Thursday, March 18, 2010

Not a happy camper





Starting in the US where Congress saw some honorable moments and a whole lot of crazy. On the former (honorable), Lt Jr Grade Jenny L. Kopfstein shared her experience serving in the military while gay:
It was difficult being on the ship and having to lie, or tell half-truths, to my shipmates. Under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, answering the simplest questions can get you kicked out. If a shipmate asks what you did last weekend, you can't react like a normal human being and say, "Hey, I went to a great new restaurant with my partner. You should try it out." An answer like that would have gotten me kicked out of the Navy. But if you don't interact like that with your shipmates, they think you're weird, and it undermines working together as a team. So after being on the ship for a while, I wrote a letter to my commanding officer and told him I was a lesbian because I felt like I was being forced to lie. I did not want to get out of the Navy. I wanted to stay and serve honorably and to maintain my integrity by not lying about who I was. After I wrote the letter, I continued to do my job on the ship to the best of my ability. We went on a six-month deployment to the Middle East. I qualified as Officer of the Deck and was chosen to be the Officer of the Deck during General Quarters which is a great honor. During all this time, I am proud to say, I did not lie. I had come out in my letter officially and I came out slowly over time to my shipmates. I expected negative responses. I got none. Everyone I talked to was positive and the universal attitude was that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was dumb. I served openly for two years and four months. One thing that happened during that time was the Captain's choosing me to represent the ship in a shiphandling competition. I was the only officer chosen from the ship to compete. My orientation was known to my shipmates by this time. Nobody griped about the captain choosing someone being processed for discharge under Don't Ask, Don't Tell to represent my ship. Instead a couple of my fellow junior officers congratuled me and wished me luck in the competition. I competed by showing the Admiral my shipdriving skills and won the competition.
She was speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee which is chaired by Senator Carl Levin. The Ranking Member is Senator John McCain. Appearing before the Committee today as they explored Don't Ask, Don't Tell which veered from the moving (such as above) to the outright puzzling. Along with Kopfstein, Maj Michael D. Almy and Gen John Sheehan spoke. Kopfstein and Almy are 'former' because they were drummed out of the service for being gay. They aren't former at this site. They didn't chose to leave, their rank stands in the snapshot. Sheehan is retired. He is not gay but if someone wants to spread a rumor, go for it. You'll understand why I say that shortly.
The hearing moved along nicely during opening statements. It seemed respectful of all and fairly typical for a hearing. There were moving statements made of the losses suffered as a result of being forced out of your chosen profession due to your sexuality. Again, Carl Levin is the Chair and he opened his questions after the prepared remarks.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Mr. Almy, should somebody be forced to be silent about their sexual orientation in the military?
Maj Michael Almy: In my opinion, no, Senator. I think the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law is inherently in conflict with the service's core value as Adm Mullen reflected in his testimony before this hearing a month ago. The prinicpal core value of the Air Force is integrity first. And Don't Ask, Don't Tell says that gays and lesbians can serve in the military as long as they're not who they are, as long as they lie about who they are. And to me, personally, that was in direct violation of the core values of the Air Force.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: So while you were willing to keep your orientation private, you don't feel it is the right policy or the fair policy. Is that correct?
Maj Michael Almy: Correct, Senator.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Mike, would you like to return to the military if you could?
Maj Michael Almy: Absolutely. It's my greatest desire. It's my calling in life and I miss the military considerably.
And with that Levin had finished with Almy for the first round. He moved immediately to the retired general and this is where it all went crazy. I have a name "*" starred in the following. I'm guessing at the spelling and will explain why at the end of the exchange.
Commitee Chair Carl Levin: General, you've been the NATO Supreme Allied Commander and I assume that as NATO Commander that you discussed the issue with other military leaders of our allies. Is that correct?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Yes, sir, I have.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Did you -- did they tell you, those allies who allow open service of gay and lesbian men and women, did they tell you that they had cohesion and morale problems?
Gen John Sheehan: Yes sir they did. If you don't -- l beg the indulgence --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Sure.
Gen John J. Sheehan: Most of this Committee knows that current militaries are a product of years of development. They reflect societies that they are theoretically paid to protect. The Europen militaries today are a product of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nations like Belgium, Luxenberg, the Dutch, etc. firmly believed that there was no longer a need for combat capability in the militaries. As a result, they declared a peace dividend and made a concentrated effort to socialize their military. That included the unionization of the militaries. It included open homo - homosexuality demonstrated in a series of other activities. But with a focus on peace keeping missions because they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or that the Soviets were coming back. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under strength, poorly led and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to telephone poles, marched the Muslims off and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since WWII.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?
Gen John J. Sheehan: It was a combination --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: But did they tell you that? That was my question.
Gen John J. Sheehan: Yes. They included that as part of the problem.
That there were gay soldiers among the Dutch --
Gen John J. Sheehan: The combination was the liberalization of the military. A net effect, basically social engineering.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: The -- You said that no special accomdiations should be made for any member of the military.
Gen John J. Sheehan: Sure.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Are members who are straight, who are heterosexual allowed in our military to say that they are straight and heterosexual? Are they allowed to say that? [Long pause as Levin waits for an answer before adding] Without being discharged?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Are they allowed to say --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Yeah.
Gen John J. Sheehan: -- sexuality.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Are they allowed to say "Hey, I'm straight. I'm heterosexual." Can you say that? Without being discharged.

