It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. — Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen
I had the opportunity Wednesday to spend some time with a retired military officer, one whose background and experience I consider unique to the question of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” RADM Tom Ward spent more than 30 years in the Navy, having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1951.
Recall, if you will, that President Harry Truman, via executive order, integrated the military on July 26, 1948. It did not, however, happen overnight. According to the Truman Library, the Air Force was the first of the armed services to have its integration plan approved – in May 1949 – with the Navy right on its heels the following month. The Army was the most difficult of the services: integration of its troops took approximately five years.
Recall also the role of women in the military. According to this article, women didn’t gain “professional military status” until 1948, when Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. That legislation limited the number of women serving to 2% of the total, the result being that women comprised only 1.4% of the total military in 1970. Today women account for approximately 20 percent.
Ward was a witness to history, his career having spanned both of these major changes. I was eager to hear his take on Mullen’s remarks, although I have to admit that I was prepared for him to give me an answer defending it. I was pleasantly surprised when he told me he agreed with Mullen.
In our discussion, Ward articulated the similarities between the integration of blacks and women in the military and those of gays. Doing so, he said, wasn’t easy, and he pointed out that problems with women in the military remain today. Like nearly everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject, he acknowledged that gays have always served. He told me a story about a gay group on one of the ships he served on.
Ward honed in on the issue of integrity, part of the Mullen’s remarks, which Mullen reiterated in a tweet after the hearings were over. That is exactly what it is, he told me.
If Ward, who lived through – and participated in – these major changes to the military supports the repeal of DADT, it seems to me that the military should be listening to the likes of him instead of those who only speculate the effects of allowing gays to serve openly.
In case you weren’t aware, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Armed Services Committee who held those hearings on Tuesday, graduated in the same class as Adm. Mullen – 1968. Webb’s questions/comments at that hearing can be seen here, beginning at about the 3:23 mark and are, in my opinion, disappointing. He basically reiterated his statements in a press release Tuesday afternoon. I happen to know another member of that same class, who told me that he supports the repeal. I’d love to hear from other members of that class and their take on the situation. Right now, it’s 2:1 in favor of repeal.
Oh yeah – and even the architect of DADT appears to support its repeal.