Recently I was handed a promotional brochure created by the Center for 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 hundreds — 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 who contributed their names to this campaign. But, it would have had a much more significant impact if it had been signed by veterans of Operations 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’s youth share few opinions with their grandfathers on this issue — and the men who signed this document are almost two generations removed from 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 intellectual giant (in my opinion) and a decorated WWII hero — I beamed with pride at being introduced as his granddaughter. But, he gave me pause one day when we were discussing gays 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 his Naval Academy roommate was court-martialed in the 1920s for homosexual behavior and this former roommate 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 was 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, he responded: “Well, I guess you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
I bring up this 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 poll from December 2006 which concluded that 72% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are “personally comfortable” with gays. An Annenberg poll from 2004 concluded that, a majority of junior enlisted personnel favor letting gays serve openly. 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, their presence is not an issue. Organizations like the Center for Military Readiness — groups that profess to be strong supporters of the troops, should spend some time in uniform and spend some time with gay and straight soldiers and sailors to find out what issues are really important to them. Serving together is not one of them.