After more than a year of debate in Washington that culminated in one of the most significant changes in military personnel policy, the Pentagon is on the verge of training every single member of the military about the future of gays in the military.
More than 2 million men and women in uniform — active-duty and reserves, four-star generals and entry-level privates — are all receiving mandatory training on the end of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The Federal Eye attended a training session for 40 Marines on Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and wrote about it for Monday’s Washington Post. After the session, The Eye spent about 20 minutes with a dozen Marines to discuss the upcoming changes. Highlights of the conversation appear below and are edited for length:
Question: Among those of you who’ve deployed overseas, did this issue ever come up when you were in Afghanistan or Iraq?
Sgt. Jimmy Smalygo, 28, Collinsville, Okla.: [He deployed twice to Iraq.] Last time I was deployed was in 2009. It was kind of being talked about then, but nobody ever really knew whether it was going to go either way. It wasn’t really a big deal back then.
Is it a big deal now?
Smalygo: Well for the most part, sir, yeah. It’s been in the news, I’ve been reading up on it. My personal opinion, I don’t see a problem with it. I know gay friends and I have some gay family members, and I don’t see any problem with it at all.
Have you heard any colleagues express reservations about it?
Smalygo: Some have. I’ve heard several Marines that work under me who’ve expressed their opinions to me. I just tell them that they volunteered for this job and they should keep their opinions mostly to themselves and that if they have a problem with it, talk to myself or somebody else and we’ll try to resolve their problem.
How about the rest of you: Does this issue come up at all on base? Did you track it at all during the debate?
Cpl. David McGuire, 24, of Ft. Myers, Fla.: I know with my unit, sir, it came up quite a bit. There was a lot of discussion at work about it and peoples’ opinions came out quite fervently.
But it definitely came down to the fact that as Marines, and as professionals, it doesn’t really matter what you are, whether it’s an issue with racial bias, which occurs on a daily basis around the world and around this country.
It doesn’t matter what you are, whether you’re black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, as a person, you deserve the respect. As a professional and as a Marine you earn the right to wear the Eagle Globe and Anchor and can’t ask for anything more or less than that.
Who do you think needs this training?
Cpl. Crystal Person, 23, Dewey, Okla.: Everyone.
I guess what I mean is — Is it fair to say that among people in your age set, this isn’t as big an issue as it is among older Marines?
Smalygo: It’s more about the generations, sir. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, on TV shows, you never saw gays and stuff on the TV shows. But as the years progressed, especially in the last decade, how many shows are out there that are based on gays? I watch shows all the time and almost the time there’s somebody who’s gay. It’s reality shows, sitcoms, it doesn’t matter.
Lance Cpl. Amy Folwell, 25, Rochester, N.Y.: It doesn’t mean that all ranks don’t need to take the training. If they’re going to be leading us, they need to know the rules and know how to act on them.
McGuire: I think we as Marines, being [non-commissioned officers] and junior Marines, we expect our leadership to sort of lead the way. Just as we do in any other function of our Marine Corps career. Our leaders should be the ones to say, ‘Whether I agree with it or not isn’t the issue.’ If your commanding officer gives you an order, you follow through with it.
There is that generation issue, that gap, but also there’s going to be cultural issues. You have Marines from all over the country, from California, where it’s legal to be married as a gay person, or in Mississippi and Arkansas, where there’s Marines that grew up with their family completely disagreeing with that situation and being very vehemently opposed to it.
Now, as Marines, we step into the uniform, we step into a completely different realm where we have to adhere to a different set of rules. It really boils down to that we have to be really professional in every situation.
Is there anything maybe you didn’t hear today or some other issue you’re concerned about happening down the line?
Folwell: I think loopholes for adultery. If the Marine Corps is going to approve the gay marriage within the Marine Corps, and they don’t get the BAH [Basic Allowance for Housing] and they’re not completely recognized, where’s the loophole for adultery?
A man and a woman are going to be charged for that, but will it be across the board? [Asked to clarify, she raised the possibility that the Marines might have to enforce its ban on adultery by sanctioning a gay married man who cheats with another man.]
McGuire: Not to speculate sir, but you can definitely think there might be an issue there where some Marines who have a stronger bias or are less professional in some situations when they get into their barracks, and they come in and another Marine comes in who’s gay and they have an issue. Instead of dealing with it professionally, they deal with it less professionally, which we’ve seen in many situations.
Cpl. Vanessa Waters, 24, Lancaster, Pa.: I think one thing is the barracks, how Marines – female or male – they aren’t allowed in each other’s rooms. But if you have openly gay people, are they going to be able to conduct sexual favors in the barracks? A door can be closed.
Are they going to be allowed to now sit there and conduct sexual favors with each other in the dorm room whereas male and females, we’re not allowed in each other’s rooms? Are they going to make the barracks policy different now?
Capt. Timothy Patrick: You’re not allowed to have sex in the barracks anyway. It’s just not tolerated. There’s just not change in the policy.
Waters: But what’s to say that it doesn’t happen. That a female and a male won’t. That same sex guys won’t.
Naval Medic Juan Vega, 25, Houston, Texas: A marriage won’t be recognized therefore that civilian partner won’t be getting benefits. They won’t be getting financial privileges for housing. Privileges on base like at the commissary, where most things are tax-free.
They also don’t have the privilege of an ID card. What if they’re alone just like a wife would be? She’d have the ability to go anywhere on base and wouldn’t have to be escorted with a visitor tag.
Person: I would like to comment on that. That federal law has been in place since you signed up so that we all agreed upon those standards when we signed the dotted line.
Over the years, things are going to change. As of now, they’re letting gay people in the military. But they’re not letting gay people be married. But that’s something everybody sitting in this room agreed to when you signed up. No matter what the rules and regulations are, they’re going to change and you have to abide by them regardless.
Read more about the Marine training session and then please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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