They told, They’re out!

1st Lt. Dan Choi, 2002 West Point graduate, Arabic linguist and Iraq War veteran, is being fired from the United States Army for publicly announcing that he is gay.

In the Army equivalent of a pink slip received by postal mail on 23 April 2009, Choi was informed of his firing because of what he said.  The Army wrote, “You admitted publicly that you are homosexual which constitutes homosexual conduct.  Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”

The Army doesn’t care that Choi is gay, but they do care that he told everyone.  The Army’s explanation is a weak justification of his firing.  More appropriate would have been to say you violated policy, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, therefore you are fired.  Under federal law, openly gay people are prohibited from serving in the United States Armed Forces.  The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is the only law in the country that allows for the firing of a person based on open expression of sexual orientation alone.

More than a decade after its implementation, the policy continues to create significant anxiety among gay service members.  It is a policy which encourages gay soldiers to lie in order to continue in their chosen profession and selfless service to the Nation.  This is in direct conflict with “integrity”, one of the Army’s seven core values.  Integrity, by Army definition, is “do what is right, legally and morally.  Be willing to do what is right even when no one is looking.”  The Army proffers that integrity is its “moral compass” and inner voice.  This makes sense: integrity builds trust, and trust builds unit cohesion.

So how does a service member’s admission of sexual orientation “negatively affects the good order and discipline” of a military unit?  What makes Choi’s being gay detrimental to good order and discipline?  That question remains to be answered.  In the early 1990’s, when then President Bill Clinton moved to allow gays in the military, Pentagon brass commissioned a Rand Corporation study of the issue.  The study found that gays and lesbians could serve without negative impact to the military.  The study was suppressed.

A more appropriate question might be what negatively affects good order, discipline and morale in military units?  A few common to mind. Leaders who do not lead by example – they say one thing and do another; leaders who are guided by self-interest – not for the good of the unit or mission; and units where standards are not uniformly enforced.  Two more obvious ones are sexual harassment and fraternization.  But these are already regulated – we don’t need special regulations for gays and lesbians.  Meanwhile, the distancing and dishonesty that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” requires of serving gays and lesbians certainly has a negative impact.  One could argue that the policy itself is detrimental to good order and discipline.

Since the enactment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, more than 12,500 soldiers have been discharged from the military for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.[1] According to figures from the General Accounting Office, the cost of training replacements for those soldiers exceeded $360 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003.[2] Included are soldiers in military occupational specialties with critical shortages, such as pilots, intelligence analysts and Arabic linguists.  [3] With the dismissal of 1st Lt. Dan Choi, the number just increased.

In a 2004 article for Compass: A Journal of Leadership Magazine, a publication of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, former Army Maj. Lissa Young, also forced out of the profession of arms because of her acknowledgment of her sexual orientation, addressed the failure of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  She wrote: “We are afraid to challenge the assumptions of our institutions even as we respect their foundations.  A notable example of our failure is the unwillingness to lift the unconstitutional and incoherent policy, commonly called ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in our armed forces.  They are told they can serve only if they treat their sexuality as a secret they must hide from the world.  And in the next breath they are told that a soldier never lies.”[4]

What the 12,500 figure does not include are soldiers who complete their service obligations but choose not to continue their military careers because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.  Many gay veterans are proud of their service and likely would have continued to serve, but the toll and cost of keeping one’s life secret became too great.  It is a choice many talented, patriotic and committed soldiers have had to, and continue to, make.

The time has come to change the current policy.  The commander-in-chief has the authority to suspend gay discharges under federal law (10 U.S.C. §12305) to retain any member of the military he believes is essential to national security.  President Obama, please invoke your authority and leadership while you work to change the policy.


[1] http://www.sldn.org/pages/about-dadt.

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

[4] Young, Lissa, “Service and Disservice,” Compass: A Journal for Leadership, Volume 1, Number 2.  Spring 2004.  Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  26-27.

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15 Responses to They told, They’re out!

  1. donnamcaleer September 22, 2009 at 1:50 am #

    ” Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”

    Really? Past tense, as in, it already happened. Good order has been negatively affected.

    Maybe this is my tour at Ft Wood kicking in, but like they say in those parts: Show me. Show me the tangible evidence of said good order on the downslide. Show me, say, an IG report, an organizational inspection result, or an NTC rotation AAR that shows that this unit suffered in same measurable way due to Lt Choi’s public announcement.
    Because without said evidence, there’s only one word for this announcement from the NYNG: a lie. They lied. They made a statement that they know not to be true. They have claimed that the unit has suffered, without so much as lifting a finger to investigate the conditions on the ground.

