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DADT Repeal…Are We Watching the Train Wreck Happen?

The good news just keeps getting better…if only that statement was true. Defense Secretary Gates told Fox News Sunday that the President may veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which currently carries the amendment that might repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), because of the inclusion of alternative jet engines and aircraft acquisitions the Pentagon doesn’t want and the President said he won’t support. Gates implied that the President would veto the bill if it contains these unwanted acquisitions even at the expense of DADT. Gates also said during the Fox interview that the Pentagon study on repeal of DADT is looking at the issues, the potential negative consequences and how to mitigate them. He said the military needs to provide its input on how to implement repeal of DADT. One of the ways the Pentagon is trying to capture information on ‘how to implement repeal’ is through the survey of a yet to-be-determined sampling size of military personnel. The Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) will soon roll out the survey for military personnel that will help determine how to implement repeal of the law that requires some of our servicemembers to lie every day of their lives while they are defending our nation.

While Gates is telling the media circuit they are looking at the ‘how‘ of repeal, that is not matching up with all of his statements, nor the theme of the survey itself. Reliable sources indicate the tenor of the survey deals with the impact of repeal on the rank and file rather than how to best implement repeal. On 2 Feb 2010, Secretary Gates said the purpose of the Pentagon study was to “how best prepare for it” [repeal of DADT]. But then on 30 Apr 2010, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen told Congressman Skelton that the DoD believed that any legislative action this year that changed the policy before completion of the study would “send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform” and that somehow open service by gays has “a direct impact and consequence” for straight soldiers and their families. Jumping ahead to 6 May 2010, Secretary Gates told Senator Levin that “the review effort….is charged with assessing the impact [emphasis added] of repealing 10USC654.” Gates went on to say in that letter that Jeh Johnson and General Ham will develop “a plan to implement such a repeal in the most informed and effective manner possible.” There may be nothing wrong with asking the rank and file their feelings about repeal and then having the Pentagon formulate the policy for repeal based on the perceived impact. However, many people seem to think that the rank and file will have some way to provide input on ‘how’ to implement repeal. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

The survey questionnaire hasn’t been finalized but, the latest version of it took a concerning turn. Previous versions of the draft survey looked at issues that would have allowed a better understanding of the impact of gays and lesbians currently in service. Like the chicken vs. the egg metaphor, we face a challenge in understanding the impact of DADT in units. Do gays and lesbians in service cause morale issues or leaderships problems because they are gay/lesbian, or does the investigation of them and their discharge lead to morale or leadership problems? I have met people who can substantiate the latter but never the former. One of the draft versions of the survey would have provided some level of detail regarding issues like these; however, that chance has apparently passed. The current version of the survey deals with the impact of gays and lesbians in the service but makes little to no effort to understand any of the underlying factors (are investigations or discharges causing issues in units, is there any correlation between sexuality and combat readiness, why is sexuality even an issue in the workplace, etc.).

On the bright side of things, the survey has not been finalized. Perhaps the CRWG will not waste the best opportunity to understand and measure the impact of sexuality in one of America‘s largest workforces. Even if the survey only asks about the impact of gays and lesbians in the service, the Pentagon can still formulate a policy to mitigate those concerns. Do I trust the Pentagon and the military services to do the right thing in this instance? Not for a second. Since Gates’ testimony in front of Congress where he first mentioned the Pentagon study on repeal of DADT, the service chiefs have clearly shown they are marching to the beat of their own drummers. Even Gates and Admiral Mullen have codified their lack of trust, compassion and understanding of gays in the military when they penned the 30 Apr 2010 letter to Rep. Ike Skelton. One of the conditions in the current amendment is that the Pentagon has to have addressed the policy issues that will allow successful implementation of repeal. Even after this study is finished, it could take a conveniently long time before the policy matters are finalized and the tripartite certification takes place saying that repeal can be implemented without affecting military readiness. As with any survey, you can have problems with what you ask and who you ask. The CRWG survey has a slate of questions, some of which clearly reflect biases, and overall doesn’t address some issues with any credible depth. If they don’t figure out a way to uniformly field the survey, the final results could be very damaging to the future of open service by gays and lesbians in the military. While the Pentagon study is going through a deliberate process, I fear that process has a desired destination and some senior leaders in the Pentagon would prefer if gays never serve openly in the military.

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