Get Ready for the DADT Repeal

One of the top priorities of the coming lame duck session of Congress will be the formal repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," aka U.S. Code Title 10, Section 654. Obama won't have another chance to shove it through before 2012, and he wants the gay community on his side then. He will probably also want to repeal Article 125 - Sodomy in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

Read at least the "Findings" part of Section 654 before you go any further. It contains a good summary of the logic that was used at the time that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was passed. Those facts have not changed. If Congress just repeals Section 654 and Article 125, they will be risking the lives of our Armed Forces. Since Obama still calls the shots until January, it is not likely that we can prevent this. But there is a way we can limit the damage -- and it's key to our response.

This is a matter of sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. A person's orientation doesn't matter; his or her actual behavior does.

Heterosexual behavior can be just as damaging to the military, and some evidence suggests that it is extremely common. Look at the U.S. Navy relieving commanding officers for "zipper problems." So far this year, the Navy  has relieved thirteen commanding officers. Last week the Navy relieved a Command Master Chief for it. Even as the Navy shrinks, the rate is growing. This is a measure of the "Top of the Cream." Only the best officers reach command, and yet almost 5% get in trouble. Issues with heterosexual behavior surface frequently on military forums. There is undoubtedly more evidence, but it's not in the public domain.

No matter what orientation they take, any sexual relations within a command can be dangerous because of how they impact trust within the unit. Here's an example lacking any names or personal pronouns so that you can substitute male or female names and roles as you choose.

In Afghanistan, Sergeant "A" is known to have a physical relationship with Private "B." When the squad is ambushed, Sergeant A orders Privates "C", "D," and "E" to flank the attackers while Sergeant "A" and Private "B" lay down covering fire. "C", "D," and "E" might certainly wonder if Private "B" is getting a safe assignment while they are exposed to danger because of the relationship.

It is entirely possible that the Sergeant's decision is tactically sound -- but the questions will persist. How hard do you think "C", "D," and "E" will press their attack?

Private "B" is not safe, either. Suppose Private "B" breaks off the relationship and the sergeant is unhappy about it. Next time, Private "B's" family might get the terrible news that their relative won't be coming home. If that happens, how is Private "C" going to resist the attentions of the amorous Sergeant? Refusal could result in the same outcome. ...Of course, it could bounce back -- Sergeant "A" might get "fragged."

Combat may be a bit extreme, but remember that even in peacetime, the Armed Forces are an inherently dangerous place. There are dangerous aspects to the job since they must daily work with tools that are designed to break things and kill people. In 2009, 443 service members were killed in accidents while only 338 were killed by hostile action.

Petty Officer 1st Class "Z" has several well-trained 3rd Class Petty Officers who work for "Z." Initially, all three are a natural team. But a sexual relationship develops between PO1 "Z" and PO3 "W." The other two soon resent the special attention that "W" is getting. Suddenly, an accidental fire erupts in a main engineering space. All three Petty Officers are involved in fighting it, but tragically, "W" is killed.

Even if it was totally an accident, the result could be dangerous for the other two because of "Z's" likely reaction towards them.

Before you say "That could never happen!," understand that emotional stress can grow for service members in ways that civilians simply don't understand.   

Service members can't quit or even leave. They almost never have any say where they work or whom they work with. In a worst-case situation, civilians can always quit their jobs. Service members cannot do that without committing a federal crime -- the choice is typically Article 86 - "Absent without Leave." They can't even argue about it -- at least one of Articles 89, 90, 91, and 92 will be relevant.

Service members have few options to "de-stress." Even in paramilitary organizations, such as police or fire services, civilians get privacy when off-duty. At the very least, they can go home, wherever that is, to relax. By contrast, try to "de-stress" in a thirty-man berthing compartment on a deployed warship. How can you do that in a platoon whose "home" is a remote outpost in Afghanistan? Even stateside barracks frequently lack any privacy.

So the stress caused by any kind of military sexual relationship can grow to lethal levels.

That stress means that we must push for simple, direct rules that address all forms of sexual activity that could affect service members. Further, these rules need to be simple, clear, and easily remembered, even when drunk or in the height of passion.

The following make sense -- probably in Article 120 under "Other Sexual Misconduct."
  1. No sexual activity within a command. That means no sexual activity, of any kind, ever, between people who share the same commanding officer. The Service Secretaries would define what a "command" is -- I suggest along the O-6 Level ("full-bird" Colonel or navy Captain). This article would also have to apply to civilians assigned to the command.
  2. No sexual activity anywhere under federal jurisdiction, even if allowed by #1 above. Otherwise, people risk discovery and blackmail, extortion, or worse problems. Further, it is manifestly unfair to those who follow the rules. (An exception will have to be made for on-base married housing.)
  3. Sexual harassment is not permitted, no matter who does it, nor what his or her orientation. Toleration is required. You are commanded to listen without comment to those with whom you profoundly disagree. No service member is being asked to change his or her opinion -- just to tolerate the other point of view. This includes military chaplains. So even if a chaplain is against gay marriage, and you are for it, you are commanded to tolerate the other point of view. The person who holds the opposing viewpoint will have to reciprocate.

Now, what about the transgendered? Don't ask. Perhaps the challenges that issue will raise will cause someone to finally notice that there is no constitutional right to serve in the military.
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