    At best this is shoddy staff work, and at worse… well, I’ll leave it at that.
    LT Choi has passed every test with flying colors, has done everything asked of him, and has been nothing but a role model in his every word and deed. Those who feel that he is hurting his unit owe us more than mere boilerplate regurgitations if they want anyone to take them seriously.

  2. Brent Layman September 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    This is an interesting test of President Obama’s leadership. 1st Lt. Dan Choi can be applauded for maintaining his integrity. The Army is following the orders it’s received. What will the President now do??

  3. Brent Layman September 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    This is an interesting test of President Obama’s leadership. 1st Lt. Dan Choi can be applauded for maintaining his integrity. The Army is following the orders it’s received. What will the President now do??

  4. Becky Kanis September 21, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Donna, thanks for this terrific post! I’ve been fortunate to get to know Dan Choi through Knights Out and at every turn, he amazes me with his integrity, courage, and kindness toward others. If all 65,000 LGBT troops had the courage to do what Dan did, this policy would be over with immediately.

    I also want to say that we at Knights Out have been absolutely blown away by the letters of support and encouragement from our fellow West Point grads. I admit that I thought we might be the “skunk at the party” when I assumed responsibilities as Chair, but nothing could be further from the truth. West Point grads recognize that there is something precious about our honor code and “get it” that leaders are more than capable of leading all their soldiers, regardless of their orientation.

  5. Becky Kanis September 21, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Donna, thanks for this terrific post! I’ve been fortunate to get to know Dan Choi through Knights Out and at every turn, he amazes me with his integrity, courage, and kindness toward others. If all 65,000 LGBT troops had the courage to do what Dan did, this policy would be over with immediately.

    I also want to say that we at Knights Out have been absolutely blown away by the letters of support and encouragement from our fellow West Point grads. I admit that I thought we might be the “skunk at the party” when I assumed responsibilities as Chair, but nothing could be further from the truth. West Point grads recognize that there is something precious about our honor code and “get it” that leaders are more than capable of leading all their soldiers, regardless of their orientation.

  6. donnamcaleer September 21, 2009 at 9:50 pm #

    ” Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”

    Really? Past tense, as in, it already happened. Good order has been negatively affected.

    Maybe this is my tour at Ft Wood kicking in, but like they say in those parts: Show me. Show me the tangible evidence of said good order on the downslide. Show me, say, an IG report, an organizational inspection result, or an NTC rotation AAR that shows that this unit suffered in same measurable way due to Lt Choi’s public announcement.
    Because without said evidence, there’s only one word for this announcement from the NYNG: a lie. They lied. They made a statement that they know not to be true. They have claimed that the unit has suffered, without so much as lifting a finger to investigate the conditions on the ground.

    At best this is shoddy staff work, and at worse… well, I’ll leave it at that.
    LT Choi has passed every test with flying colors, has done everything asked of him, and has been nothing but a role model in his every word and deed. Those who feel that he is hurting his unit owe us more than mere boilerplate regurgitations if they want anyone to take them seriously.

  7. SteveO' September 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    ” Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”
    Really? Past tense, as in, it already happened. Good order has been negatively affected.
    Maybe this is my tour at Ft Wood kicking in, but like they say in those parts: Show me. Show me the tangible evidence of said good order on the downslide. Show me, say, an IG report, an organizational inspection result, or an NTC rotation AAR that shows that this unit suffered in same measurable way due to Lt Choi’s public announcement.
    Because without said evidence, there’s only one word for this announcement from the NYNG: a lie. They lied. They made a statement that they know not to be true. They have claimed that the unit has suffered, without so much as lifting a finger to investigate the conditions on the ground.
    At best this is shoddy staff work, and at worse… well, I’ll leave it at that.
    LT Choi has passed every test with flying colors, has done everything asked of him, and has been nothing but a role model in his every word and deed. Those who feel that he is hurting his unit owe us more than mere boilerplate regurgitations if they want anyone to take them seriously.

  8. SteveO' September 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    ” Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”
    Really? Past tense, as in, it already happened. Good order has been negatively affected.
    Maybe this is my tour at Ft Wood kicking in, but like they say in those parts: Show me. Show me the tangible evidence of said good order on the downslide. Show me, say, an IG report, an organizational inspection result, or an NTC rotation AAR that shows that this unit suffered in same measurable way due to Lt Choi’s public announcement.
    Because without said evidence, there’s only one word for this announcement from the NYNG: a lie. They lied. They made a statement that they know not to be true. They have claimed that the unit has suffered, without so much as lifting a finger to investigate the conditions on the ground.
    At best this is shoddy staff work, and at worse… well, I’ll leave it at that.
    LT Choi has passed every test with flying colors, has done everything asked of him, and has been nothing but a role model in his every word and deed. Those who feel that he is hurting his unit owe us more than mere boilerplate regurgitations if they want anyone to take them seriously.

