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DADT, Mission Objectives, and the Elephant in the Barracks

September 23, 2011

Rick Santorum had a good night. He didn’t spend all his time jumping up and down yelling “I’m important! Pay attention to me!” This morning, headlines bore his name and DADT shared print space with job creation and social security. Here’s what he said: “…sex and sexual preference should not be an issue in the military, period.” He’s right.*

The dramatic debate over DADT misses the point. This is about professionalism.

Our soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors are held to the highest** professional standards in almost every aspect of their lives. They are expected to be ready for duty 24/7. They are expected to meet their mission’s objectives no matter what.

The objectives are more important that whether or not a soldier is feeling well, more important that if he really likes everyone he works with, more important than if he works with someone who makes his life difficult. He is expected to be professional and get the job done. This set of expectations is one of the most important qualities of our military and its success.

I work in the Defense/Aerospace industry, my office has 9 men and 3 women, which is a better ratio than I should expect. If we hired a new engineer who made sexist comments or refused to cooperate with the ladies, my boss wouldn’t hold the women responsible. He wouldn’t say, “this the the industry we work in, get used to it.” He wouldn’t make special arrangements so that the new employee wouldn’t have to work with us. He wouldn’t tell us to not to show our knees or our elbows or our necks, because the very sight of lady skin makes the new employee uncomfortable.

But this is exactly what DADT did.

Very few professional environments tolerate sexism, racism, or homophobia the way the military does. But the bottom line is that if a soldier’s prejudices are so strong that it keeps him from doing his job, he is not meeting the military’s professionalism standards. At least, that should be the bottom line. DADT validated the excuse that something was getting in the way of the goal.

Being gay doesn’t affect a soldier’s ability to do their job. If being prejudiced does, than homophobia is putting our soldiers in unnecessary and unacceptable danger.

I understand there was a significant argument about providing appropriate military housing for gays and lesbians. Given the military’s entirely inadequate responses to sexual assault, it is an issue. But that problem is that sexism and sexual assault are tolerated. In fact, women who serve in our military are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow serviceman that killed in action.

A more appropriate question for our candidates is this: “Rape and sexual assault on women in uniform continues to go unaddressed by military policy. Should men who openly pursue heterosexual behavior be allowed to serve?”

*I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me that I agree with Santorum on this one – very specific – little thing. I’m not even agreeing with the entire sentence, just the last part. The rest of what he said is just plain wrong.

**Except when it comes to sexism and sexual assault, see herehere, and here for recent coverage.

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