The military’s battle of breads

Posted on 17 Aug 2006 at 1:49pm
By Steve Ralls – Contributing Writer

Less qualified recruits replace LGBT service members as “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ remains law of the land

The U.S. Army, which has struggled to find new recruits in the wake of mounting casualties in Iraq, announced Aug. 10 that it will meet its 2006 recruitment goals. What it did not announce was just how it would do so.

The armed forces, in an attempt to find new people for the frontlines, has issued waiver after waiver for individuals who do not meet the usual standards for enlistment, but who are nonetheless willing to deploy to a war zone that few others want to visit.

Physical fitness standards have been relaxed; the maximum enlistment age has been increased (to 42 at last count); criminal records have been overlooked; and educational backgrounds have been disregarded.

Amidst all those free passes, however, one prohibition has been kept firmly in place: lesbian and gay Americans, no matter how qualified, are not welcome in our fighting forces.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” remains the law of the land, and our national security is paying a heavy price.

The Army recently dismissed Sergeant Bleu Copas, a trained Arabic linguist, after he was outed by an anonymous e-mail sent to his command. Since 1993, more than 300 language specialists, including at least 55 who speak Arabic, have been sent packing not because they were unable to do their jobs, but simply because they are gay.

The Air Force recently lost the skills of Dr. Martin Chin, a highly qualified physician, whose own command asked him to excuse himself from a high-profile case so as not to bring embarrassment to the service. Service members with criminal records, some seem to think, bring more honor to our military than stellar men and women like Dr. Chin.

In 2005, the military fired 742 people under “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” or an average of more than two per day. Since the law went into effect, more than 11,000 men and women have been sent packing.

Those dismissed under the ban include doctors, helicopter pilots, combat engineers, linguists and others. In addition to discriminating against gay Americans, the law hurts military readiness and compromises our armed forces.

While the armed forces recruit less-than-stellar service members for its ranks, they continue to fire and turn away skilled men and women who are ready, willing and able to serve.

Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan who now works with the Center for American Progress and is an honorary board member at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said recently that recruiting young people who do not meet the typical standards for enlistment increases the chances of misconduct and raises the likelihood of having a less-capable fighting force. Korb has also endorsed repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and allowing gays to serve openly.

The irony of firing qualified troops and replenishing the ranks with those who don’t rise to the same standard, however, seems lost on military leaders: “You know, it’s a question of whether you want a bagel or you want angel food cake,” Jeff Spara, in charge of Army recruiting policy, recently told Reuters about the new recruits. “They’re both bread.”

Well maybe, but they’re different kinds of bread to be sure.

At the end of the day, our laws should be predicated on what is fair, what is just and what keeps our country safe at night.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” meets none of those criteria and continues to be propped up by nothing more than simple, old-fashioned homophobia.

The time has come to diversify the military’s recruitment pool and put qualification ahead of sexual orientation.

Straights and gays both have skills to bring to the table. They both have important contributions to make. And, when all is said and done, “they’re both bread,” too.

Steve Ralls is director of communications for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. For more information, visit www.sldn.org.

E-mail sldn@sldn.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 18, 2006.

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