Op-Ed: Marines Can Handle DADT Repeal

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Tammy Schultz, director of national security and joint warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College, argues that resistance to ending "don't ask, don't tell" is embedded in Marine culture. But she says Corps culture also makes Marines more likely to accept any eventual change in the policy.

NEAL CONAN, host:

And now, the Opinion Page. Early results from a Pentagon study on gays in the military shows that most members of the armed forces support an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. More than 70 percent said the effect of the change would be positive, mixed or non-existent. The largest source of opposition comes from the Marine Corps, where 40 percent expressed concerns about lifting the ban.

Tammy Schultz has studied, taught and interviewed Marines for 15 years. She's director of National Security and Joint Warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College, and she's openly gay. In a piece for The Washington Post, she argued that the leadership of the corps needs to accept that change is coming.

We want to hear from Marines today. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website and find a link to the op-ed piece. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Tammy Schultz joins us now by phone from her home in Washington. Nice to have you with us today.

Dr. TAMMY SCHULTZ (Director, National Security and Joint Warfare, U.S. Marine Corps War College): Nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And why do you think the Marines are different from sailors, soldiers and airmen?

Dr. SCHULTZ: Well, I think there is a definite warrior ethos that is in the Marine Corps. That's obviously in all the services. But I think to a particular extent in the Marine Corps itself part of that is, frankly, because every Marine is a rifleman. And so a lot of Marines that I spoke with basically said the fact that all of them are ground-pounders, you know, in other words, they're able to join the fight at any time, it does give them a more conservative ethos than potentially some of the other military occupational specialties. They, you know, are the first in combat, and a lot of times, the combat arms are more conservative - excuse me - on many issues.

CONAN: And just to clarify, if you're a public affairs officer or a pilot, you still have to qualify as a rifleman every year if you're in the Marines.

Dr. SCHULTZ: Well, it's actually interesting that the qualification program is - as I've heard online from a lot of the chatter from this - is supposedly more rigorous in the Army. However, the ethos is that every single Marine is basically able to grab a rifle and join the fight be it public affairs or, you know, be it in other combat support or combat service support roles.

CONAN: Yet that 40 percent issue - that 40 percent, those are the - that's the percentage who expressed concerns, even a majority of Marines said this would be okay.

Dr. SCHULTZ: You know, that's exactly right, Neal. And honestly, that's one of the things that I have found surprising was the level of support across all armed services and also the Marine Corps because obviously, you know, if you do the math, that means 60 percent of the Marines say it won't be an issue. And I think that is very positive. Those numbers are much higher than if you look at history, for instance, for desegregation.

And as I've said in other writings, I don't think desegregation and allowing gays to serve openly are analogous. You know, I can hide my sexual orientation. An African-American certainly can't hide who they are. So I would, you know, offer no analogy in that way, but the arguments used are very similar. And I think the opposition is very similar as well. And we're seeing much more support for reversing Don't Ask, Don't Tell than we ever saw for desegregation when Truman affected those policies.

CONAN: There is also an element of honor in it. You say there's a fundamental discrepancy with Marines who are gays and lesbians that they have to lie and that violates their creed to the corps?

Dr. SCHULTZ: Absolutely. There's three core values in the Marine Corps. That's honor, courage and commitment. And it, basically - I mean, I am open now. I wasn't always open. And one would - it would be - if you're not gay, it's hard to imagine the mental judo you have to go through to basically keep yourself in the closet. But even from, you know, anybody asking, you know, what are you doing this weekend, can present, you know, basically, an opportunity for you not to tell the truth. And that goes against, you know, the honor and the integrity that's so important to a Marine. So those core values are so integral to who the Marines are. I think it actually will help when Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed - and I'm assuming it will be - that all Marines - gay, straight et cetera - will be able to better keep that core value.

CONAN: What happened when you came out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SCHULTZ: Well, I came out several years ago, about 10 or 15 years ago. I was a daughter of evangelical Christians and that was really hard. But it's an it's amazing what grandkids can do for a relationship, Neal. So, my parents are actually out here now, and we still have a strong relationship. But I have to say, the grandkids help.

But in terms of me being out with the military, I've been on Carlisle Base, which is, of course, Army, and then Quantico, now with the Marine Corps. I wouldn't say I go, you know, prancing around by any stretch saying that I'm gay. It just doesn't come up. But neither do I have to lie about who I am. And when it has come up, frankly, I've met to you know, nothing but support that recognizes that that diversity is a good thing for the teaching faculty or, you know, for any other position that I've held. So I have to say that, by and large, I've been I've received just overwhelming support for which I'm very grateful.

CONAN: Again, Tammy Schultz is director of National Security and Joint Warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College. We'd like to hear from Marines today. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Bob(ph) is calling from Cleveland.

BOB (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Bob. Go ahead.

BOB: Yeah. Yeah. I was a Marine as Vietnam was ending. And, you know, I was an infantryman. And people used to ask me, you know, after the Beirut the Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up in '81, how could they have a sentry on post without any bullets in his rifle? And I used to tell them that, well, because one out of three guys, you know, in the infantry were probably, you know, using drugs or retarded or, you know, were just, you know, too incompetent, you couldn't trust them with a loaded weapon.

