'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Endangers us All

10-02-06, 8:59 am

  Last month the Bush administration announced that Marine Corps Individual Ready Reservists are being recalled to duty. This is due to a shortage of soldiers who are willing to serve additional tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are similar shortages in the Army and the National Guard. Yet the Armed Forces saw an 11 percent increase last year in the number of soldiers who were discharged simply because they were gay. Perhaps never since the inception of  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has there been a more glaring reason to abandon this misguided military policy.   According to newly released Pentagon figures a total of 742 service members were discharged last year for being gay. That’s an increase over the 668 soldiers discharged under the policy in 2004. Since 1993, when the policy was implemented, approximately 11,000 military personnel have been discharged for being gay. There’s little doubt that this has served only to weaken our Armed Forces, and endanger our national security interests.   Last year the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative office of Congress, released a report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The report found that the military had discharged more than 300 language specialists who “had…skills in a foreign language that DOD had considered to be especially important.” And the GAO report determined that nearly 800 military specialists, including those in intelligence, analysts, divers, and combat controllers were discharged, despite holding “an occupation identified as critical.” While the discharge of all soldiers since 1993 is troublesome, this is particularly the case regarding Arabic language experts.   The report by the 9/11 Commission acknowledged that the government’s inability to translate Arabic communications quickly and efficiently contributed to the terrorist attacks of 2001. Yet no less than 55 Arabic language specialists have been discharged because they were gay. This summer, Army sergeant Bleu Copas, a decorated and well respected Arabic language expert, was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Discharging Arabic language specialists during a period in which, as the Bush administration frequently remind us, we are engaged in a global war on terrorism, is counterproductive.   It takes years of intensive study to master Arabic languages. Given these demands, it’s not surprising that few service members are willing to commit themselves to learning these languages. For the military to fire 55 of these dedicated specialists is foolish. It places our military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in greater danger, because they lack sufficient translators. And it’s a threat to our national security, because the various military intelligence agencies lack adequate language specialists to translate Arabic communications.   Many Americans no doubt agree with C. Dixon Osburn, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, an organization that advocates on behalf of gay soldiers, when he recently said, “No American cares if the person who thwarts a plot to blow up an airplane is gay. We care that our nation is secure.” In fact, most Americans do agree. A Gallup poll taken earlier this year found that a whopping 79 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military.   And although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is unwilling to reconsider the policy, an increasing number of former defense and military officials support reversing the ban. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, Admiral John Hutson, USN (Retired), and Claudia Kennedy, the first woman in Army history to achieve the rank of Lieutenant General, have all called for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   Former Lt. General Kennedy called on Congress this summer to end the ban on gays serving in the military. She argued that, “The Army teaches its soldiers to live by seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage. Tell me: which is only found in the heterosexual population?” If a young man or woman wishes to serve his or her country, and defend this nation, they shouldn’t be barred from doing so simply by virtue of their sexual orientation. And we certainly shouldn’t be stopping them at this time in our history.   Our military now needs competent and experienced personnel more than at any time since World War II. According to Pentagon figures, the Army is bracing for a shortage of 2,500 captains and majors this year, and the shortage is expected to grow to 3,300 by 2007. The Department of Defense has attempted to overcome recruitment shortages in the last year by relaxing enlistment requirements concerning age, physical fitness, education, and even criminal history. Clearly, we cannot afford to continue to prevent men and women from serving our nation in the military simply because they are gay.