A panel of retired generals with more than 160 years of combined military experience issued a report-funded by UCSB’s Palm Center, which studies issues of sexual minorities in the U.S. military-repudiating the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy initiated in 1991 by former President Bill Clinton and concluding that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed services “is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.”
The group of three retired generals and one retired vice-admiral – operating under the name the General/Flag Officers Study Group – concluded that the existing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has adverse impacts on military morale, cohesion, and performance. At the very least, the report found that the armed services have lost many talented, capable, gay and lesbian service members. Many of those who chose to remain in the military are forced to lie, the report concluded. This deception – far more than their sexual orientation – is off-putting and alienating to fellow military personnel and inflicts significant erosion of both cohesion and morale.
The generals driving the study all claimed to have supported the policy when it was first enacted. At that time, many high-ranking military leaders expressed concern that the presence of openly gay men and women in the armed services could disrupt the tight cohesion required of the armed services. However, the generals and vice-admiral based their new findings on extensive interviews with other military leaders, scholars, and experts on the subject of military leadership. They lamented they could not find a single opponent of gays in the military to explain his or her opposition on the record.
The panel concluded that sufficient rules and regulations already exist to handle incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior, for homosexual as well as heterosexual military personnel. They also found that it made little sense to expel gays and lesbians from the military at a time that the armed services are experiencing such difficulty meeting their recruitment and retention goals. They cited evidence indicating that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” cost the armed services no less than 4,000 gays and lesbians a year who otherwise would have re-enlisted. Even more damaging, the report found that 800 people with “mission critical skills” were dismissed from the armed services because of sexual orientation between 2003 and 2006. Of those, 268 served in intelligence, 57 in combat engineering, 331 in medical service delivery, and more than 322 as language experts. Of this latter group, 58 specialized in Arabic languages.
At the same time strategically skilled gays and lesbians were being drummed out of the armed services, the report found that the armed services was approving “morals waivers” for an increasing number of convicted felons and serious misdemeanants. From 2003 to 2006, “the military recruited 4,230 convicted felons to enlist under the ‘morals waivers’ program, which enables otherwise unqualified candidates to serve. In addition, 43,977 individuals convicted of serious misdemeanors such as assault were recruited to enlist under the moral waivers program during that period, as were 58,561 illegal drug abusers.”
In addition, the study found the existing policy left gays and lesbians in the military-especially those in positions of authority – vulnerable to exposure by anyone who might have a bone to pick. Likewise the report found that gays and lesbians who lied about their sexual orientation were often unconvincing, and that the attempt at deception proved corrosive to morale and group cohesion.”
UCSB’s Palm Center funded this study, but the results were produced separately from and independently of the Palm Center.