Servicemembers around the globe reacted to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – some with apprehensions, but most indifferent or supportive of repeal.
Many soldiers at Combat Outpost Terra Nova near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they’ve spent months in intense combat, were indifferent about the repeal, caring more about the skill of the man next to him than his sexual orientation.
Staff Sgt. Cleveland Carr, an infantry soldier with 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team,101st Airborne Division, said that all he cared about was whether the person next to him “knows how to shoot and shoot well. I’m just worried about skill set. I don’t care; come on in. That’s one more person putting rounds downrange.”
Carr said he thought the concerns about showers and sleeping arrangements were silly and that it was a waste of time for the military to be concerned about the sexual orientation of its servicemembers when there’s a war to fight.
“The last thing we should be spending our time on is if this man likes men,” he said. “It’s so crazy because gay men and women are in the Army now and getting the job done. So, what changes if we know they’re gay? For me, it would be like, ‘You’re gay? OK. Get back to work.’”
For Spc. Craig Miller, if someone wants to serve their country, “then by all means,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me what someone’s sexuality is. I look at everyone in the Army as just soldiers,” adding that he won’t put up with backlash.
“I’ll go up against anyone who has a problem with it,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ahmad Staley said he didn’t care if gay soldiers served with him, but he did think there would be hurdles to overcome.
“It won’t be anything we can’t get past, just like all the other issues of the last 60 years,” he said, referencing racial and gender integration.
Sgt. Anthony Dubose said he thought the repeal would “affect the Army a great deal.”
“I’m not a person who judges another person, but me personally I disagree with it,” he said about homosexuality, noting he wasn’t likely to hang out with a gay soldier. “I think it will affect morale and cohesion of units and cause some conflict.”
A chaplain’s assistant in Wiesbaden, Germany, who declined to be identified, also expressed reservations.
“[The change] makes it extremely difficult for chaplains,” he said, adding also that “it might end up costing millions of dollars for extra bathrooms, showers, [and] living arrangements.
“The most difficult thing will be for the EO (Equal Opportunity), because they will have more complaints.”
One sailor based in Yokosuka, Japan, echoed that.
There tends to be a lot of trash-talking on a ship, said Petty Officer 1st Class Richardboy Alonzo, 32, of Glendale, Calif., and bringing sexual preferences out into the open could lead to straight people offending their gay coworkers.
“The next thing you know, there goes your work environment,” he said.
Straight sailors may also interpret kindness from a gay sailor as something more, which might raise tensions at sea, Alonzo added. He also expressed concern that flamboyant clothing and actions off-duty could compromise the Navy’s image.
Nevertheless, Alonzo said he will accept the order like any other when the ban is lifted.
“The only thing I can do is suggest that [gay people] make sure they prepare to the Navy standard,” he said.
But a senior officer based in Kabul, who also requested anonymity, dismissed such concerns.
“My answer to that is, we have problems with sexual harassment, with sexual assault, with racism, with preferential treatment and we deal with all of these things already in an acceptable way through team training, counseling the UCMJ and judicial punishment. It’s the next challenge and we will deal with it like we have other challenges.”
Most gay servicemembers probably won’t come out or change behavior at all, said one Naples, Italy-based sailor.
“[Gay] people are going to be afraid of missing that promotion or having to pull a crappy duty because they’re afraid their command … will be prejudiced against them,” said Naples, Italy-based Petty Officer 2nd Class Bruce Armond.
For Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Gonder, who is based at Yokosuka, life aboard a ship is too busy to develop anxiety about another person’s sexual preference.
“There’s no time on a ship to think about if someone is looking at you or not,” said the 31-year-old Houston native. “If you have time to think about that, you’re not doing your job.”
Armond said the repeal simply means troops now won’t be losing their jobs, either if they chose to openly display on their own their sexuality, or are outed by others.
“As an airman, soldier, sailor or Marine, they have a commitment to stay professional, and I think that’s what they’ll do. … This doesn’t mean that suddenly there are going to be pink BDUs, or being hit on in showers. They’re professionals and they’ll do their jobs.”
Repeal was overdue, said Petty Officer 1st Class Jenniffer Rivera, 27, also of Naples. “The older generation will basically just have to shut up and move on. Get over it or get out.”
“It’s long overdue,” said the senior officer in Kabul. “The current generation of soldiers is different than soldiers of generations ago. It’s not that big a deal to them. It’s the natural evolution of our society.”
Stars and Stripes’ reporters Megan McCloskey, Dianna Cahn, Erik Slavin, Sandra Jontz and Mark Patton contributed to this report.