Active Duty

12.15.2011

By Cintra Wilson

Reviewing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In Josh Seefried’s book, Our Time: Breaking the Silence of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," Navy Lieutenant Jamar Green writes, "I realized that despite my love for America and my willingness to die for her, she did not recognize or protect my sovereignty as she did her heterosexual sons and daughters. DADT forced me to deny who I was; it forbade me to exist while craftily denying me any sliver of defense against antigay harassment."

Under DADT, 13,368 military personnel were discharged from the armed forces between 1993 and 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), costing taxpayers $383 million -- losing a high level commander in the Air Force costs millions of dollars worth of military training.

But the fight was on. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a watchdog organization, was launched in 1993 and provided nonprofit legal aid to over 10,000 fighting DADT. OutServe, a secret Facebook group that became a larger organization, enabled a new level of community support and allowed gays in the military to realize just how populous they were.

A number of forces came into play in 2010, which would eventually lead to the tipping point. Organized lobbies, assembled by gay activists, enabled homosexuals to have a real political voice ($$$) to court politicians.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered their support for lifting the ban in 2010, but Senator John McCain battled hard against them. Things looked grim when Republicans swept the mid-term elections. But this July, a ruling from a federal appeals court found the U.S. military ban to be unconstitutional -- a certification that enabled President Obama to officially end DADT.

To get a soldier's-eye view, I talked with Dr. Kalev Sepp, a former Green Beret and Special Forces Officer who served in the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Capabilities until 2009; he is now a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Sepp recalled meeting his first gay soldier in 1981, while serving as Captain of Artillery for a combat unit in Korea. The soldier, a communications expert, had been sent to Sepp on a rehabilitative assignment: Disciplinary action had been taken against him because he had been named as being part of a "homosexual ring."

"When he showed up at my desk, he was under a cloud," says Sepp. "I told him what I'd tell any soldier: I measure you on how well you obey as a soldier. The only standard is how well you do your job."

Homosexuality, says Sepp, was not an issue he had seen cause problems in a unit -- unlike racism and drugs. "If some guy was worried about being looked at by a gay guy in the shower -- my impression was of someone who was insecure in his own sexuality."

The gay soldier successfully completed his time in Sepp’s unit without incident.

"But before he left, he came to my office and gave me an envelope. He said, 'Sir, I want to thank you for giving me a second chance.' He had bought me a steak dinner at the NCO club! It was the only thing he ever did that made me aware the guy was gay. Only a gay guy would do something that thoughtful."

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