  9. Steve September 21, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    The military ain’t a jobs program. Every single service-member serves because there is a need, a requirement, a foxhole to be manned or an LP/OP to be occupied.
    We all serve because we are needed, and only for as long as we are useful.
    Let’s say someone invents a super-soldier exo-skeleton that turns every new recruit into IronMan. Because of the expense of the program, effective immediately the only folks allowed in to the military will be between 5′10″ and 6′1″, right handed, with 20/20 vision and no color-blindness. And some beancounter figured out that this would limit the potential enlistments to X, but that X(combat multiplier of the IronMan suit) = a stronger fighing force. In that case, we are obviously going to discriminate against some darn fight people, but for the good of the service, we drive on.
    Using that model, I can to some extent accept the “good order, morale, and discipline” argument. To some extent. Because while it is not Dan’s fault that he is who he is, if the Army is made up of Y% prejudiced people, then we have a problem.
    But there in lies the rub: The powers that be have had more than ample time to come up with just one measurable piece of evidence in support of this claim. Just one. They have thrown this assertion on the fridge door to see if it will stick, but haven’t done one thing to back it up.
    Meanwhile, we do have numbers to support the other side. We know what Lissa’s flight training cost, and we know that the return on investment is now zero. We know that there are reams of Arab transcripts laying around, waiting on a translator to transform from a slot on the MTOE to a living, breathing human being, while scores of fully qualified individuals have been sent home.
    The same argument was made against allowing (allowing?) women to serve in combat roles. “They can’t cut it.” And yet, the requirements for “combat” (whatever that means anymore) MOSs are clearly defined, and tons of women can meet those prerequisites, and lots of dudes can’t.
    West Point was the nation’s first engineering school, and we should be proud of that. And yet, when there are decisions to be made that should be based on numbers, on inputs and outputs, too many times we slip into ideology and warm and fuzzy feelings about “how it should be.”
    Show me one number that says Dan shouldn’t serve, and I’ll shut up forever on the subject. One cold, objective, concrete, measurable piece of evidence that he is hurting our defense posture. Something based on reality and not ideology.
    “Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York National Guard.”
    Maybe it’s my tour at Ft Wood, MO, but the first thing that comes to mind is: Show me. Because if they can’t, then they just lied. Someone made a claim based on an assumption of how things should be, without taking the time to show their work and plug in the numbers. That’s sloppy staff work at best, and I’ll leave it at that for now.

  10. Steve September 21, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    The military ain’t a jobs program. Every single service-member serves because there is a need, a requirement, a foxhole to be manned or an LP/OP to be occupied.
    We all serve because we are needed, and only for as long as we are useful.
    Let’s say someone invents a super-soldier exo-skeleton that turns every new recruit into IronMan. Because of the expense of the program, effective immediately the only folks allowed in to the military will be between 5′10″ and 6′1″, right handed, with 20/20 vision and no color-blindness. And some beancounter figured out that this would limit the potential enlistments to X, but that X(combat multiplier of the IronMan suit) = a stronger fighing force. In that case, we are obviously going to discriminate against some darn fight people, but for the good of the service, we drive on.
    Using that model, I can to some extent accept the “good order, morale, and discipline” argument. To some extent. Because while it is not Dan’s fault that he is who he is, if the Army is made up of Y% prejudiced people, then we have a problem.
    But there in lies the rub: The powers that be have had more than ample time to come up with just one measurable piece of evidence in support of this claim. Just one. They have thrown this assertion on the fridge door to see if it will stick, but haven’t done one thing to back it up.
    Meanwhile, we do have numbers to support the other side. We know what Lissa’s flight training cost, and we know that the return on investment is now zero. We know that there are reams of Arab transcripts laying around, waiting on a translator to transform from a slot on the MTOE to a living, breathing human being, while scores of fully qualified individuals have been sent home.
    The same argument was made against allowing (allowing?) women to serve in combat roles. “They can’t cut it.” And yet, the requirements for “combat” (whatever that means anymore) MOSs are clearly defined, and tons of women can meet those prerequisites, and lots of dudes can’t.
    West Point was the nation’s first engineering school, and we should be proud of that. And yet, when there are decisions to be made that should be based on numbers, on inputs and outputs, too many times we slip into ideology and warm and fuzzy feelings about “how it should be.”
    Show me one number that says Dan shouldn’t serve, and I’ll shut up forever on the subject. One cold, objective, concrete, measurable piece of evidence that he is hurting our defense posture. Something based on reality and not ideology.
    “Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York National Guard.”
    Maybe it’s my tour at Ft Wood, MO, but the first thing that comes to mind is: Show me. Because if they can’t, then they just lied. Someone made a claim based on an assumption of how things should be, without taking the time to show their work and plug in the numbers. That’s sloppy staff work at best, and I’ll leave it at that for now.

