DAYTON, Ohio — Mirroring trends across the country, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has reported a smooth transition during the first year since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 1993 law that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“It has been the first year we would have hoped to have had,” said spokesman Daryl Mayer. “Our policy is based on treating everyone with respect, dignity and complying with Air Force core values.”
Mayer credited mandatory sensitivity training, as well as esprit de corps, for the lack of problems. “Every member of the Air Force based on what the policy was supposed to be and how members are supposed to conduct themselves. The military is an institution that is good at doing what it’s told. When told this is what is to be done, our airmen did it, even if some may not have liked it.”
The Pentagon has reported no problems with morale, military readiness, or recruitment, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has stated he will not work to overturn the change if elected. Some critics have remained vocal including U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who called for the reinstatement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” last week in an interview with reporters after his speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. “We’ll look at guidance from our military, but I’m certainly supportive of going back to the previous policy,” Jordan said.
Advocates for the repeal, meanwhile, say it has increased morale for gay and lesbian service members. Dayton native Scott Arnold, who retired from the Air National Guard in 2003 after 23 years of service, lobbied Congress to change the law. “It is going really well,” Arnold said. “Everybody can relax and do their jobs. My friends who are still active-duty say it’s so nice to come to work and put their partners’ pictures on their desks like everybody else. They have been bringing their partners to dining-ins and formal military events and it has been well-received. Don’t get me wrong — a lot of people still have reservations, but they’re military and they know they have to follow the rules.”
Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, a nonprofit group fighting to overturn Ohio’s gay marriage ban, concurred that the repeal has been a huge morale boost for gay and lesbian service members: “It is a reminder of how far we have come. Our society has grown more accepting and willing to allow people to be who they are and love whom they please, whether in service to our country or along Main Street America. It comes at a time when a majority of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should enjoy equal rights.”
James isn’t worried about calls to reinstate the policy: “As they say where I come from in southern Ohio, ‘That dog don’t hunt. People have seen now that it has no impact on our military readiness and the security of our country. In fact, people are re-enlisting who were honorably discharged. One of the biggest drops was in foreign language translators, at a time when intelligence is key to thwarting terrorism and we need all hands on deck.”
Jason Pickart was a 20-year-old combat medic when he was discharged from WPAFB in 2003 after confiding to a fellow airman that he was going home to come out to his father. At the time, he desperately wanted to go back into the field to save lives.
Pickart said it was a sign of positive change when U.S. service members marched at a Pentagon-sanctioned gay-pride parade in San Diego. “That set the tone that it’s not a big deal — that the quality of your work is a better metric than any innate personal characteristic,” he said. “If we are expected to act like professionals, we should be treated as professionals.”
He will soon travel to Afghanistan as a civilian government worker.
Pickart predicts the old policy will soon seem as baffling as segregation in the military: “It eventually will be regarded as something that should never have happened.”
Jordan could not be reached for comment Friday, but spokeswoman Meghan Snyder confirmed his support for the reinstatement of the policy. When reporters asked whether service-members who have already announced their sexual orientation would be kicked out, Jordan replied, “That’s a military question. I’d have to think about how that would work in practice.”
Arnold said he knows from experience how difficult it is to keep moving the mark. He served in the Air National Guard for 12 years before the enactment of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993. “I had told a lot of people without violating any policy and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t tell anyone else, not even my parents, but of course I already had. It felt like going backward.”
Arnold is pleased with the success of the change. He gives a great deal of credit to the sensitivity training required in all branches of the military: “It was accurate and it was well-done on all levels, from the top down.”