The Courage of Marine Corps Leadership on DADT

In an age when many Americans do not recognize that we are at war, most Americans still respect the sacrifices that our military men and women make on their behalf.  According to a Rasmussen poll last May, the military continues to have the highest favorable and lowest unfavorable ratings of any group or institution in the United States   Whether it is on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, on the mean streets of a third-world hell-hole, or as a silent sentinel on the Korean border, the servicemen we place in harm's way perform with dedication and excellence.  They do this under physical and psychological conditions that most Americans could not tolerate and cannot understand.  Their service and sacrifice allow us to go about our daily lives and, as Churchill put it, "sleep soundly in our beds."

That our soldiers have to visit violence upon those who would do us harm is a sad reality.  Even a novice student of history knows that battle-ready armies are the best defense against aggressors.  While we may look forward to the day when the lion lies down with the lamb, until that occurs, we must rely on those "rough men who stand ready in the night."

Despite recent attempts to socially engineer our military, the bulk of the fighting and dying continues to be done, as through the ages, by young men.  The bonds of men in combat cannot be replicated in any other activity, though our society likes to think they can.  We loosely use the word "combat" on the gridiron or in the courtroom.  Those who have served in combat will tell you that there is no physical or emotional challenge equivalent to actual combat.  Those bonds between warriors, that brotherhood, that philia, cannot be replicated outside combat.  Most warriors will tell you that without that brotherhood, a unit in combat cannot be effective. 

In combat, loss of effectiveness can mean failure of the mission.  Defeat is anathema to the warrior.  Failure increases the risk of death, injury, or capture for both soldiers and non-combatants.

Into this ageless formula for military success the Pentagon and the Congress want to insert Eros, or erotic love, by ending the awkward "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for homosexuals serving in the military.  These REMFs (pejorative acronym for desk-bound staff officers) have never had to duck and cover as the rounds or RPGs go whistling by.  They have followed the lead of a completely inexperienced commander in chief and his Hollywood-raised chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff to satisfy a constituency that is unaware and unappreciative of the sacrifices our young men and women make on their behalf.

Fortunately, those same bonds of combat remain unbroken in a few of our military leaders, most notably both the recently departed commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, and his successor, General James Amos.  Along with the military chiefs of the Army and Air Force, they have publicly stood their ground in support of continuing the current policy.  Last week, General Amos, courageously told a group of reporters that "I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction.  I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda with no legs with the result of any type of distraction."

The distraction General Amos speaks of is the inclusion of openly gay warriors in the ranks of Marines in combat.  The general displays the courage earned through combat and the commitment to his Marines to ensure their victory in combat.  He has placed his love of the brotherhood of Marines ahead of the altar of political correctness inside the Beltway.  We will know shortly if this courageous warrior will be sacrificed on that same altar.

Parts of the Navy may have the luxury of social engineering on the relative safety of ships at sea.  The Air Force has the ability to accommodate homosexuals "behind the wire" in safe and secure air bases.  But Marines, Navy, and Army Special Warfare Forces and Army combat troops don't have that luxury.  Any disruption of their combat effectiveness during a time of war places the agenda of a radical few ahead of the national good.  

Recently, one of General Amos' fellow Marines, Lieutenant General John F. Kelly, gave a speech at the celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps's birthday.  Kelly talked about the sacrifice of a couple of his Marines at a lonely outpost in Iraq in April of 2008.  Marine Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter stood their ground when a truck laden with explosives attempted to careen through their checkpoint and detonate in a barracks filled with their fellow Marines.  As General Kelly told the assembled audience:

In all of the instantaneous violence, Yale and Haerter never hesitated.  By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back.  They never even started to step aside.  They never even shifted their weight.  With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapon.  They had one second to live.

Warriors like Generals Amos and Kelly will tell you that this split-second devotion to duty is an absolute requirement for all warriors in combat.  Placing a fellow warrior's safety above your own for the good of the unit and the mission is essential.  Introducing Eros in any form into combat is corrosive in the extreme.  That is why Marines and other combat warriors reject an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  They realize, despite its awkward language and hard-to-enforce criteria, that this legislation, passed by a Democratic majority Congress and Democratic president, offers the best possible compromise.  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" keeps our combat forces effective at visiting violence upon those who would harm our nation and our way of life.  The lame duck House, repudiated by voters in historic fashion a month ago, has already voted for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It would be a sad and damaging insult to our nation's warriors if the Senate follows their lead and provides a bone for our failed President to throw to his left-wing base. That bone will likely contain the flesh and blood of our nation's true elite, our warriors, and is a cost that the Senate must reject.   

The author is a retired U.S. Navy Captain.