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Don't ask, don't tell: Against repeal of policy

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(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey
Fmr. Faculty Member, U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 2:45 PM

President Obama's top defense officials will tell the Senate on Tuesday that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties, sources say.

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In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen also are expected to announce the creation of a group to assess how to carry out a full repeal of the decades-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which requires gay soldiers to keep their sexual orientation secret

"I oppose repeal of Title 10 Section 654 because of the risk that open service by homosexuals poses to unit cohesion and, more importantly, to the stability of the larger military community that supports those units," said Col. (Ret.) Dave Bedey, former senior member of the faculty at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in an e-mail interview with The Washington Post.

Bedey was online Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 2:45 p.m. ET to discuss why he is against repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy.

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(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: Good afternoon. My name is David Bedey. I'm a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as a combat engineer officer and as a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I presently am a contributing editor for FamilySecurityMatters.org, where I write on cultural and national security issues. I am looking forward to this conversation.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think gay people should be able to work for defense contractors, providing direct service, support to and security for military assets?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: Yes. The dynamics with respect to unit cohesion are different in these cases.

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Chantilly, Va.: Thank you for your service.

What evidence do you have to back up your statements regarding risk to unit cohesion? The best evidence would be from other countries' armed forces that do allow gays to serve openly. Do their experiences support your statements? If not, why do you disregard that evidence?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: The social science evidence is sketchy at best. We are better off considering the professional judgment of military experts. Over 1150 former generals and admirals have grave reservations about the repeal. A relatively fewer number support a repeal. That should be carefully considered as we go forward.

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washingtonpost.com: Live Blog: Don't ask, don't tell (Federal Eye, Feb. 2)

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Seattle, Wash.: Why do you want to waste my U..S tax dollars on an insane DADT policy when other active NATO forces have had serving gay soldiers for decades?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: It is true that other nations allow openly gay/lesbian people to serve. However, drawing inferences that are relevant to our military (as the GAO pointed out in a 2005 report) is difficult and risky due to the significant differences between the U.S. military and these militaries along with the cultural differences between our country and the other countries.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Why should we care if someone in the military is gay or not? What regulations exist that would not already handle any inappropriate sexual behavior of any orientation? Otherwise, why should we care what people do in private? Why should we seek to cause harm and deny jokes, especially at a time when we need more people in the military, to people for what they do in private?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: The repeal of DADT poses two related risks to our military effectiveness. The first, and most familiar, has to do with unit cohesion. Unit cohesion is the bond the enables combat effectiveness. It is founded on sharing a common purpose and being willing to subordinate self to the needs of the unit. The effect on unit cohesion is hard to judge-but in the profession opinion of most retired generals and admirals who have weighed in on this issue, unit cohesion would be put at risk. The second risk is to the military community-which includes military families that live together. The military community is much more conservative and attached to traditional values than is society at large. Given the President's endorsement of full federal rights to same-sex couples, it is not unreasonable to think that this would include access to family housing on base. Our military communities ought not become embroiled in this aspect of the culture war. This will degrade our military effectiveness.

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Chandler, Ariz.: Will the military be forced to accept same-sex marriages and give family benefits?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: That remains to be seen. But I suspect that many of the gay activists who are engaged in ending DADT would see this as the next step in forwarding their overall agenda. What voters in a number of states, including California, have rejected could be forced upon the military community.

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Arlington, Va.: Especially in a time of war, shouldn't it be up to the commander-in-chief and, in support of his commands, the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to determine what is the best way to ensure our military's strength, rather than being second-guessed publicly by those who should most understand the chain of command?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: Those of us who have retired from the service still feel a sense of obligation to our nation's defense and a duty to speak out when we see it threatened. Over 1150 retired flag officers have done their duty in publicly opposing repeal of DADT. Many fewer support a repeal. All ought to be listened to.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking the time to address this, Colonel. I understand the U.S. forces are working closely in joint operations with Canadian and British forces. These countries are probably our closest historic, cultural and military allies. The Canadians and Brits already have policies allowing openly gay service members. So, U.S. forces are already serving alongside their openly gay counterparts. Are you aware of any unit cohesion problems for the Canadians or Brits?