  11. Brent Layman September 22, 2009 at 1:33 am #

    This is an interesting test of President Obama’s leadership. 1st Lt. Dan Choi can be applauded for maintaining his integrity. The Army is following the orders it’s received. What will the President now do??

  12. Becky Kanis September 22, 2009 at 1:35 am #

    Donna, thanks for this terrific post! I’ve been fortunate to get to know Dan Choi through Knights Out and at every turn, he amazes me with his integrity, courage, and kindness toward others. If all 65,000 LGBT troops had the courage to do what Dan did, this policy would be over with immediately.

    I also want to say that we at Knights Out have been absolutely blown away by the letters of support and encouragement from our fellow West Point grads. I admit that I thought we might be the “skunk at the party” when I assumed responsibilities as Chair, but nothing could be further from the truth. West Point grads recognize that there is something precious about our honor code and “get it” that leaders are more than capable of leading all their soldiers, regardless of their orientation.

  13. SteveO' September 22, 2009 at 1:58 am #

    ” Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”
    Really? Past tense, as in, it already happened. Good order has been negatively affected.
    Maybe this is my tour at Ft Wood kicking in, but like they say in those parts: Show me. Show me the tangible evidence of said good order on the downslide. Show me, say, an IG report, an organizational inspection result, or an NTC rotation AAR that shows that this unit suffered in same measurable way due to Lt Choi’s public announcement.
    Because without said evidence, there’s only one word for this announcement from the NYNG: a lie. They lied. They made a statement that they know not to be true. They have claimed that the unit has suffered, without so much as lifting a finger to investigate the conditions on the ground.
    At best this is shoddy staff work, and at worse… well, I’ll leave it at that.
    LT Choi has passed every test with flying colors, has done everything asked of him, and has been nothing but a role model in his every word and deed. Those who feel that he is hurting his unit owe us more than mere boilerplate regurgitations if they want anyone to take them seriously.

  14. Steve September 22, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    The military ain’t a jobs program. Every single service-member serves because there is a need, a requirement, a foxhole to be manned or an LP/OP to be occupied.
    We all serve because we are needed, and only for as long as we are useful.
    Let’s say someone invents a super-soldier exo-skeleton that turns every new recruit into IronMan. Because of the expense of the program, effective immediately the only folks allowed in to the military will be between 5′10″ and 6′1″, right handed, with 20/20 vision and no color-blindness. And some beancounter figured out that this would limit the potential enlistments to X, but that X(combat multiplier of the IronMan suit) = a stronger fighing force. In that case, we are obviously going to discriminate against some darn fight people, but for the good of the service, we drive on.
    Using that model, I can to some extent accept the “good order, morale, and discipline” argument. To some extent. Because while it is not Dan’s fault that he is who he is, if the Army is made up of Y% prejudiced people, then we have a problem.
    But there in lies the rub: The powers that be have had more than ample time to come up with just one measurable piece of evidence in support of this claim. Just one. They have thrown this assertion on the fridge door to see if it will stick, but haven’t done one thing to back it up.
    Meanwhile, we do have numbers to support the other side. We know what Lissa’s flight training cost, and we know that the return on investment is now zero. We know that there are reams of Arab transcripts laying around, waiting on a translator to transform from a slot on the MTOE to a living, breathing human being, while scores of fully qualified individuals have been sent home.
    The same argument was made against allowing (allowing?) women to serve in combat roles. “They can’t cut it.” And yet, the requirements for “combat” (whatever that means anymore) MOSs are clearly defined, and tons of women can meet those prerequisites, and lots of dudes can’t.
    West Point was the nation’s first engineering school, and we should be proud of that. And yet, when there are decisions to be made that should be based on numbers, on inputs and outputs, too many times we slip into ideology and warm and fuzzy feelings about “how it should be.”
    Show me one number that says Dan shouldn’t serve, and I’ll shut up forever on the subject. One cold, objective, concrete, measurable piece of evidence that he is hurting our defense posture. Something based on reality and not ideology.
    “Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York National Guard.”
    Maybe it’s my tour at Ft Wood, MO, but the first thing that comes to mind is: Show me. Because if they can’t, then they just lied. Someone made a claim based on an assumption of how things should be, without taking the time to show their work and plug in the numbers. That’s sloppy staff work at best, and I’ll leave it at that for now.

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  1. Honorable Service Terminated by Dishonorable Policy | Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line | Porcelain on Steel - August 18, 2010

    […] Armed Forces for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Included in this number are Maj. Lissa Young and 1st Lt. Dan Choi. By the end of this week, that number will increase by at least […]

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