RecentlyÂ I was handed a promotional brochure created by the Center forÂ Military Readiness, an organization that is adamantly opposed to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted during the Clinton Administration more than 15 years ago. It was signed by dozens — maybe hundredsÂ – of retired flag and general officers who support keeping the policy intact. It made me laugh. I recognized many of those names and admire many of the men whoÂ contributed their namesÂ to this campaign. But, it would have had a muchÂ more significant impact if it had been signed byÂ veterans of OperationsÂ Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom — 20-somethings who have recently served and can actually attest to the impact of the repeal on unit cohesion, morale and military readiness.
I would assert that today’sÂ youthÂ share few opinions with their grandfathers on this issue — and the men who signed this documentÂ are almost two generations removed fromÂ the majority of today’s soldiers and Sailors. They are, indeed, grandfathers to this generation. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my own grandfather more than 20 years ago. Like these men, he was a retired flag officer and grew up in a vastly different America than the one that raised me. He was an intellectualÂ giantÂ (in my opinion) and a decorated WWII heroÂ – I beamed with pride at being introduced as his granddaughter. But, he gave me pause one day when we were discussing gaysÂ serving in the military. I assumed he was against it, but I had never heard him tell this particular story before he and I sparred that day on the issue. He admitted to me that hisÂ Naval AcademyÂ roommate was court-martialed in the 1920s for homosexual behavior andÂ thisÂ former roommateÂ asked my grandfather to serve as a character witness at his trial. My grandfather refused, the man was convicted and thrown out of the Navy. He later committed suicide, and my grandfather angrily said, “If I had had a gun, I would have shot him myself.” I furrowed my brow and said, “Why? Why woudn’t you serve as a character witness for him? Wasn’t he your friend?” He responded, “He was a great roommate and friend. He used to make my bed in the morning when I didn’t have time. He wasÂ a very talented naval aviator. I was so angry at him when I heard the news.” I looked at him and said, “You just attested to his character, Grandaddy. You just told me what a great person and friend he was.” Grandaddy was speechless and this legend in my eyes suddenly looked very small. After a pregnant pause,Â he responded: “Well, I guess you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
I bring up thisÂ sad, personal story because the opinions of retired flag and general officers on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are irrelevant and remind me of my grandfather’s attitude. Today’s generation of youth — those who are joining and serving in the military today — have grown up with openly gay individuals. I found online some results of a Zogby pollÂ from December 2006Â which concludedÂ that 72% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are “personally comfortable” with gays. AnÂ Annenberg poll from 2004 concluded that,Â a majority of junior enlisted personnel favor letting gays serve openly.Â They don’t see homosexuals as predatory threats; on the contrary, they see them as fellow professionals and friends. They expect them to be held to the same fraternization standards as heterosexuals. Simply put,Â their presence isÂ not an issue.Â Organizations like the Center forÂ Military Readiness — groups that profess to be strong supporters of the troops,Â should spend some time in uniform and spend some time with gay and straightÂ soldiers and sailors to find out what issues are really important to them.Â Serving together is not one of them.