I should also disclose that I come from a military family and considered joining up a number of times, but always decided not to because I am also gay. I felt that it would be fundamentally dishonest to lie and hide an intrinsic part of my make-up while also carrying out the duties of honesty, honor, etc., required to be a good officer. So, this is an issue near and dear to me. personally.

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: There is not definitive evidence one way or another. And comparing the militaries of different nations, especially with respect to cultural issues, is extremely difficult.

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Northern Virginia: It seems as though all the evidence is that attitudes (by straight people) are greatly influenced by generation, which makes sense to me. People who are, say, 45 or younger, have grown up in a world where sexual orientation is openly discussed and less stigmatized or remarkable with every passing year, if it is at all any more.

Do you agree that attitudes toward DADT vary to a large degree with age? Because, if so, it would make sense that hundreds of retired (thus, older) senior officers would oppose it, simply on demographic grounds. I don't think they are wholly objective, or in touch with the attitudes of today's troops.

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: I think that age-related differences in attitudes about open service by homosexuals is largely driven by the degree to which different generations have been exposed to the military. Since the advent of the all-volunteer force, fewer people have gained military experience. It is difficult looking in from the outside to appreciate how much different the military culture is from the rest of society.

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Springfield, Va.: How can the SECDEF refuse to enforce the DADT, which is the current law of the land? Until Congress passes a changed law, and the president signs it, isn't DOD required to enforce DADT?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: You are correct. The DADT policy must conform with this law: Title 10 Section 654 of the U.S. Code. When people talk about repealing DADT, they really mean overturning that law.

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Examples: I don't know if I have the spelling right, but we have quite a few examples of gays who serve with distinction whose service was lost due to DADT. General Margaret Kammerer, discharged for being gay after decades of honorable service, or a soldier who had won "soldier of the year" honors who was also discharged for being gay are my two examples. Do you feel that officers and soldiers like these two harm their units? Also, would you explain to me how their discharge benefits morale and unit cohesion?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: In order to preserve military effectiveness the military "discriminates" against the overweight, the old (most must retire in their 40s or early 50s). Similarly, it is for the good of the service that homosexuals are not allowed to serve openly. Congress determined this to be the case in 1993, and I have yet to see evidence that contradicts this finding.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Col. Bedey -- Thank you for your service and for taking questions today. We've heard that linguists are desperately needed to fight in the war on terror, but yet I've heard that we've lost individuals with these skills to DADT. How do you answer critics who say that, in a volunteer army, we need everybody that we can get that have particular abilities that are hard to find -- and that this policy only impedes our intelligence efforts?

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: The claim that "300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic" relies upon a mendacious representation of data found in a 2005 GAO report that examines separations for homosexual conduct over the ten-year period 1994-2003. Even a cursory reading of that report reveals that few, if any, of the these 300-plus individuals could conceivably be deemed "experts"-many didn't even complete their language training. And of the over 50 (actually 54) ostensibly fluent in Arabic, only 20 achieved any sort of proficiency at all and none of these scored high enough to be considered fluent in the language.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: You write, "Those of us who have retired from the service still feel a sense of obligation to our nation's defense and a duty to speak out..."

In no other profession that I can think of are former employees allowed to have a voice in how the organization is run once they've quit or retired. The military should be no different in this regard.

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: It is a matter of citizenship. And technically, retired officers can better be thought of as being on retainer.

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D.C.: "It is difficult looking in from the outside to appreciate how much different the military culture is from the rest of society. "

Never have I read a more cogent explanation of why our insular military needs changes like this.

(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: If the military culture were to mimic our society at large, we would have a very different military. Not necessarily better--but different.

The military as it exists today protects us all, we need to be sure that it can do so tomorrow.

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(Ret.) Col. Dave Bedey: Thank you for participating in this conversation. This is a tough issue, but only by discussing it together can we hope to do what is best for our country.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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