I am an active-duty U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer. I have deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan and have commanded infantry Marines in combat.
On Tuesday, Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said he believes repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allowing gay and lesbian Marines to serve openly could “cost Marines’ lives” because of the “mistakes and inattention or distractions” that might ensue. I am not homosexual. And in this instance, I must respectfully disagree with my commandant.
The commandant cites the importance of cohesion within small combat units and warns against its disruption by allowing homosexuals to stop concealing their identities. In my experience, the things that separate Marines in civilian life fade into obscurity on the battlefield. There, only one thing matters: Can you do your job? People care much more about whom you voted for or what city you’re from while on the huge airbase with five Burger Kings, or back in the States, than they do when they’re walking down a dusty road full of improvised explosive devices in Haditha or Sangin.
In the end, Marines in combat will treat sexual orientation the same way they treat race, religion and one’s stance on the likelihood of the Patriots winning another Super Bowl. I do not believe the intense desire we all feel as Marines to accomplish the mission and protect each other will be affected in the slightest by knowing the sexual orientation of the man or woman next to us.
In the recent Defense Department survey, 58 percent of combat arms Marines said they felt allowing homosexuals to serve openly would negatively affect their unit, but 84 percent of combat arms Marines who had served with a homosexual said that there would be no effect or that the effect would be positive. It seems obvious that if allowing homosexuals to serve openly degraded performance, rather than improved it, a majority of Marines who had served with homosexuals would oppose repeal. Yet this is not the case, and homosexuals serve openly in the militaries of Britain, Canada, Australia, Israel and others with no ill effect. This suggests that much of the opposition toward repeal within the Marine Corps is based on the politics of individual Marines and not any measurable military effect.
Repeal would undoubtedly produce some disruption, but if other nations’ experiences are any guide, it will be so minimal as to be essentially nonexistent. Consider what is likely to happen if and when “don’t ask” is repealed: Lance Cpl. Smith will be having a typical Marine conversation with Lance Cpl. Jones, and the topic will turn to women. Smith will remark on how much he enjoys their company. Jones will reply: “Actually, man, I like dudes.”
Jones: “Yeah, man, really.”
Smith: “Wow. I didn’t know that.”
Both will then go back to cleaning their rifles.
Is it really likely that lance corporals who know each other better than brothers, and may have saved each other’s lives in split-second reactions during deployments, are suddenly going to refuse to serve in the same unit or quit the Corps because they have to share a shower?
Repeal will of course have many effects. Gay and lesbian Marines who are now barred from discussing their identities honestly with their superiors, peers and subordinates would be able to do their jobs free from the nagging knowledge that they are being less than honest with their brothers and sisters in arms. It is difficult to see how this could do anything but improve their job performance. Gay and lesbian Marines have long fought and died for a country that refuses to acknowledge their existence. Some are certainly among the Marines who have passed through Bethesda Naval Hospital and rest in Arlington.
I believe the reluctance many Marines feel about repeal is based on the false stereotype, borne out of ignorance, that homosexuals don’t do things like pull other Marines from burning vehicles. The truth is, they do it all the time. We simply don’t know it because they can’t tell us.
It is time for “don’t ask, don’t tell” to join our other mistakes in the dog-eared chapters of history textbooks. We all bleed red, we all love our country, we are all Marines. In the end, that’s all that matters.
The writer is an infantry captain in the Marine Corps.