Once a Marine...

Once a Marine...
Every year or so, I get together with my Marine Officer buddies. We're not as lean, not as mean, but we're still Marines. That's me, with the long hair.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don't tell me. Seriously. Don't...

Well, it appears the unpleasant task of speaking up on the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell has fallen to me.

Before I begin, however, let me say I have no negative feelings towards gays. What a king does inside his castle is of no concern to me. I should also point out that I am going to limit my opinion on the integration of openly gay men to the Marine Corps, as that’s the only branch where I served.

To start the discussion, let’s start at the top: The issue of repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is currently big news, because the paper-pushing Generals and Admirals at the Pentagon have released a “study” that says it wouldn’t affect readiness, morale, or good order and discipline. Well, let me give you a little education about Generals and Admirals, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: They have about as much in common with the frontline gunfighters as Barack Obama has with his brother… the one who lives in a box… in Kenya. For the men who do the front-line fighting and dying, the worries and concerns and political aspirations of the Pentagon Brass are irrelevant. As a result, that’s the category where I’ll file their study—under irrelevant.

Next, let’s discuss the issue of culture: When young men join the Marines, they do so because they are patriots, willing to fight and die for their country. They make a conscious decision to join the toughest branch of service. Why? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out: They join the Marines because they want to prove themselves worthy of the legend of the Corps—and its reputation for taking civilians and turning them into tough men willing to fight on the front lines.

Kids who choose the Corps are either already tough, or they are like I was—decidedly not tough, and hoping to earn that adjective. In Boot Camp and Officer Candidate School the Corps takes boys and makes killers. Yes, Killers. Not well-rounded men, not renaissance men, not poet-warriors… killers. Every fresh graduate from Boot Camp or OCS is itching for a chance to prove himself in combat, and proving yourself means “showing courage under fire and killing lots of the enemy.” Personally killing them. Note, please, that I’m talking specifically about the culture among 17 to 29 year-old Marines, not among the “older and wiser” lot who’ve had some years to mature. I’m talking about the lads who are getting shot and maimed, yet refuse evacuation and bleed to death in order to keep fighting alongside their buddies. These are men who redefine “macho,” and their definition has nothing to do with wash-board abs.

So, gentle reader, do you think that maybe you could make an informed guess about the personality traits of these young men? What do you think they talk about in the barracks? What magazines do you think they read? How many do you think want to “discuss the issue” when they are insulted or threatened? What percentage do you think cuss, drink to excess, and pursue women with less than marital intentions? And what percentage do you think act sensitively when they see what they perceive to be an “oddity” in the man who is supposed to guard their flank?

Now, let’s discuss you, if you are one of those who Americans who think the Marines should be forcibly integrated with openly gay men. Who, exactly, do you think you are? If you’ve never served in a Marine Corps combat unit, what makes you think your opinion even matters? I can hear you already, whining, “If you substitute ‘black’ for ‘gay’ and ‘white’ for ‘straight,’ you’re offering the same argument used against racially integrating the military.” Not true: The Marine Corps is, whether you like it or not, an uber-macho gun culture. As a result, it takes a black Marine about a day to win the respect of a white Marine. That’s because performance is performance is performance. What you see is what you get—and the homogeny of the all-green brotherhood remains in tact.

Homosexuality, however, is a divisive issue, particularly among young men who grew up in a hard-scrabble environment, and not in the ivy-covered walls of private schools and country clubs. Should it be? That’s completely irrelevant. I’ve been there, and I’ve served with these men, and I can tell you that in their world the word “gay” is used as an uber-insult, not to describe “an alternative lifestyle.”

Now, let’s discuss where the rubber meets the road: In combat, and in company level tactics. The worst part of being a Marine Officer in combat is it is you who will pick the platoon or squad that does the hardest job. Translated, you will pick which men are probably going to die. Unlike in the movies, you don’t ask for volunteers to “rush that machine gun nest,” you order men to do it. Guess what? Most men don’t want to die! Yes, believe it or not, they want to kill the enemy, but they don’t want to die. So why do they do it? Because the Skipper said to, and the Skipper is the man with the plan. And then they rush the machine gun nest because it’s their turn, and they aren’t going to let down their buddies. But what happens if you cloud this life-and-death moment with doubt? If you add in an element of mistrust? Here’s how it happens:

The Company Commander is openly gay, and he has three Infantry Lieutenants under his command—two straight, and one gay. And now it’s time for him to send a platoon of fifty well-armed men to die… men who don’t want to die, even if it means being heroes. The Company Commander picks the Lieutenant he believes will do the best job and will arrive at the objective with least casualties. If he chooses the gay Lieutenant, then the potential problem is 49 enlisted men thinking, “He picked us because our Lieutenant is gay, and he wants to appear unbiased to the Battalion Commander. I ain’t dying for that.” If he chooses a straight Lieutenant, the potential problem is 49 enlisted Marines thinking, “He picked us because he doesn’t want that gay Lieutenant to get hurt. I ain’t dying for that.”

Will this scenario happen? It doesn’t matter—the potential of a disruption of the good order and discipline of the unit is there. Those young men deserve to serve in an environment where we have done everything humanly possible to eliminate distractions while increasing readiness, morale, and esprit de corps. And if integrating the Corps costs a single Marine’s life—ever—then those who voted to repeal Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell will have his blood on their hands.

If I thought people would read it, I could write another 1,000 words. Additional issues need to be discussed, like discrimination lawsuits, fraternization issues, promotion boards, unwritten quotas, hate/insensitive speech, security clearance, and the cost of retrofitting facilities on land and sea and air.

The bottom line is this: The young men who stand on that wall and provide you with the blanket of freedom under which you sleep don’t want gay men in the ranks. Why that is doesn’t matter. It’s just the truth. And I’m sorry if you can’t handle the truth.