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January 06, 2006

JEEZ: "So let's see, 114 + 191 = $305 million dollars spent ridding the services of linguists who understand arabic, etc., and now having to lure replacements. Your money well spent!" Even a bridge in Alaska is less wasteful. And I agree with this, too: "I think it's time our armed forces and intelligence services got over this whole stupid 'gay' thing. How about a 'don't ask, don't care' policy?"

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Professor, I spent 6 years in the navy during the 80's ( I was signing the enlistment papers when Reagan got shot ). During my six years I knew of at least 6 gay members of the navy (one I knew before the navy ). Not once did we, the enlisted members make an issue of the gays nor did we care as long as they did their job. It was an unofficial policy before it became an official policy. My feeling is that the vast majority of service personnel could care less as long as they do their jobs, because most of the service realizes that they are all in this together and that the team comes before the sexual orientation of someone.

Makes sense to me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Brandon Bigelow emails:

I'll second the input from your correspondent who served in the Navy during the 80's. I served for four years active duty in the Navy during the 90's, and saw the transition to "don't ask, don't tell." The transition was transparent, because the chain of command didn't care whether a member was homosexual before "don't ask, don't tell," and the chain of command didn't care whether a member was homosexual after "don't ask, don't tell." In my (admittedly limited) experience, the only members who were separated from the Navy during that period because they were homosexual were members who wanted to get out of their contracts early, and saw the Navy's policy as a convenient means of getting discharged without suffering the inconvenience of a less than honorable discharge.

Hmm. I don't think that's the case with these linguists, though. Meanwhile, Major Paul Landry emails:

'm a military linguist and an army officer. For years I've been informing pundits and reporters on the homosexual soldiers issue, including being interviewed (but not quoted) in a big Wash Post article a few years back.

The important points briefly:
a. Homosexual military members who keep their private life to themselves are never bothered. The only homosexual members discharged are those that walk in and "confess" so they can get out of their contract with the military and avoid deployments.

b. If you disagree with the law, blame Congress not the military. Congress created this. Congress can change it. The military is simply enforcing laws created by Congress. Pointing fingers at the military in this area is like blaming the police officer for enforcing the law on a parking ticket. You're blaming the wrong guy.

I certainly agree that Congress is ultimately responsible here. Another reader, though, says the quote above is unfair:

I'm a former (career) Air Force linguist, so I'm familiar with the problem. But the first quote is terribly misleading... First, the 114 million is being spent to create more linguists, not "rid" the services of linguists. Second, the 191 million cited in the GAO report was an estimate of the costs associated with recruiting / training replacements for the 10,000 discharged under "Don't ask, don't tell" since 1993, of whom only 332 were linguists. Linguists are more expensive to train that most other specialties, but the amount of money spent "ridding the services of linguists" is closer to $20 million than the $305M cited - quite a difference. Is it still wasteful? Yes. Is "Don't ask, don't tell" bad policy? In my opinion, yes. Can it cause a disproportionate hit to military capability? Absolutely. Should it be revisited? Yes, but I'm not sure I'd take it on at the moment when 1) we're still at war and 2) the political environment has never been more toxic. I just hate to see sound policy arguments undermined by "hyping" the evidence and distorting facts, which is what Alphecca has done. It's an attention-getting line; it's also not true.

Military linguists have been under-resourced for decades. The discharges under "Don't ask, Don't tell" haven't helped, but they're only one factor (and a relatively minor one) in the shortfall of military linguists (although it's not minor to the guy that has to go into combat without one). The biggest problem we've had (pre-9/11) was that everyone agreed it was a critical capability, but they got a lot less serious about it when it came time to pony up the money. Linguists simply lost out to competing budget priorities. 9/11 brought clarity to many long-standing problems in the intel world, and the DoD has begun to put serious money behind its linguist shortfall rhetoric.

It's certainly true that the government is pushing linguistic capabilities now, which is clearly a good thing. It seems clear to me, too, that the current gays in the military policy is a dumb idea and needs to be changed.

MORE: The above reader sends a correction: "In my earlier email, I ballparked the cost of training ~300 linguists at $20M. I did some research and a better number is closer to $50M, at $150k per linguist. I see the topic has generated some interest.... just want to offer a better number to correct the record, as future posts might note my original figure as off the mark."

MORE STILL: Tom Bell emails:

It *cannot* be the case that the military never went after closeted gays; see McVeigh v. Cohen, 983 F. Supp. 215 (D.D.C. 1998) (finding ECPA bars government from obtaining a user's private information from an online service provider absent a warrant, subpoena, or court order). The facts of that case show quite clearly that government officials went after a fellow who was not seeking a discharge. Indeed, the plaintiff successfully enjoined his discharge on grounds the government violated his ECPA rights during its investigation of his online persona. One case hardly proves that a culture of prosecuting homosexuality did or does exist in the U.S. military, of course, but it still proves troubling.

Yeah, the McVeigh case is one I teach in Internet Law. Poor guy -- a gay sailor named "Timothy McVeigh." And the Navy's behavior in that case was atrocious, though to be fair it's a post "don't ask don't tell" phenomenon. And Major Russell Meyer emails:

I want to echo what some of your readers have said. I have been an officer for almost 11 years and commanded a company for just over two of those years. I don't care if a person is gay or not - contrary to what gay activists say, I don't have the time or inclination to pursue whether a serviceman is homosexual. It's not that big of a deal and we have many more important things to spend our time on.

That being said, I discharged 8 people under Chapter 15(homosexual conduct), all of whom came to me, and by that I mean sought a private appointment in my office in order to make the statement, "Sir, I'm gay." I believe that out of those 8, only two were actually gay - one guy was always suspect, but we never pried, and the other guy brought me pictures. The other six saw an easy way out. The upsurge usually began after either we were announced for deployment or the soldier was in trouble for another offense(like being drunk on duty), and they wanted to try an avoid trouble. The story usually morphed from, "Sir, I'm gay," to "Sir, I'm bi-sexual" within a few days. And since most civilians don't know what a Chapter 15 discharge is, and it is almost always honorable, a lot of soldiers have no qualms about using it to leave service quickly.

Bottom line - the only ones kicked out for homosexual behavior are either those who are looking for a quick out or those who come forward because they want to make a political statement. It's time people knew that.

I should make a "Russ Meyer" joke here, but I'll bet he's heard 'em all. Meanwhile, reader Jim Hogue emails:

I was a career criminal investigator in the USAF from 1971 – 1995. “Don’t ask…period” was pretty much the unofficial policy of the USAF criminal investigators on the street even though under the UCMJ homosexuality was a “crime” and had to be investigated. So was adultery and I don’t recall spending much time on those cases either (unless they were compounded by fraternization or violence).

I detested those investigations and so did most of the investigators I knew. To mirror the comments above, it was only the self proclaiming “walk ins” or egregious homosexual activities (that couldn’t be ignored by command) that resulted in investigations and even those, absent other compounding events, (again, fraternization, etc) hardly led to anything other than administrative discharges.

We had a saying in the Air Force, probably mirrored in the other services, that if you’re going to do something “Don’t do it in the shadow of the flag pole.”

In other words, be discreet in your indiscretions.

Yeah. The behavior in the McVeigh case could fairly be described as a "witch hunt" -- my students always laugh at the don't-ask-don't-tell reference, since there was rather a lot of asking going on -- but I don't think it was typical. Regardless, I think we'd be better off with a more sensible rule.