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Could Gays in Military Cause Casualties?

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Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, suggested in an interview yesterday that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military could not only harm unit cohesion, but could actually increase casualties. Here are the opening paragraphs of the Washington Post report on the subject:

Marine general suggests repeal of ‘don’t ask’ could result in casualties

The Marine Corps’ top general suggested Tuesday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because their presence on the battlefield would pose “a distraction.”

“When your life hangs on the line,” said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, “you don’t want anything distracting. . . . Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives.”

In an interview with newspaper and wire service reporters at the Pentagon, Amos was vague when pressed to clarify how the presence of gays would distract Marines during a firefight. But he cited a recent Defense Department survey in which a large percentage of Marine combat veterans predicted that repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would harm “unit cohesion” and their tight-knit training for war.

“So the Marines came back and they said, ‘Look, anything that’s going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I’ll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] Hospital . . . Marines are up there with no legs, none. We’ve got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs.”

Amos had said previously that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could cause “distractions” and “risks” for combat units. But his remarks Tuesday were the first time that he or any other senior military leader has suggested that repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law could directly endanger troops and cost lives.

Advocates for repeal of the current law against homosexuality in the military are scoffing at Gen. Amos’ remarks, insisting there is no conceivable scenario under which the presence of homosexual troops could lead to casualties.

However, retired Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan gave a specific example of how this could happen in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last March—an example drawn from his own personal experience in combat in Vietnam. Here is his description of the incident, from the transcript of the March 18 hearing (bottom of p. 16 to p. 17 in the link):

General SHEEHAN. Senator, in my experience, homosexual marines create problems on the battlefield. Let me give you a case and point.

Early years of Vietnam, 9th Marines, West of Da Nang, rifle company on a ridgeline combat outpost, the intelligence was that the North Vietnamese were going to attack, that night. The unit was put on 50-percent alert, which meant one slept, one stood on watch. About 1 o’clock in the morning, a fight broke out in a foxhole because the young marine was being molested by his squad leader. To the right of that foxhole, there was a machinegun section that opened up and almost killed a combat patrol that was out in the front.

Now, the natural question is, ‘‘Okay. Well, fine, don’t you have rules that deal with assault?’’ and the answer to that’s yes.

The real issue, though, was that, after we sorted this whole thing out, the sergeant—the squad leader essentially said, ‘‘Look, I was just adjusting his equipment, waking him up because the—I thought there was something out to the front.’’ He denied it happened. The young PFC, who was new to the organization, said, ‘‘Wait a minute. This really happened to me. He was molesting me.’’ The unit took sides, naturally. The squad leader was a popular person, been around for a while. The PFC was a new kid. For about 3 days, that unit divided down the middle—those that supported the popular squad leader, those that kind of thought the new kid might be believable.

The only reason we sorted the issue out was because the sergeant committed the offense about 3 days later. But, the real tragedy of this story is, the young PFC continually insisted, for a long period of time, that nobody in his organization believed it happened. He lost faith in his chain of command.

So, I would argue the case that, if you look at—and you can say that I’m some old guy that’s been around for a while, and been—probably been around for too long. But, I read——

Senator MCCAIN. You’re not the only one that——

General SHEEHAN. Well—but, I read the Defense Department’s recently released sexual assault report. And the thing that really bothers me about this issue is that the report says—and this is last year’s report—there’s been an overall 11-percent rise in sexual assaults in the military; 16-percent rise in Afghanistan and Iraq; 32—over 3200 cases of sexual—we’re not talking about sexual harassment, we’re talking about sexual assault. Seven percent of those— that’s about 226—male on male assaults, where rape and sodomy took place. And the Department of Defense will clearly indicate that that’s an underreporting.

I would stipulate that, from my days in Vietnam in the early ’60s, when I had this sergeant that almost got a combat patrol killed, that a—226 male soldiers and marines who are molested—that there’s something wrong with our sexual behavior policy.


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