Monday, December 20, 2010

What to expect from open service

Now that Don't Ask has been repealed by Congress, the US military will begin the long process of figuring out how to implement it.  Here's what you can expect to see.

In the short term, almost nothing will change.  The bill passed this weekend will not become law until President Obama, the SecDef and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs all agree that the military is ready to implement the change, and after that there will be a 60 day waiting period.  After the waiting period, the military will begin the process of transitioning to open service.  How long this transition will take is up in the air, but I would expect to see a 12-18 month timeline at a minimum.  Why so long?

This policy change will be the largest policy shift for the military since the desegregation of the military after WWII.  Senior leaders in the military will have to set in place specific policy and protocol for how individual soldiers can serve openly.  But more importantly, they will have to have specific guidelines for how military leaders can deal with a multitude of scenarios.   The biggest issue will be evaluation reports, because military promotions revolve around the review and rating you get from your leadership.  And because military evals are almost entirely subjective, they are open to all sorts of claims of bias and discrimination.  You can expect to see a rash of stories in the media about soldiers who claim they didn't get promoted because they are openly gay, and the military will have to have specific policies in place to deal with these claims.

Another scenario that will have to looked at is cohabitation-whether or not openly gay soldiers will be allowed to share a room.  It may seem like a simple issue, but the military generally prevents even married soldiers from living together in a combat zone because it can give the appearance of special treatment. But the flipside of cohabitation is this-can a straight soldier be forced to share a room with a gay soldier?  One study group in the Pentagon says straight soldiers should be forced to share rooms and showers with gay soldiers, to speed integration.  I would be surprised if the military follows this advice, but even if they don't, there will be problems.  Take the issue of showers.  Most military barracks can accommodate one shower point for males and one for females.  But the military doesn't fight from barracks.  Soldiers in the field, sailors on small ships or subs, and Marines in small combat outposts all face the situation of having one shower point.  Since we don't allow men and women to shower together, a simple time sharing agreement usually comes into play-females can use the shower from this time to this time, and male soldiers the rest of the time.  Simple enough, right?  But if straight male soldiers cannot be forced to shower with gay male soldiers, will unit commanders now have to set up seperate times for each?  If there are gay female soldiers in the unit, you could end up with four seperate groups that need to be accommodated at the shower point.  These may seem like silly questions, and that common sense should prevail.  But the military cannot rely on common sense on any issue when political correctness is concerned.  The military is a rules based organization, which means there have to be specific rules to follow.

But even once the policy is set, the transition if far from done.  Each level of command will need to be trained in the new policy, all the way down from general to private.  Judging by the amount of time the Army spends training soldiers on sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention, I would guess that initial training on the new open service policy will take between 6-8 hours.  This in itself represents a significant distraction for the military, just in terms of the logistics required to get everyone trained.  Stateside active duty units may stand down an entire unit for a day to complete the training.  Deployed units will have to pull troops of the front lines to train them.  Even Reserve and Guard units will take a hit on this, as the average unit has 12 monthly drill weekends (24 days) plus one two week annual training (15 days) for a total of 39 training days in a year.  Taking up one full day for initial training means cutting out one full day of mission specific training, which is no small thing for a military at war.

The other big question is how the policy will be implemented over that 12-18 month timeline.  Since there is no requirement for each service branch to change at the same time, it seems likely that the branches that indicated the least amount of likely disruption to the change will implement first.  So expect to see the Air Force go first, followed by the Navy, the Army, and finally the Marines.  Each service chief will have overall responsibility for the implementation, and the Marine commandant is on the record as being dead set against the change, which caused liberal groups to call for his dismissal.  (God forbid we have the top Marine giving his honest assessment of the situation.)

But even inside each branch, the policy can be rolled out differently.  For instance, stateside units, or those just back from deployments, would be the least likely to have serious problems implementing the new policy.  Since the ultimate worst case scenario for the military is to have a death or serious injury because of problems between straight and gay soldiers, combat zones will logically be the last places to see the implementation.  An openly gay soldier attacked by members of his unit at a US base would be bad, and bad for the military.  But an openly gay soldier killed in a firefight in Afghanistan because his fellow soldiers didn't have his back would be a tragedy, as well as a PR nightmare.

The biggest unanswered question with the repeal of DADT, and one that may have critical impact on the American military, is how many men and women will get out of the service or decide not to enlist because of open service.  Question #80 from the military survey is-if DADT is repealed, will it affect your willingness to recommend the military to a close friend or family member?  27.3% said it would have a negative effect.  That is over 1/4 of the military that would be less inclined to tell their friends and family to join up.  Question #81 asks how the repeal will affect career plans.  12.6% say they will leave sooner than planned, and another 11.1% say they will think about leaving sooner than planned.  It remains to be seen whether or not these soldiers will actually get out, or if there will even be any realistic way of knowing whether or not large numbers of the military are leaving specifically because of the repeal.  And because most soldiers enlist for several years at a time, there will be a delay before any impact can be seen.  But the potential impact on the military in the long term is significant, and can't be ignored.

One upside to the repeal of DADT-the hundreds of colleges around the country that have refused to allow military recruiters on campus because of DADT.  Also, the return of ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) to some of the elite schools will mean that some of the best and brightest college students will once again be able to work towards a military commission while studying.  Of course it remains to be seen if every college will allow the military back on campus-Berkeley comes to mind, where the city council voted to ban Marine recruiters from the town itself a few years back.  Any college that continues to ban the military will show themselves to be anti-military, rather than anti-discrimination.

For all the back slapping among liberal politicians about ending the ban on open service, the fact is that most of the politicians who voted to repeal the ban will be out of public service by the time the lasting effects are known.  In fact, many of them will be out of public service next month.  It will be the mid and senior level leaders in the military that will be left with the task of figuring out how to make this work, and I expect that task will still be underway the next time the Census workers are knocking on your door.


Anonymous said...

What about boot camp?

Gay Men & Women should not be forced to share bedrooms (i.e. barracks) with Straight Men & Women.

Officer Truth said...

One thing you left out. I work in law enforcement and when promotions come around, one of the first considerations is how many minority and women candidates are there and how many are already in these positions. It will happen immediatey in the military with this ruling. How long until they bitch that there are no openly gay Officers of NCO? I say immediately.

Dave Thul said...

Ironically, anonymous, I think boot camp or basic training will be easier. new recruits are completely broken down, mentally and physically, and gay vs straight will just be one more facet to adjust to.

And OT, while the Army does a good job at staying away from quotas, this is one time they may be forced to change. But the actual number of openly gay soldiers will be the key-if they make up only a percent or two of all enlisted, than it will be hard to argue for mandatory gay promotions.