Repealing 'Don't Ask' Would Break Volunteer Military

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 06:00 PM

By Frank Gaffney

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Legislators in both houses of Congress are expected to vote Thursday on proposals that would repeal the law prohibiting avowed homosexuals from serving in the military.

In the hope of mustering enough votes for passage on the floor of the House and in the Senate Armed Services Committee, a so-called “compromise” has been offered: Rather than wait to learn what the implications of such an action might be on the military — the subject of a “comprehensive review” now under way in the Pentagon that is not due to be concluded until December — the proponents want to pass the repeal now, but not have it go into force until after the study is done.

The vote in both chambers is expected to be extremely close. Much will turn on whether sufficient numbers of Democrats representing relatively conservative constituencies will unthinkingly buy the seductive argument that the United States military needs all the people it can get in time of war — and that denying homosexuals the opportunity to serve openly, unnecessarily and ill-advisedly, does just that.

Now, there may be some thousands of gay personnel in the armed forces who could be discharged under the present law and the Defense Department policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” should their sexual orientation become known. There may be another few thousand who wish to serve, but who will decline to enlist under present circumstances.

What proponents of repeal of the law generally ignore, though, is a larger reality: There are vastly larger numbers of heterosexuals now in uniform who will refuse to continue to serve if the law is changed. This is not because they are “homophobic” – an invented term used by the gay activists to pillory any who dare to oppose their agenda.

Rather, as any study worthy of the name would clearly show, the military is a work environment unlike any others. Typically, it involves lots of “forced intimacy” — whether in battlefield conditions or on base. Hard experience with having heterosexual men and women serving together in such circumstances has resulted in high rates of pregnancy and adverse implications for unit cohesion and morale.

It is absolutely predictable that putting individuals attracted to those of the same sex in showers, foxholes, and other confined spaces (for example, aboard ships and in barracks) is an invitation to the development of acute problems for the “good order and discipline” essential to an effective military.

In an all-volunteer force, those who are unwilling to put up with such a prospect can always exercise the option, as the Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it so memorably, of “voting with their feet.”

About 10 percent of those now in uniform would quit if the gay ban law is repealed, according to a poll conducted by Military Times – one of very few samplings of the attitudes of serving military personnel, as opposed to the population at large. Another 15 percent say they would seriously consider doing so.

The effect of such losses of trained personnel would be crippling, especially in time of war. That is especially true, given that many of them probably would come from the backbone of the armed forces, namely the ranks of field grade and noncommissioned officers. The military already is desperately over-stretched, with three and even four combat tours in a career becoming increasingly commonplace. It is hard to imagine sustaining anything remotely like the present operational tempos and deployments with up to 25 percent fewer people in uniform.

What then would be the choices? The United States simply could disengage from its present military responsibilities around the world, including its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is hard to say with precision what the implications would be of such a step.

But, if history is any guide, that sort of unmistakable indication of America’s abdication of its global leadership would have real, profound, and possibly very dangerous repercussions as our enemies seek to fill the vacuum of power thus created, at our expense.

If, as one would hope, that prospect is seen as unacceptable, there would appear to be but one alternative: a return to conscription — replacing the all-volunteer force with one based largely upon compulsory service of America’s young men and, presumably, its young women.

The U.S. military wants no part of a return to the draft. In the years since it recovered from the convulsions associated with involuntary service during the Vietnam years, it has worked assiduously to build and operate a war-fighting capability literally second to none. It has done so on the basis of recruiting and retaining in the armed forces only those who wish to be in uniform.

Hard experience indicates that, in the future as in the past, there would be real concerns about how well a conscript-based military would fare in combat these days, what with the high turnover rates, sagging morale and other problems (notably, drug abuse, lower average educational levels, and motivation deficiencies) associated with drafted troops.

As members of Congress and senators cast their votes Thursday, they must not accept blithe assurances that, come December, the Defense Department somehow will come up with policies and regulations implementing repeal that are, in the words of its lead sponsor in the House, Rep. Patrick Murphy, “consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.”

As a practical matter, we are likely to start seeing the effects on the military long before such legislation goes into effect, as men and women now in uniform start making other plans immediately, rather than wait and see how it will all work out.

In short, whether legislators acknowledge it or not, votes for repeal will be votes for breaking the all-volunteer force. As a practical matter, they are votes for bringing back the draft — and those who cast them better be prepared to be held accountable for the consequences for the nation of such a momentous step, both strategic and political.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is president of the Center for Security Policy and host of the nationally syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio.”

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