Most news about West Point, my alma mater, makes me exceedingly proud. While the news about West Point being ranked #4 this year in Forbes list of top colleges, (down from #1 last year) is reinforcing and encouraging, last Tuesday’s news is not. It makes me sick and angry.
Cadet Sergeant Katherine Miller from Findlay, Ohio, who ranked ninth in a class of more than 1100 future Army officers, tendered her resignation from the prestigious military academy that trains leaders of character for our Army and our Nation. A lesbian, she cited her inability to live up to and uphold the Army’s core values of honor and integrity as long as the policy known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remains in place.
Miller’s resignation puts her in the front of a long line of graduates who have been advocating for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Historically, the US Army has been on the leading edge of social change and diversity with the integration of minorities and women. Except for those soldiers and citizens who are gay.
The United States promotes its position and stature as the world’s only superpower. Globally we are a beacon of freedom and a land of opportunity. The military is the organization charged with protecting both. Its foundation for effectiveness is integrity, honor, and respect for others, regardless of difference. Except for sexual orientation. Paradoxically, denied to gay soldiers are all the freedoms and opportunities for which they take an oath to serve and protect.
The irony is that while the military places a high value on integrity and honor, it undermines these values by forcing and encouraging soldiers to lie about their personal lives.
Who Are They
The enactment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1993 has forced the discharge of more than 13,500 soldiers from the 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 3.
According to figures from the General Accounting office, the cost of training replacements for those soldiers exceeds $360 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003. Included are soldiers in military occupational specialties with critical shortages such as pilots, intelligence analysts, and Arabic linguists. Young was a helicopter pilot and Choi an Arab linguist.
The justification for the ban on homosexuals is that a service member’s admission of sexual orientation negatively affects the good order and discipline of a military unit. However, the Defense Department’s own studies, performed by the RAND Corporation in 2005 and 2007, found no factual basis for either of these claims.
Earlier this year, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, took a bold stand on supporting the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell acknowledging the service of gay American’s. What followed were more Defense Department studies and surveys. Meanwhile service members are fired and taxpayer investments are being squandered.
Just a Few Million
This week alone, the $25 million dollar investment in pilot training for Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Ferenbach, the $350,000 investment in Cadet Katie Miller’s West Point education, and the millions of dollars invested in infantry tactical training of Army Capt. Jonathon Hopkins just got flushed down the drain. They all want to serve. That is why they voluntarily entered the military. The failure and shame is that our country and our military are losing out, by firing great leaders and soldiers.
What the 13,500 figures 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 continue 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. Lt. Bridget Altenburg, Capts. Becky Kanis and Sue Fulton made that choice, as have many others.
A study by Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that 66,000 other gay Americans served silently during that time.
Taking Care of Soldiers
An Army leaders primary focus is taking care of soldiers. These leaders have served with distinction and with a focus on others. They made tremendous personal and professional sacrifices to care for their soldiers and to defend our republic.
When are our elected officials going to demonstrate an equal measure of leadership, courage and character as these service members and repeal DADT? When are our senior military commanders going to take the necessary steps to take care of these soldiers?
Courage and Capital
The lack of action from our elected government leadership demonstrates to all of us, the lives of these service members as well as all the others forced out of the military for sexual orientation are not worth fighting for because they are expendable. The silence of our senior military commanders who continue to send soldiers into harm’s way is deafening.
It takes fortitude and political capital. It might just cost them their political careers or another brass star. Obviously, few are willing to make the same kind of sacrifice they ask these service members to make. A refusal to do the right thing perpetuates a wrong thing. How can they sleep at night—surely that rattles around in their head. Or maybe not, which would be sad if true.
I leave you with this thought:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
– Edmund Burke
In our government, where are all the good men and women? The country wonders and service personal are terminated.
In the military, honorable service shines brightest above all. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a dishonorable policy.