by Chris Bodenner
July was a big month for gay equality. First, a bipartisan group of high-ranking military officials (including the general charged with implementing DADT in 1993), released a study recommending the policy be revoked. Spurred by that report, Congress held hearings to discuss DADT for the first time in 15 years. Mainstream publications like Time are revisiting the debate, and even the National Review is calling for its repeal. (The latter cited a poll that found 73% of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were comfortable among gays, 23% knew of gays in their unit, and 45% believed they did.) Back at home, a recent poll found that 75% of Americans are fine with gays serving. And, in a fitting twist of fate, July was the 60th anniversary of racial desegregation in the armed forces.
The Atlantic's own Rafael Enrique Valero, who once served in the military, just wrote a great piece on DADT, recalling a time in 1985 when his roommate was accused of having sex with another soldier:
In the end, the inquiry involving my roommate was handled in a professional manner, and most of the company’s command were relieved, as I recall, when the accuser shamefully retracted his claim. I don’t even know if my roommate was gay. But the reaction to the inquiry, and the way our superiors dealt with it, tells me that there were, even then, enough mature adults in the armed forces to handle the fears and controversies associated with sexual ambiguity. I’m sure the same maturity exists today. If gay soldiers were to openly serve beginning tomorrow, for a time the military would be unsettled, undoubtedly. But they are, after all, soldiers. They can tough it out.
I was raised by
two Army officers. My mother, a retired COL in the Nurse Corps, worked alongside many gays and lesbians (who, in her
generation, disproportionately entered nursing). My father, a retired LTC, encountered many gay soldiers while serving in Vietnam. Arriving
in Saigon in 1971, my father was first given a rifle platoon to lead.
But being an Airborne Ranger, he was soon
assigned a LRRP platoon -- a small reconnaissance unit that
collected information on the enemy. During my childhood, he often told stories of his wartime experiences, one of which is particularly relevant to the DADT debate. I asked my dad to write me an abbreviated account:
When brought to the battalion's recon platoon, I made only one request of the battation's commander. I asked to bring my rifle platoon's "point man" (the scout, the first-to-the-front when traveling in file). He had very keen senses, was an excellent shot, and was strong as an ox and walked like a cat. His reputation among soldiers was that of a "John Wayne." I believe he had probably saved my life more than once.
However, the very intense members of the recon platoon were convinced that they already had the best point man in the battalion. To my surprise, the point man of this predominately-Southern, white group of men was a 20-year-old black Cajun soldier with a very slight build, noticeably effeminate speech, and who even wore a gold ring in his left ear. "Cajun" was quite a contrast to the other men, to say the least, particularly compared to my new platoon sergeant -- a self-described "redneck" from Georgia who had already served 6 tours in Vietnam and was so conservative that he voted for the segregationist George Wallace in '68.
Over the course of my time as recon leader, "John Wayne" and "Cajun" served superbly as dual point men, most notably the time we had to secure the perimeter around the second-worst air disaster in Vietnam history (when a Chinook helicopter carrying 30 men lost its rear transmission and rotor upon take-off and crashed, killing everyone aboard).
What I eventually came to realize before we redeployed to the U.S. was that BOTH of my point men were gay. The main point of anything that can be or has been said of these fine soldiers is ... so what?! To some degree, probably every one of the 700 men in the battalion owed their welfare to these two men. Their personal habits and their being "non-heterosexual" didn't concern anyone in the small group of very focused and highly intense young men who lived and slept very near both of them. It didn't bother me in 1971 and it certainly doesn't concern me one damn bit in 2008. A fine soldier is a fine soldier, period.