Top Marine Non-Com Says Post-DADT Military Will Be ’Magnificent’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday June 25, 2011

The top-ranking non-commissioned officer in the Marines says that military service should be available to all, regardless of "race, color, creed, sexual orientation," and that the post-'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' American military will be "Magnificent," the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog reported on June 21.

The Marines' highest-ranking non-commissioned officer is known as the Sergeant Major. Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett, who now serves as senior enlisted advisor to the Commandant General of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, occupies that rank.

In hearings about the repeal of DADT, Gen. Amos was among those who opposed scrapping DADT, a law from 1993 that bars service by openly gay and lesbian patriots. Servicemembers who admit to being gay -- or who are outed by others, investigated, and found to be gay -- are subject to discharge under the law.

"If the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat," Amos told the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Dec. 3, 2010, Associated Press article said.

A study previous to Amos' testimony indicated that almost one third of America's troops thought that repeal of DADT would result in problems. In the Marine Corps, the figure was even higher -- 60%.

"I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan," Amos said.

Congress voted late last year to repeal DADT, but the repeal does not go into effect until the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Secretary all certify that the American military is prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian comrades in arms.

Some Republican lawmakers have attempted to hold up or derail the repeal process by adding extra provisions to the already-passed repeal bill, such as requiring that the heads of all four military branches also certify that the troops are ready.

Legislation to that effect was introduced by Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter in May.

"The four military service chiefs are far more closely connected to the day-to-day realities facing each respective service branch than those who are currently required to sign off on the repeal--including the President," Hunter, who is a military veteran and has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, stated at his website.

"The President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs should all take part in the certification process, but excluding the service chiefs is a mistake," added the text at Hunter's site. "They may agree to move forward with the repeal or they may have other recommendations for implementation and timing. Either way, their unvarnished perspective is critical to this process--especially as it relates to preserving the military's high rate of effectiveness."

The congressman went on to claim that allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve without the distraction of being required to lie constantly about their core identities would do nothing to enhance military readiness.

"The repeal of DADT won't make our troops any safer or help achieve victory any faster," Hunter wrote. "Even so, any movement toward implementation must be efficient and show respect for the culture and tradition unique to each service branch and the military as a whole."

The director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Aubrey Sarvis--himself an Army veteran--flatly denied Hunter's assertions.

"The expected Duncan Hunter amendment is designed to slow down repeal," Sarvis said, adding that the amendment "serves no constructive purpose, as the service chiefs themselves recently testified they are already very much a part of the certification process with Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates and see no need for the amendment Mr. Hunter is offering."

Hunter's legislation took the form of an amendment to a defense-spending bill. A House panel approved the bill with the amendment intact, but that version of the bill did not advance any further.

Sgt. Maj. Barrett did not sugar coat his message to Marines during a recent tour of bases located in the Pacific. He dispensed no-nonsense advice about keeping fit, telling the troops to "[G]et out and pound pavement," the Wall Street Journal blog posting said.

The Sergeant Major was just as frank in discussing DADT's repeal with Marines while at a base in South Korea.

"Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple," Barrett, who had come prepared with a pocket edition of America's founding legal document, noted. "It says, 'Raise an army.' It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation.

"You all joined for a reason: to serve," Barrett went on. "To protect our nation, right? How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble?"

Barrett recalled talking with British servicemembers. The UK's military dropped its own gay ban in 2000, and, despite rumblings about mass defections and lower enrollment, when the change took place hardly anyone left the ranks over it.

Nor have problems emerged due to U.S. servicemembers coordinating on joint missions with British servicemembers or troops from other nations with no barn on openly gay soldiers. The United States is the last among its Western allies to cling to such a ban.

A Marine to the core, Barrett told his audience to "Get over it," and assured them, "We're magnificent, we're going to continue to be."

Added Barrett, "Let's just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let's be Marines."

Currently, DADT is still in effect, and servicemembers who come out -- or are found out -- are still subject to discharge.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.