by Steven M. Samuels & Col. Gary A. Packard
AF Times, 6 Feb 2012, p. 24
Despite strong opposition that integration would harm military effectiveness, President Truman mandated the end of military segregation in 1948. When skeptical soldiers in Korea were forced to fight in integrated units, they discovered that with the bullets flying, what mattered was one’s ability to shoot straight; not one’s race.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was based on an argument similar to segregation: gay men and lesbians would reduce cohesion and effectiveness in military units. This decision was made primarily on personal convictions rather than evidence that showed actual negative impact. In 2010, the Defense Department rigorously studied the impact of repeal, concluding that, “the U.S. military can make this change, even in this time of war.”
Col Gary Packard
USAFA Behavioral Sciences Department Head
We all come into organizations with our own preconceptions born of our own provincialisms. Through interaction with diverse people, we break down our prejudices as we learn more about our teammates and become stronger as a unit. The data from the 2010 DoD study indicated that service members who believed there were no gay men or lesbians in their units were the most likely to view repeal negatively.
History and social science research inform us that as we get to know lesbian and gay service members, stereotypes will fade, even for those with honest personal disagreements about homosexuality. Thus, while the negative impact of DADT on gay men and lesbians was glaringly apparent, the impact on straight people was real but less obvious. For many straight people, the ability to truly get to know the gay men and lesbians in their units was stifled by the secrecy mandated by DADT.
Our Oath of Office demands that we support our nation’s laws; thus, under repeal, toleration is the minimum behavioral expectation of every service member.
Dr. Steve Samuels
USAFA Behavioral Sciences Faculty
However, military strength is not built on toleration. Strength requires acceptance and, ultimately, respect and inclusiveness for all who volunteer to serve. We must value our colleagues for who they are and not who we want them to be. In a healthy unit, a gay, agnostic man respects the dignity of the straight, evangelical woman, and she does the same. Through respect we discover, like soldiers in Korea, that with the bullets flying, what matters is training and ability, not the gender of one’s partner waiting at home.
Re-examining our relationships is difficult because we all fear that change will come at the cost of our own identity and personal beliefs. This fear is normal, and it occurred with both racial and gender integration. However, in both cases, we became stronger as a military despite early anxieties.
We believe repeal has challenged us to take a risk and honestly confront our fear of change.
Those who have genuinely entered this journey will walk toward a truer integrity and a more honest ability to value our peers and serve our nation. We are better servants to the nation as a result of our personal struggles with diversity, and we look forward to others joining us on the journey.
Steven M. Samuels, Ph.D. and Col. Gary A. Packard, Jr., Ph.D. are professors in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Col. Packard is Permanent Professor and Head of the Department and served as a writer on the Department of Defense’s Report of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Dr. Samuels has served on the Academy’s faculty since 1993 and is published in the areas of diversity and privilege. He served as an advisor and subject matter expert on the DoD study.
The views expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the policy of the United States Air Force Academy or any other government agency.