Outlook: Why are the Marines the military's biggest backers of 'don't ask, don't tell'?

Nov 22, 2010

Tammy S. Schultz, director of national security and joint warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College, will be online Monday, Nov. 22, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss her Outlook article titled 'Why are the Marines the military's biggest backers of 'don't ask, don't tell'?

The chat will begin momentarily.

I'm Tammy Schultz, Director of National Security & Joint Warfare at the United States Marine Corps War College, and I?m here to answer questions about my op-ed that was published yesterday on the United States Marine Corps and ?don?t ask, don?t tell,? (DADT). Before we get going, let me add three things: First, the op-ed views as well as those in my answers today are mine opinions alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Marine Corps, or the Marine Corps University. Second, I am going to try to keep my answers relatively short so that I can get to as many questions as I can. Third and most importantly, since I know a lot of the readership for the op-ed is active or retired military, thank you (and your families) for your service to our country. Let?s get started.

Tammy, is it true that the USMC has the highest percentage of gay men of the military branches? Could that be why they are so resistant to acknowledging the presence of these men?

Thanks for your question.  I don't have the Marine specific data on that question, and as you can imagine, it would be hard to get right now.  That said, it is estimated that there are about 65,000 or so gay members currently serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Do you think some of the general officers who are against DADT is more of a generational thing? In the general population, older people are less accepting of openly gay persons and repeal of DADT. Have you found younger Marine officers more accepting of repeal and gay rights in general? Thank you for a balanced view of both the Corp and gay advocates for repeal. Balance and fairness in opinion writing is not mutually exclusive.

This is the one on a generational gap: Great question. It?s harder to generalize about personal opinion that it is, frankly, culture. We know from lots of public opinion polling that there is a generational gap in the general public. Although that is also probably reflected in the Armed Services writ large, there has been a huge shift in both the public and military opinion since DADT was put in place in 1993. A recent WSJ article gave a jump of at least 10% points in both the general public and military opinion, with clear majorities of both now favoring gays being allowed to openly serve. Here?s why I?m reticent to generalize about generations: Adm Mike Mullen?s beautiful testimony to Congress this year when he supported the repeal. In other words, it?s important to keep in mind that 7 in 10 people in the military from the survey about to be released said that repealing DADT will not be a problem. And that undoubtedly includes all generations.

Why do advocates of appeal of DADT, never, ever discuss the personal living accomodations (sleeping, bathing) of military service men and women?

I actually do talk about that and other ?thorny issues? in a book chapter that is available here:  The book also includes chapters by those who do not support repealing DADT.

There may be a parallel between 'don't ask, don't tell' and the integration of blacks into the armed forces during the Korean War. Research at that time found that the closer men were to a combat situation that likelier they were to accept blacks in their unit. See: Social Research and the Integration of the Army; Leo Bogart et al; Markham Publishing Co.; 1969. I regret being unable to meet with you on line on Monday, but would appreciate knowing your reaction should you get to this 1969 report.

Very good point. In the book chapter I just referenced, I did look at desegregation. As I stress there, one can hide sexual preference - one can't hide race, so the examples are not analogous, but the arguments used against African Americans serving are strikingly similar to those that were used against African Americans.

Great article. I concur that it would be in the best interest of the entire military establishment to repeal the rule. I just wonder if it would be best to leave out "the few, the proud"? Like you said in the article, the warrior ethos is a visceral part to their success (and damn successful they have been). If this will somehow "disturb" that creed, why not make the Marines the exception to the rule? Society is full of these kinds of exceptions. Though repealing the law is just and wise, the real world is not the court of law. It's the court of public opinion. The real world is entirely different from a legislative directive. And most people must live within that world. Repealing the law is the right decision, but it might not succeed in the Marine Corps....

There are several questions about leaving out the USMC altogether from the repeal, or the combat arms. I think that would be a terrible mistake. Separate is never equal, and although many point to there not being a right to join the Armed Forces, I look at it a different way: The are responsibilities to protect the body politic. For the life of me, I cannot imagine that our professional forces will not be able to do what 26 other countries have done.

Lost in this discussion about why the Marines are apparently a bit of an outlier in the still-to-be-released survey is the fact that 60 percent of the Marines surveyed do not have a problem with repealing DADT or have a positive view of it, despite the disappointing cues they are getting from the top Marine leader. I don't want a false idea to take hold that the Corps as a whole is against DADT repeal when that doesn't seem to be what we're hearing. While I'd like more than 60 percent to be okay with it, that's already a majority.

 Very true, and very relevant point. Extremists on both sides are going to use the numbers that come out of the report to justify their position. I look at it exactly like you do: 60% do not see that the repeal of DADT will have any negative effect. We should all keep that in mind. I am not a member of the Armed Services and did not take the survey. I think we all owe it to listen to those who did.