Gen John J. Sheehan: There's no prohibition to my knowledge.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Is that a special accomidation to them?
Gen John J. Sheehan: [Long pause] I wouldn't consider it a special accomodiation.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Why would it be a special accomidation then to someone who's gay to say 'Hey, I'm gay.'? Why -- why do you call that special? You don't call it special for someone who's heterosexual or straight. Why do you believe that's a special accomodation to someone who's gay?
Gen John J. Sheehan: I think the issue, Senator, that . . . we're talking about . . . really has a lot to do with the individuals. It has to do with the very nature of combat. Combat is not about individuals, it's about units. We're talking about a group of people who declared openly sexual attraction to a particular segment of the population and insist and continue to live in intimate proximity with them. That allows them to --
Comittee Chair Carl Levin: You allow that for heterosexuals?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Yes.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: You don't have any problem with that?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Don't have any problem. But that --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: You don't have any problem with men and women serving together even though they say they're attracted to each other?
Gen John J. Sheehan: That's correct.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: That's not a special accomidation?
Gen John J. Sheehan: No.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Okay. But it is special to allow --
Gen John J. Sheehan: It' is because it identifies the group as a special group of people who by law make them ineligiable for further service.

Committee Chair Carl Levin: But the whole issue is whether it ought to be, whether they ought to be ineligable? Whether we ought to keep out of our service.
Gen John J. Sheehan: That's correct. the current debate, the current law clearly says --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: No I know what the law says, the question is should we change the law?
Gen John J. Sheehan: My recommendation is no.
Senator Carl Levin: No, I understand. And can you tell us which Dutch officers you talked to who told you that Srebenica was in part caused because there were gay soldiers in the Dutch army?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Uh, Chief of Staff of the Army who was fired by the Parliament because they couldn't find anybody else to blame.
Committe Chair Carl Levin: And who was that?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Hank van Brummen*.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Pardon?

Gen John J. Sheehan: Hank van Brummen.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Why is the burden to end the discriminatory policy based on people who would end the discriminatory policy? Why do the people who want to end the policy have to show that it would improve combat effectiveness? If we're satisified it would not harm combat effectiveness and for many who would be allowed to serve they would then be permitted to serve without discrimination and without harm. Why is that not good enough for you?
Gen John J. Sheehan: Because the force that we have today is probably the finest fighting force we have in the world.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: And maybe we could have an equally fine or even better force but if it's equally fine -- if you could be satisified that it's no harm to combat cohesion or effectiveness, would that be satisifactory to you?
Gen John J. Sheehan: No. I think it has to be demonstrated, Senator.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: That there be an actual improvement.
Gen John J. Sheehan: An actual improvement.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: No harm wouldn't be good enough for you?
Gen John J. Sheehan: No. The reason I say --
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Pardon?
Gen John J. Sheehan: The reason I say that, Senator, is we've gone through this once before in our lifetime. You were in the Senate at the time. It was called the Great Society. When it was deemed that we could bring into the military categories fours and fives and help the military out and make it part of a social experiment. Those categories fours and fives almost destroyed the military.
Commitee Chair Carl Levin: I don't know what that has to do with this issue.
Gen John J. Sheehan: Well it has to do with the issue of . . . being able to demonstrate that the . . . change in policy is going to improve things. We were told . . . that this was going to help out combat strength. Combat deployable strength. It didn't. It did just the opposite. It drove people out. So I think the burden has to be on demonstrating that something's going to become better, not hoping that it will become something better.
Committee Chair Carl Levin: Well I think the burden of people -- the burden to maintain a discriminatory policy is on the people who want to maintain the policy. Not on the people who want to end it.
"Hank van Brummen*"? I'm not Dutch. I had to call around until someone said they knew who the general meant: Ad van Baal. Full name: Paulus Adrianus Petrus Maria van Baal. He was the Chief of Staff when he resigned. He resigned in April of 2002. He resigned because of a United Nations' report which found leadership at the top to be responsible for (or contributing to -- I haven't read the report, I'm going by a Dutch diplomat here) the massacre. If that's correct (I have no reason to doubt it), then does General John Sheehan even know who he was speaking to? I asked whether or not there was anyway the names could be pronounced similarly and was told "no."

The above excerpt shows that Levin conducted himself honorably. Almy did as well but he's not really the focus in the snapshot. Kat will write about this at her site tonight, Wally will write about the hearing at Rebecca's site and Ava's writing about it at Trina's. In addition, Marcia's going to quiz me on a few things at her site tonight.

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