So my opinion about gays in the military has always been, if somebody wants to be in the Marine Corps and if somebody is competent, I would rather have them next to me than somebody who's only there because a judge told him it was either the Marine Corps or jail or because, you know, for some other reason that they didn't want to really be Marines. And so I am for, you know, I'm for anybody who wants to be who is competent and wants to be in Marine Corps. And if a gay, it means absolutely nothing because I used to serve with people who had all kinds of criminal records that I found a lot more repulsive than somebody who is gay.

CONAN: Bob, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

Dr. SCHULTZ: That's a great point that Bob raises. And we did have a hollow force in the at the end of the 1970s especially, and that - he also echoes what Barry Goldwater, the former senator said. You don't have to be straight. You just have to shoot straight.

CONAN: Let's go to Donald(ph), Donald with us from Quantico in Virginia.

DONALD (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

DONALD: I'm a Marine Corps brigadier general. I joined the Marine Corps when I graduated from Annapolis in (technical difficulty). And my feeling about the subject is that if you have the ability to complete Marine boot camp, I don't care what your sexual orientation is.

CONAN: It's interesting. The leadership in the Marines and these are cited in Tammy Schultz's piece in the Washington Post. She quotes General Peter Pace, the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying, homosexual acts between individuals are immoral. We should not condone immoral acts. The Marine commandant then, General James Conway, told reporters in August, an overwhelming majority of Marines would like not to be roomed with a person that is openly homosexual. And more recently, the current commandant, General James Amos, while expressing support for the survey, echoed Conway's comments, eliciting a mild rebuke from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

So what's the situation with your superiors? You're a brigadier general.

DONALD: Well, I'm sure there's still a lot of thinking with old-line officers like that. However, I've been through a lot of wars, and I have fought in the trenches with Marines knowing that some of them were gay when it was an absolute grievous sin to be gay in the Marine Corps. They fought as well as any Marine, and that's basically my only consideration. We have a job to do. Marines are warriors. And if you can do the job, that's all that counts.

CONAN: Part of Tammy Schultz's piece was the leadership of the Marine Corps has a job to do, too, to get understand this change is coming and get behind it.

DONALD: Absolutely.

Dr. SCHULTZ: Thank you for your service, General. You raise outstanding points, and I've heard that from a lot of other Marines. So I appreciate your service.

DONALD: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Donald, thanks very much for the call. And that's a point of leadership that you talk about, Tammy Schultz, that may be, despite that call from a brigadier general, difficult to overcome.

Dr. SCHULTZ: You know, I think it one of the things that makes the Marine Corps just so amazing is their that it's the most professional force in the world - all of our armed services are. And one of the things that I just can't wrap my head logically around are those who simultaneously argue that this will destroy our services, yet also claim that we have the most professional force in the world.

We have 26 other countries in the world who have successfully implemented, allowing gays to serve openly without any of the dire predictions that the opponents claim. And I have the utmost confidence that should the legislature and the executive branch decide to change the law, the Marine Corps will, frankly, be the first ones onboard implementing.

CONAN: Let's go next to Paul(ph), Paul with us from Grand Rapids.

PAUL (Caller): Hi. I'm a former Marine and I work in law enforcement. Much like the previous two callers, as long as you are competent, qualified and you maintain the standards of the Marine Corps and/or your profession, I don't think your sexual orientation should come into play. My only concern with anybody, straight or gay, is that you keep your sexuality outside of the workplace. I don't want to see a straight couple having sex anymore than I want to see a gay couple having sex at work. Just do your job.

CONAN: And you don't anticipate, Paul, that this would cause any tension in the barracks?

PAUL: You know, I served with a few gentlemen who I think were gay while I was in the Marine Corps. It never was a question that we, you know, had to ask anybody or anything like that, I don't think. I'm sure that there are a couple of individuals - just like any profession, you'll have that 10 percent who can't maintain the professional standards of their profession. And other than that, I don't think it will make that big of a difference.

CONAN: I just want to make sure you're not saying that gays were more likely to be in that 10 percent of incompetence than anybody else.

PAUL: Oh, no, no. I don't think that makes a difference. What color you are, what sexual orientation you are, you're either going to be a good Marine or you're going to be a bad Marine, you know? Just like any other profession, your orientation doesn't play into that. It has nothing to do with your level of professionalism.

CONAN: Paul (technical difficulty).

Dr. SCHULTZ: Paul is absolutely right. The military already has a code of conduct regarding sexuality for heterosexuals, and what I argue is simply that that should also apply to homosexuals. So there's, you know, that basically you shouldn't, you know, have a - if you're an officer, no relations with the enlisted force, no dating within the chain of command. All that stuff should apply to homosexuals just as it does heterosexuals.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call. We're talking on the Opinion Page this week with Tammy Schultz, director of National Security and Joint Warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College. There's a link to her piece, "Why the Marines are the Military's Biggest Backers of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'," in The Washington Post at our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Peter(ph), and Peter with us from Boston, a different Peter.

