Time for armed forces to discharge ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

By Eli White

As a 2003 Air Force ROTC distinguished graduate and former active duty Security Forces officer with combat service in Iraq, I appreciate Annie Piekarczyk’s support and respect for the military and its ROTC programs.

However, I cannot appreciate her views as expressed in her December 8th article “Schools should lift ROTC bans.”

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

Piekarczyk asserts that universities, particularly Ivy League universities, should rescind their bans on ROTC programs in response to their disagreement with 10 U.S.C. 654, the law, not policy, banning from military service, any person who engages in homosexual conduct, as defined as homosexual acts, or identification as homosexual or bisexual.

It is important to note that the schools Piekarczyk cites in her article do not ban their students from participating in ROTC programs. Instead, they simply do not offer a program at their campus.

Such Universities instead enroll their students as cross campus cadets. These schools may have other reasons for doing so, such as the fact that not enough student enrollment interest or proper facilities exist to facilitate a full ROTC program.

Nevertheless, even those schools that do refuse to have an on-campus program due to their displeasure with the law banning homosexuals from serving in the military do so only as an attempt to have a voice, to call attention to what may be the single most discriminatory act still existing in our nation today – the denial of one’s desire to serve their country, based solely on their sexual orientation.

While Piekarczyk attempts to categorize this ban as a reasonable morality provision, comparing it to the U.C.M.J.’s prohibition on fraternization and adultery, she fails to recognize that open service by homosexual and bisexual service members is not detrimental to unit cohesion or morale, and that it in fact hurts the military more than helps it by removing from service thousands of individuals who are highly competent, dedicated, and instrumental to success of the mission.

In a November 17, 2008 call for an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, over 100 retired generals and admirals of the U.S. military stated,

“We support the recent comments of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, who has concluded that repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would not harm and would indeed help our armed forces.

As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.”

Piekarczyk notes that “today, when the armed forces are coping with a shortage of cadets due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” there is a greater need to accommodate students who wish to enroll in ROTC, by not “forc[ing them] to drive, or take a bus to the closest campus that does offer ROTC.”

In contrast, I ask Piekarczyk to examine the numbers representing the effect of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Since its inception in 1993, over 12,500 service members have been discharged under the law, including 800 “mission critical” positions and 60 linguists.

In addition, the law has discouraged another approximately 45,000 people from joining or remaining in military service.

While being “forced” to drive or take a bus to participate in ROTC activities may be a trying toll, it hardly is comparable to the sacrifice asked of our lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens.

Piekarczyk further states that President-elect Obama does not plan to make any call to end the policy until 2010, and responding asserts that “ROTC should not have to wait until then and people on those campuses that want to serve their country shouldn’t have to wait either.” Universities banning ROTC programs from being held on their campuses are asserting a similar belief as Piekarczyk.

By showing their displeasure with the law in this way, the universities are loudly calling attention to the issue and strongly asserting their belief that the currently estimated 65,000 homosexual and bisexual servicemen and women in our armed forces should be treated with the dignity that they deserve, and be given the right to be who they are, while sacrificing their life for their country.

I urge Piekarczyk to rather than chastise those universities who take a stand against open discrimination by our government, instead contact her Congressmen and Senators and urge them to co-sponsor and sign the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would lift the ban on open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, and replace it with a policy of non-discrimination.

Eli White is a second year law student at Illinois and a United States Air Force veteran. She currently serves as President of OUTLAW, the College of Law’s LBGT and allied student organization, and worked this summer at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a policy/watchdog organization providing free legal services to military members affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”