A new study has recently been released by the Pentagon that suggests the risks believed to be associated with having openly gay men and women in the military are relatively negligible and wouldn't create lasting problems within the military. The study includes the thoughts of those currently serving and boasts mixed results.
Overall, 70 percent of those currently serving in the military responded that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the military would be "mixed" or have "positive or no effect." These results suggest that, in general, those in the military are at the very least open to the idea of having openly gay service members. Those most opposed to the repeal were Marines who had seen combat duty, with 58 percent opposing repeal. Perhaps the most interesting results came from those in the military who felt they had likely personally worked with someone who was gay, with 92 percent of these individuals responding that they felt their unit was either "very good, good, or neither good nor poor" despite having an individual they believed to be gay in their ranks. Such overwhelming results could indicate that once a service member works with someone they believe to be gay, the negative stereotype that an openly gay soldier somehow disrupts the unit fades away.
The results of this study invoke memories of the infamous Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American fighter unit during World War II that was created from the segregation movement that plagued America both at home and throughout the military. The Tuskegee Airmen became notorious as bombing escorts with their stellar protection record. While active, the Airmen destroyed 262 German aircraft, 950 railcars and other motor vehicles, and lost only a handful of bombers under their protective eye. In fact, their exploits became so widespread that the bombers the Tuskegee Airmen protected affectionately referred to them as "Red-Tailed Angels" due to the distinguishing red tails on their planes. When a dangerous mission was set to start and the bombers noticed a squadron of red-tailed planes heading their way for protection, do you think the all-white crews of the bombers were cursing the fact they had to serve with African-Americans or saying a quick prayer of thanks that one of the best fighting escorts in World War II was there to protect them? I think deep down we all know what the answer is.
Though I have never served in the military, I can at least try to hypothetically imagine how I would feel if I was to be placed in a situation where I would be in danger. What I do know is that I would want someone I would trust with my life by my side, which brings an old friend of mine currently serving in the military to mind. Though he's not gay, this friend and I disagree on nearly anything one could imagine. We have had heated debates on religion, politics and sports, and we're on opposite ends of the spectrum on every one of those categories. But if I had to pick someone to fight by my side, he'd be the one, and I know that trust is reciprocated, as I was truly honored that he trusted me enough to write him a letter of recommendation to enter the military. Though hopefully I'll never be in a situation where my life is on the line, I do know that the very last of my concerns at that moment would be whether the person next to me shared my religious or political views or shared my sexual orientation. My primary concern would be whether I trusted the person next to me with my life, and I wouldn't hesitate to put my friend in that category.
Though this recent Pentagon study shed some light on the military's relative openness to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", it's unlikely it will be repealed in the foreseeable future. Senator John McCain, the man leading the charge to keep "don't ask, don't tell" in place, will likely not be swayed by the results, which leads to some interesting questions. When Senator McCain bravely served and was tortured in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, did he take the time to notice which of the captured soldiers next to him happened to be gay? Or did he instead reminisce with other captured Americans who shared a common bond and a common goal to just get home.
The United States should be honored to have any individual willing to put their life on the line, whether they're gay or straight.