As a younger generation of Marines progresses and eventually assumes leadership this issue will become moot. Young people don't care about these things. We've been raised to respect differences and we know there is nothing wrong with being gay. Same thing happened with race.

Thanks for your service, Marine. And I couldn't agree with you more. So maybe there is something to a generational shift as an earlier reader pointed out?


Dear Tammy - Many thanx for insightful article. But it's not clear to me what is meant by 'openly' gay. Could you help us learn?

Great question. I think it means different things to different people. To me, it means that if someone asks me directly about my personal life, I no longer lie about it and create a husband or boyfriend that doesn't exist. I teach at Georgetown as well, and this almost never comes up in my class there or at the Marine Corps. An exception was when my partner had a baby and I was in the hospital with her. I had to take leave, and the students were told that I had a baby. Puzzled at first (I didn't look pregnant), they soon understood. And gave me warm congrats. Thanks for the honest question.

Would you please provide your insights into whether the Marines are attracting enough recruits, and does posting a "open gays not allowed" sign helps with meeting recruitment goals?

The Marines have always done exceptionally well at meeting their numbers, in part because they are, well, the Marines. I disagree that the Marines have a "open gays not allowed" sign. As another reader pointed out, 60% of the USMC doesn't care one way or the other.

Thank you for your service to the Marine Corps and to our country through your work at the Marine Corps University. Thank you also for your well-written and inciteful article. As a pastor and former Naval officer, I wonder what effect repealing don't ask, don't tell will have on chaplains being able to serve the warriors they are assigned to, especially when it comes to providing access to bibles. I personally can't imagine this becoming a problem, but some in my denomination have a concern that repealing don't ask, don't tell opens the door to banning chaplains from providing bibles and presumably Korans, because they could be construed as "hate speech." I know this topic is tangential to the proposed topic, but I think your response could be helpful.

Thank you for your service, Pastor. As the daughter of evangelicals, I have struggled to make peace with my God and myself for most of my life. I own several Bibles, and read them to help me in my daily life. I cannot imagine that this would be an issue, especially since Jesus never talks about homosexuality. I truly hope that it does not become an issue. Again, thanks for your service and the question.

So what if the top USMC brass isn't on board with modern social realities? They will follow orders and protect the civil rights of all Marines, right? Did we care that there was flag level opposition to racial integration? No, we did the right thing and expected the services to fall in line, which they did. Do you feel there is a difference in theirr obligation to enforce racial civil rights as opposed to the civil rights of sexual minorities?

Almost all of the Marines to whom I've spoken about this issue assure me that they will follow orders if the law is changed. I believe we have the most professional forces in the world, and that they will do so. Thanks for the question.

In a time of war do we have to do it now? Isn't it more political than a need to win the war? WWII we drafted and thus, after the war we refocused change to include blacks. Now we are at war again, but we don't have a draft. We have a professional force of "volunteers." They learn about what they "join up for" so with this social change, I would think those who don't accept the change, can't handle it, should be allowed freely to object and "leave the service" especially the enlisted.

Great point that I tried to make in the piece. We are at war. I truly do not think that there will be an Exodus if DADT is repealed, however. Take Canada and Britain - they thought that there would be (opponents said the sky would fall, thousands would leave, etc.; just like here). Only a handful of servicemembers left that they could trace back to gays serving openly. There's a big difference between filling in a bubble on an on-line survey that you'll leave, and actually doing so, with all that entails (retirement issues, etc.).


Thank you for your thoughtful editorial. Out of curiosity, what is your background/training? It seems strange to me to have a civilian teach modern military strategy.

Let me start by saying I love NE. That's where my grandparents and aunts/uncles lived, so that's where family vacations were. On your question, I actually think civilians have a critical role to play in teaching GRAND strategy (this is different than military strategy), and that both civilian and military personnel can learn quite a bit from one another. I would not presume to teach any military person about tactics, techniques, and procedures on the ground - how to conduct an ambush, etc. Where I can be useful is in helping bring officers to the strategic level that looks at the entire nation's ends, ways, and means to accomplish national security objectives. In the new wars we find ourselves today, a "whole of government" approach is necessary. That includes ALL of the U.S. government - civilian and military alike.

You say that you've never encountered any open hostility because of your sexual orientation. As a civilian professional I assume you're invited to office parties and other social functions. Have you ever brought a girlfriend with you? If so, were there any issues? If not, why not?

Interesting question. I have been with my partner for seven years and we have two beautiful children. I have brought them to office parties. Thus far, I have not brought them to faculty/student events, mostly because the 2 year old is a terror and cannot be trusted around nice things.

I believe you mentioned in your column that you are an "out" lesbian. Does the Marine Corps (or any other branch) have a policy a la DADT for their civilian employees? Thank you for your column.

DADT does not apply to civilian employees - strictly military. Thanks for the question.

