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Why It Doesn't Threaten the Institution

March 16, 2009

Recent public-opinion polls show that more than 70 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military. Attitudes have changed considerably in the 16 years since Bill Clinton instituted the don't-ask-don't-tell policy. With a liberal Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, you can be sure that Congress will soon enact, and the president will sign, legislation to that effect.

Despite popular support, however, many on the right will see this impending change as a further assault by the left on traditional values. They will argue that gay marriage will soon follow and that secular-progressives will move on from there. Nevertheless, the traditional-values argument cuts both ways, and it ignores a fundamental reality. Gays and lesbians love their country and have been fighting and dying for America since the Revolution. They deserve to do so openly.

It's hard to find someone who has served in the military who hasn’t, at one time or another, known or known about a gay or lesbian in uniform. In 1968, I was an advanced individual training (AIT) company commander at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Back then, at the height of the Vietnam War, the fastest way out of the Army was to have it discover you were gay. Many straight draftees, as they went through basic and AIT, claimed they were gay in an attempt to get out of going to Vietnam.

I was required to separate those individuals from the other troops in the barracks, place them private rooms, and wait until an investigation was completed and its findings adjudicated. The only private rooms I had available were across from and adjacent to my office. As I commanded one of the largest AIT companies in the US Army--over 400 men--I had a dozen or more people from every course occupying those rooms. Always short of specialists and noncommissioned officers, 90 percent of my company admin and supply staff were genuine gays and Corporal Klingers under investigation for homosexuality.

In 1975, as commander of the Honolulu Field Office of the 500th MI group I was given the mission of conducting a surveillance of a closeted gay US Army lieutenant colonel. An informant had reported on the colonels indiscretions. As the colonel had a wife, two kids, a top secret-codeword security clearance, and a sensitive position with access to highly classified communications information, he was susceptible to blackmail by a foreign intelligence service.

For a week we followed the colonel, on temporary duty from his command in Asia. He visited every gay bar in Honolulu. Each night he paired up with a different man, as we later discovered he habitually did when he was away from home. In an environment in which gays lived secret lives, his actions--not to mention his infidelity to his wife--made the guy a walking bull’s eye for Soviet KGB spotters.

Of course, back in the 1960s and 1970s straight people in general weren’t particularly open-minded about homosexuals, including me. People like the colonel, then and now, only reinforced the negative stereotype.

Then there was my friend and classmate, Freeland H. Carde III (51), Commander, United States Navy (Ret.), who died of AIDS on May 19, 1998 at Bethesda Naval Hospital and is buried in Arlington Cemetery. He grew up in a Navy family, graduated from Yale, and served three tours in Vietnam, including an assignment as a riverine intelligence officer working with Navy SEALS and Army Special Forces units, where he was awarded two Bronze Stars. He was an engineering officer on an aircraft carrier, one of the hardest jobs in the US navy, and an executive officer on a cruiser. He graduated from the master's degree program in national security affairs at the Naval Post Graduate School (NPGS) in Monterey, California and from the Army War College. He retired as chief of the Africa branch in the strategic plans and policy directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hank and I were classmates at the NPGS. I had a talent for writing. Hank was the most impressive researcher I’ve ever known, before or since. We requested and were given the rare permission to do a joint thesis. For three months we spent hours together in the library turning Hank's research and my analysis into a finished product. Never once did Hank do or say anything that suggested to me he was gay; and I didn’t know he was until I saw him on television talking about caring for AIDS victims shortly before he died of the disease.

Hank had retired from the Navy in 1988 when his long-time companion, Ben Hartman, became ill with AIDS and died the same year. Hank spent the rest of his life working with AIDS patients and campaigning for AIDS awareness. In 1996 the Whitman-Walker Clinic renamed its AIDS foundation the Hank Carde AIDS Foundation. I’ve often asked myself if it would have made any difference when Hank and I worked together if I’d known he was gay. I like to think it wouldn’t have.

Prior to 1973, before President Richard Nixon instituted the all volunteer military, it may have made sense to bar known homosexuals. Today’s warriors and circumstances, however, are different. The men and women in today’s US armed forces come from a different society. They’re better informed, more tolerant, and they’re volunteers. They’re far more concerned about the ability of the man or woman they serve with than they are their sexual preference.

And that brings me back to traditional values like love of country, the desire to serve it, and dedication to defending freedom and democracy. Gay and lesbian individuals who possess those values and who abide by the US armed forces standards of conduct should be allowed to serve their country openly and honorably. They do not threaten the military as an institution. On the contrary, when you force them to live a lie you undermine traditional and military values, and you discourage many talented, dedicated people like Hank Carde from serving in the US Armed Forces. A nation at war can ill afford to do so; and we should always accord the highest respect to people who are willing to risk their lives for their country.



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