imply that these distinguished public servants are in the same group as Lady Gaga is...(fill in your own blank).

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David Rosman December 15, 2010 | 7:57 p.m.

Karl - Good piece and well thought out. However, you failed to acknowledge the fact that many of the world's best armed forces, Isreali, British, German and others, allow gays to enlist with no restrictions. And I would put the Israeli men and women, straight and gay, up against the Marines in any fight.

The US is not supposed to send women into combat, but that is also being done in the Afgan theater. In fact, they do very well under combat conditions, something that would have been unthinkable even in 2002.

Women do not join to be a Female Marine and they are not Air Women. I remember when the Leathernecks required women to wear the "official" lipstick shade.

It is my belief, and strong belief at that, that life style outside of the military confines has nothing to do with the ability to serve in the five branches of our armed forces. I know straights that I would not want to serve, why are those with a life style different than yours to be treated differently?

@ Robin - The stories about "minorities banded together and disrupted the good order and disciple of small units in country" are way over rated. Minorities are thee backbone of the US military and have been since Truman. Ask your "grunts" about the rampid drug abuse in the last years of the waar in Veitnam. You may hear a different story.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller December 16, 2010 | 10:46 a.m.

David, I hear you and know you are sincere in the beliefs you stated; however that many of the world's "best armed forces Israeli, British, German, et al" allow gays to enlist w/o restriction is neither germane nor relevant. And, since I have serious doubts whether you have seen Israeli soldiers or Marines in combat, your opinion is parochial at best.

Please do not compound the error by falsely comparing blacks, women and gays as similar minorities--General Colin Powell slew that ridiculously insulting strawman in 1993 when he chaired the JCS.

Where we differ is in the area of theory vs. reality. Theoretically, everyone is equal; however, I identify with the reality of training and leading infantry Marines for 30 years, in combat as well as in time of peace. Living, eating, sleeping, bleeding and surviving in close quarters with them gives one a unique perspective as to their thought processes as well as their likes and dislikes.

After viewing the opinions of Generals Amos and Casey and the combat Marines and Soldiers they command, I find that little has changed in the field of combat arms. When those who do the actual fighting fear a degradation of combat effectiveness, that is a friction that cannot be ignored. I see the proposed repeal of DADT as being imposed on our armed forces not to improve combat effectiveness but to appease a voting block which is relatively small but noisy.

Finally Dave, Robin's stories are not "over rated" but the "grunt's" purported rampant drug use in Vietnam is greatly overstated. You must remember that SECDEF McNamara's "project 100,000" enabled thousands of marginal to criminal accessions in the military. As for the "rampant" drug use--drugs were easily available, but the Marine small unit combat leaders did not tolerate it in the "bush." I was one of the "lucky" ones who need not ask anyone--I was there at the onset and again at the end

(Report Comment)
Ryan Gavin December 16, 2010 | 11:01 a.m.

I agree with the writer. I'm sure Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense; Gen. John Shalikashvili, who led the implementation of DADT; and retired Army Gen. Colin Powell have no service experience either. That must be why they support the repeal of DADT.

At a time where every soldier is needed, I'm glad we've kicked out more than 13,000 Americans, including more than a hundred Arabic translators, to uphold order and prevent total chaos. We have our morality to think of! It's well known that being gay makes you physically incapable of performing tasks required of you by the military.

I'm also glad we have a blank check to work with here. Sure, it has cost the military a half a billion dollars [Jan. 27 Williams Institute study] to discharge these soldiers, and the military spends another $23,000-$43,000 per person to replace them, but we're just keeping order.

This would be too risky of a proposition to implement. That's why only Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Span and the United Kingdom allow gays to serve openly in their military. Supposedly there was "markedly no difference" according to a UK report after gays were allowed to serve, and though every other country has reported similar results, our anecdotal evidence most definitely outweighs that. I mean, look at Israel where they not only let gays serve, but give them domestic partner benefits! They essentially have no military whatsoever!

Mr. Miller, people like you and me need to stand strongly together in this cultural battle. That is, if you don't find out I'm gay.

-Ryan Gavin

(Report Comment)
art white December 16, 2010 | 12:55 p.m.

As a retired military member with 25 years of active duty service, I am now coming out to announce that I am a "closet heterosexual". In all those 25 years, the thought never crossed my mind to openly announce this. So, I guess the question is why do gays feel the need to announce that they are gay? One thing I have not seen mentioned or discussed is the potential lawsuits waiting in the wings. All supervisors have to write regular Performance Reports on their underlings. At some point, a gay, who has been "passed over for promotion" or not been performing up to standards and receives a bad Report, will allege that he has at some time heard that supervisor make a derogatory comment about gays and file suit. Lawyers will love it when a gay receives a less that satisfactory Performance Report from a supervisor.Immediately, that supervisor will have to hire a lawyer, the military service lawyers will have to defend the case, and eventually a jury decision will award a huge sum of TAXPAYER dollars to the person who filed the suit. To me, their being openly gay is all about sex, and nothing more. It is, in my opinion, all about them wanting special rights and NOT "equal rights" which they already have.

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Ryan Gavin December 16, 2010 | 1:16 p.m.

Art- Thank you for your service to our country. I respectfully disagree with what you're arguing, though. In your 25 years of service, did you ever have conversations about your girlfriend/wife? Your family? Those aren't obvious announcements of sexuality, but they're still identifying information about your orientation. If a gay person were to answer honestly or participate, they would either have to lie or be forced out of service. So yes, it is about having equal rights to talk about a loved one and not worry about persecution and about allowing people to love who they love without fear of losing their job. You could easily substitute "blacks" or "women" into your threat of lawsuits, hearkening to a time when neither were allowed and seeking access to serve. It didn't harm the military then, and allowing gays to openly serve won't harm it now.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire December 18, 2010 | 4:53 p.m.

It was you who were the straw who broke the camel's back.

(Report Comment)
D.G. Cayse December 18, 2010 | 8:40 p.m.

Its nice to see Mr. Allaire acknowledging the power of Colonel Miller.

Now do your "Happy Dance" Paul!

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley December 18, 2010 | 9:05 p.m.

While I disagree with a lot of what Mr. Miller has to post; I do believe that this is one topic that he is well qualified to post on.

I often do think his views are "harsh", "outdated", and "rigid". But not here. I think if this were an area where qualification mattered; Mr. Miller should be the one that should be listened to.

Now, let me say this too. Personally speaking I have no problems with gays in the military. I can't see there being any difference in a person's will to fight for a cause they believe in based simply on their sexual preference.

But I think that Mr. Miller has probably seen this issue from angles and perspectives that I have not even begun to consider. And because of that; I am not willing to pretend that I know more about this issue than he does and oppose his viewpoint here on this topic.

Ricky Gurley.

(Report Comment)

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