September 20, 2011

This morning, I turned on the news as I normally do about 5:30 each morning to hear the daily weather forecast and listen for any breaking local, national, or world events.

Today, I was especially curious to see what would be on the news on this historic day for the U.S. military. Just after midnight, 10 U.S.C. § 654, commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law, was repealed, allowing gay and lesbian service members to choose to reveal their sexual orientation without the fear of being separated from the service. Today had a January 1, 2000 familiar feel to it for me. You may recall 1999 when many people were concerned about the Y2K computer bug and what would happen to all the computers when we rolled over to the new millennium. When we woke up on the first day of the 21st century, there were some minor glitches, but life went on pretty much as usual despite the doom and gloom predictions. When we woke up today, despite predictions of significant impact, post-repeal military life goes on as usual. The news trucks are not lined up outside the gate to cover a significant event, protesters are not swarming the Academy, and there isn’t a gay rights parade streaming across campus. Cadets are starting class, faculty and staff are getting on with their day, and people are getting along with each other just as they were yesterday. This morning, the sun came up as normal on a beautiful, crisp Colorado day. The main thing that changed was that a portion of our population started their day carrying a much lighter load because they don’t have to worry about losing their ability to serve just because of who they are. For those individuals, I imagine the sunrise today was just a little brighter and more meaningful than it was yesterday.

Why is the DADT repeal, like Y2K, just another day at our campus? From July until Thanksgiving of 2010, I served at the Pentagon as the Air Force writer on the Secretary of Defense’s Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) study of the impact of repealing the law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). I assisted with data analysis and the writing the main Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In addition, I had the privilege of leading the team responsible for writing the companion Support Plan for Implementation, which served as the basis for training across the Department of Defense for over two million active duty and reserve Service Members. The CRWG completed one of the largest personnel studies in the history of the U.S. military, soliciting the views of over 500,000 active duty and reserve service members and spouses and analyzing nearly 225,000 responses from surveys, focus groups, and online entries. In addition, the Working Group studied the history of racial and gender integration in the U.S. military, analyzed the experiences of foreign militaries that allow open gay and lesbian service, and reviewed the experiences of domestic organizations such as fire and police departments. We talked to people and advocacy groups from both sides of the issue. Using a diverse panel of experts representing all branches of the service, enlisted and officer, combat veterans and civilian employees, we assessed the potential impact of repeal on military readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, recruiting, and retention. All the data sources and analysis pointed to the same conclusion—repeal of DADT would not have a debilitating effect on military cohesion, effectiveness, readiness, recruiting, or retention. The two CRWG Co-Chairs, Mr. Jeh Johnson, DoD General Counsel, and Gen Carter Ham, current Commander of United States Africa Command, stated in the conclusion of the report, “We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war. We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our Nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.”

While the data are compelling, I personally believe that DADT repeal will not be a troublesome event primarily because of what the Co-chairs called “the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women.” The integrity and values of the U.S. service member will ensure that our nation’s defenses do not skip a beat as a result of the repeal of DADT. Service Members, from our youngest cadets and enlisted troops up to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, understand their duty to the laws of our nation that is embodied in the Oath of Office. We learned in Korea, after President Truman ordered a desegregated military, that black and white soldiers were more effective fighting side-by-side than they were fighting in separate but equal units. We learned at the service academies in 1976 that men and women could train and study side-by-side and that we would be stronger as an institution because of our more diverse student population. With a DADT repeal, we will learn that gay and straight cadets will respectfully serve side-by-side and we will be stronger as a result.

Diversity certainly comes with challenges. The military, like the rest of our society, has struggled with racial tension, sexual harassment and discrimination, and violence against minority groups. With the DADT repeal, we would be naïve to think that we will not have isolated incidents related to a person’s sexual orientation or religious/moral beliefs about homosexuality. But these incidents will pale in comparison to the strength the military gains through recruiting and retaining a diverse force. You would be hard pressed to find many who would support the idea that our military is weaker because we have women or persons of color serving our nation in the uniformed military service. We have many measures of diversity at the Air Force Academy to include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, prior-enlisted, and athletic status. We recruit students from all 50 states and U.S. territories as well as several of our allied partners. This broad perspective on diversity makes us better as an institution and requires our students to learn how to build successful teams through dignity, courtesy, and respect. In our culture, respect is not just as a good idea, it is a military necessity that we are all duty-bound to follow.

As Admiral Mike Mullen stated in his testimony to Congress in February of 2010, repealing DADT is an integrity issue. Serving with integrity means staying true to ourselves while staying true to our duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. With the repeal of DADT, our duty to uphold our Oath of Office remains unchanged. We must do our duty to keep our standards high; create an environment free from barriers that prevent people from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible; and ensure all who serve are able to do their duty without fear of reprisal, harassment, or prejudice. We must do our duty to protect personal beliefs while honoring and respecting all who serve; evaluate others based solely on individual merit, fitness, and capability; and treat others with dignity, courtesy, and respect. We must do our duty to create a cohesive team able to win our nation’s battles. We must do our duty to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.

Col Gary Packard Jr., PhD
Permanent Professor and Head
Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership
USAF Academy, Colorado

Col Packard served as a writer on the Department of Defense’s Report of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also serves as the Academy’s Respect for Human Dignity Outcome Chair. The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the policy of the United States Air Force Academy or any other government agency.