PETER (Caller): Yes, sort of. Thanks, Neal. I'm a veteran - combat veteran First Marines of Vietnam '68-'69. I was a rifleman, platoon sergeant and a squad leader. And I agree that I've been out a long time and there probably were gays that we served with and did a great job. The problem I have is they cite, for example, the Marine Corps, the commandant came out about the Marines are against it. And they cite now this new thing, I haven't read the data, but that 60 percent of the Marines are not - they have no problem, but 40 percent do. I suggest the 40 percent are most likely the grunts. They're the ones who fight.

What a lot of a civilians and people who aren't in the military don't realize, for every one guy who is in the infantry, direct, you know, combat infantry artillery, you've got four, five in the rear - we used to say in the rear with the gear - those are the guys where unit cohesion is so important, your fire team, your squad, your platoon.

And that's where people who - and for example, they cite the Navy, well, the Navy's casualties - the Navy personnel were dying (unintelligible). Why? Because they're with Marines. Very few Navy or Air Force personnel, they're not fighting, it's Marines and Army, particularly the combat arm guys. And I guess my biggest thing is why don't we listen.

If, for example, it's 40 percent of Marine - if it's the majority of the guys who were doing the fighting and dying, how can you de-minimize and say, you don't have to listen to it. It's a no - we'll put this - we'll take it to another level. I mean, I just think it's an unfairness, the ones who were actually put boots on the ground - and those are the 0300s, the infantry and the recon guy - how can you say your opinion doesn't count?

You listen to hey, 98 percent of the Navy and the Air Force could be for it, but they're not fighting and dying. They're out there in support - and again, I'm not de-minimizing their service, but it's the grunts in the Marines, in the Army, those are those guys. And what I'd like to see is whether those statistics - if the majority of those guys come out and say, hey, they have no problem with it, you'll get the old guys like me to shut up and say, okay. But the problem is civilians have no idea what unit cohesion is.

CONAN: Tammy Schultz, is...

PETER: It's just the fact, you know, the statistics and the (unintelligible).

CONAN: Well, let's find out about that. Have the statistics been broken down that finely, at least as far as you've seen?

Dr. SCHULTZ: I have not seen those breaking down statistics. I think, Peter, you raise a good point, but I would caution that until we see what that full study says - and the Pentagon has been very clear that they're trying to hold on to those until all the analysis is done. So by around December 1st, they hope to issue that report. I think you are right that we should listen to everyone. But I also would just sort of try to put this in, again, historical perspective, where when desegregation occurred, 63 percent of forces opposed desegregation. Only 37 percent were actually okay with it.

And I think we have a better force today because we did sort of - I think we allay the concerns of the 40 percent and show them that, you know what, the sky is actually not going to fall. And unit cohesion, if you want to measure unit cohesion, you measure unit cohesion. You don't measure attitudes. And every single study that has come out, be it of the U.S. military or be it of foreign militaries, shows that there's absolutely no impact on unit cohesion if gays are allowed to serve openly.

PETER: Well, I follow the DOD. I've never seen anything broken down from Marine rifle companies' battalions, the regiments that doing the fighting. I've seen a lot with the generic here's the U.S. military, the Navy the Air Force are cited. And I see a lot with citing foreign forces. With all due respect, the foreign forces, they are not fighting combat like we have in the last 25 years. Nobody fights - has been in wars like we have, no - not even the British is in comparison to what we have. So what I'm...

Dr. SCHULTZ: I totally agree with you, Peter. And thank you for your service.

PETER: ...(unintelligible) you need to at least give the - if that comes out -I'm just saying hypothetically - if it comes out, the majority of the infantry types, grunts in the Marine Corps or the Army are saying they don't want to do it, I just think how in good conscience for people who aren't there and the kids not in a - in a combat outfit, say, hey, too bad, we know better for you, here's what we're going to do. Last point...

CONAN: Very quickly, Peter, we're running out of time.

PETER: As for the blacks, they were warriors. That was that was the color of the skin. But nobody doubted that these guys weren't warriors. That didn't affect - it affected some interracial, but the blacks were warriors. And so there's a big difference of sharing a squad or a foxhole with somebody who you have no problem with. You may have a racial thing, but you could, you know, you didn't have that problem with...

CONAN: Peter, thanks very much for the call. Tammy, we'll give you 15 seconds, the last 15 seconds.

Dr. SCHULTZ: Well, I think - I mean, I think all the callers raise interesting points. And I think that when the study does come out, it's going to be incredibly revealing. I think that both sides, frankly, Neal, are going to use it to try to forward some pretty extreme agendas on both sides. And my hope is that we can just have a very rational, reasoned debate forward as we've had on this show and on The Washington Post online. I think the Marine Corps can lead the way on this one.

CONAN: Tammy Schultz, director of National Security and Joint Warfare at the U.S. Marine Corps War College. And again, she spoke for herself and not for the college. Thanks very much for your time. This is NPR News.

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