Do you have any knowlegde or opinion on why Sen. MCain is against repeal? Is he just being contrary or does he really feel that in combat this is an issue?

Ah, Senator John McCain. I think the first part of the answer to this is "which Senator McCain?" He has flip flopped a lot on this issue. At one point, he said he wanted to hear from the military on this issue. When at least part of the military (the Chairman, and the 70% in the survey) gave him the answer that he didn't think would serve his base, he attacked them. I miss the John McCain who would take stands and stick to them instead of the one who puts his finger in the winds to gauge the loudest opinions and tries to make headlines.

"... the utmost importance of leadership to the process. The fact that the current and prior Marine commandants have expressed discomfort at the prospect of the demise of "don't ask, don't tell" is unfortunate because the generals..." Generals, by definition execute. They may advise on anticipated difficulties in executing the mission and may express personal concerns ( to the point of resigning their positions) but ultimately defer to higher authority. Is not to even publicly question civilian authority is dishonorable?

Thanks for the question, but I respectfully disagree that what's going on is dishonorable. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commandant has a right to express his opinion on Title X (train, org, equip) issues. Now, if the law changes and we still have this public dissent, then we are looking at a civilian-military issue.

Re: Personal living accommodations! Would someone please explain exactly what they think gays have that requires personal living accommodations? Physically gay males/females aren't any different than straights. Do straights think they'll be attacked in bed or the shower?

I will qualify this answer by saying that I haven't studied this particular issue in depth, but I think that the logic collapses on itself when you think about it: As one reader wrote, he was quite confident that a straight Marine (or three) could protect themselves from advances that some are sure will come. As another Marine told me: I think it's funny how every straight guy thinks he's so good looking that a gay guy will automatically come on to him. Just repeating what I heard on that one.

Thank you for acknowleding that. As a black man (and veteran) I am insulted at the comparison. Any similarity between arguments used against both is merely superficial. One would find similarities in arguments against introducing any previously excluded group into a given community. The similarity of the argument does not concern the validity of the exclusion.

I absolutely agree with you, sir. I can hide who I am at any given moment. It's not the same thing. What troubled me is how similar the arguments that are used in both cases were.

Rarely discussed is the dollar cost of DADT. All military personnel are trained to various levels of expertise at varying cost. Discharging has a cost as well as to lost investment. Assuming the job performance and group integration was acceptable before "outing" is this person suddenly disqualified?

There is a lot of lost cost for the US government, not to mention talent. Go to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (http://www.sldn.org/) for some numbers on this issue.

What are some of the fears that Marines have that oppose DADT repeal?

What I have been told by many Marines is they fear the foxhole scenario - being in combat, and close quarters, with a gay Marine (by the way, some of them already are and don't know it). What I have also been told by many Marines is that a foxhole is probably the least erotic place on earth. As Senator Barry Goldwater said (I'll paraphrase), I don't care if you are straight, I just care if you shoot straight.

The Marine Corp is considered to have the most rigorous basic and post basic training military programs. It would appear to me that after completing such a program, any gay person would have established their credentials as on par with all other Marines. Why is this not made part of the argument for repealing DADT?

Absolutely. You said it better than I could. And I think that SHOULD be part of the argument. There are already thousands of gay Marines serving who have proved that he/she is one of the few, the proud. They are not gay Marines. They are simply Marines.

Since, you appear to be very knowledgeable and very reasonable, would it be appropriate to ask you to outline what you believe would be a feasible and desirable program for the Marine Corps in this regard. Thank you. Lieut. Col. Howard.

LtCol Howard, thank you and your family so much for your service. In my book chapter, I reference some lessons from history that might point to the way forward for the USMC, as well as the rest of DoD. First, keep it simple, stupid (KISS; I get the irony). Make a simple, clear policy. Rather than devise all new standards for homosexuals, the same rules should apply to everyone. The military already has a code of conduct regarding sexuality for heterosexuals: No dating within the chain of command, and officers should not have relations with enlisted forces. Those rules should apply to homosexuals, as well. There should be incentives to promote the new policy, and clear sanctions for those who break the military code of conduct. In terms of implementing the policy, military personnel should be trained on the new law. That training should be targeted to the level of command. For the training, it should be focused on behavior, not beliefs. And the training should be tied to the mission of the Corps, which is one reason that I think the Corps values can actually accommodate this change in policy. Leadership, as I point out in the piece, is critical. There is undoubtedly high ranking gay members of the Corps and other Armed Services. Them coming out and continuing to honorably serve their country would be extremely helpful. But all leaders, straight or gay, can and should lead the way on this issue.

I'm sorry I could not get to all of your questions, but feel free to e-mail me and I will try to respond. I enjoyed chatting with all of you about this very important issue in this reasoned format.

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Tammy S. Schultz
Tammy Schultz is director of national security and joint warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College.
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