Our Soldiers Are Ready for Gays in the Military
Paul Rieckhoff is the Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-partisan non-profit group with over 100,000 members around the world. Since founding IAVA in 2004, it has become America’s first and largest Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans organization. Rieckhoff is now a nationally recognized authority on the war in Iraq and issues affecting troops, military families and veterans.
After graduating from Amherst College in 1998 with a degree in Political Science, Rieckhoff coached high school football, worked on Wall Street, participated in the rescue efforts at Ground Zero on 9/11, and served as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq from 2003-2004. In the spring of 2004, Rieckhoff became one of the first Iraq veterans to publicly criticize the war, call for better care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and demand accountability from elected officials. In 2006 Rieckhoff also published Chasing Ghosts, a critically acclaimed account of his experiences in Iraq and activism on behalf of veterans.
Question: Will repealing "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" be disruptive to straight soldiers?
Paul Rieckhoff: It’s not a valid fear. Military personal will execute the orders put down by the commanders. If they are told to serve with gay people, they will serve with gay people. There will be very little debate. They will execute the orders that are put down by their Commander in Chief. That is part of a professional military. That is our obligation as professional soldiers: to execute the orders put down to us. So I think that any kind of idea there there will be a mutiny or some kind of resistance in the military if we overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is ridiculous, and it’s not really founded in any kind of historical fact.
When women were integrated into the military, the military made it work. When African-Americans were integrated into the military, they made it work. Now, of course there were problems and there were issues, and there is kind of a learning curve that needs to happen, but our military is highly professional and will execute on the orders put down to them. So on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I think that there’s a real generational divide here. People of our generation are not afraid of gay people. These ideas that you need to worry about what’s gonna happen in the shower, or if you’re in a foxhole I think are really ridiculous.
If you come from a younger generation, if you’ve operated in the modern military, you’ve been around gay people, you’ve grown up around gay people, gay people have been a part of our media and a part of our consciousness really from our childhood, so it’s not this boogieman like it is to some of the older generations. And I think from a legislative standpoint, it’s important to recognize that this is happening. This is gonna happen.
I will put all the money in my pocket right now on the fact that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed. On what timeline, we don’t know. Right now, it’s contained in the National Defense Authorization Act, the NDAA, which is kind of the big defense budget component that congress hasn’t passed yet. They probably won’t pass it before the summer recess. They may pass it before the election campaigns start. But that’s where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gonna be coming out of, and it will be interesting to see what the polling says coming out of the military. But at the end of the day, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is going to be overturned, and the people in the military are going to execute and are going to continue to uphold the level of professionalism that has really set us apart from most other folks in the world.
Question: Did you serve with any men that you knew were gay?
Paul Rieckhoff: I did. Not in my unit, but I did know people who served that were gay. There's kind of a... people who are in the know know that the Pentagon is a place where there are a lot of gay service members, probably one of the highest concentrations of anywhere in the military. So that's been an interesting part of the behind-the-scenes dialogue that goes on. There are folks like Admiral Mullen who have been very outspoken in saying that gay people have been critical in their survivability.
And I think it was a very important moment when Admiral Mullen stepped out front and said his personal feelings on “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” and he felt it should be overturned, and Secretary Gates backed that up. People like Colin Powell have evolved in their position, and it's important to note that Congressman Patrick Murphy is the first Iraq vet elected to Congress, and he is leading the charge to overturn “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”
So I think it's gonna be an interesting fight, but for those of us who are tracking on this inside the Pentagon, who follow defense policy, there's not much of a fight. This is gonna happen, and now it's a question of, “How do we properly implement it? How do we educate and prepare the community?" And that's what we're doing at IAVA right now is educating our members about the debate, assessing where they are, and giving them a voice in the dialogue because that's an important point to note.
Our organization has not been invited by the White House or anyone else in Washington, with the exception of the Pentagon, to come in and talk about this. Unfortunately, there has been a component of the debate that's been left only to the activists in gay rights groups, and they have an important role to play, no doubt. But the military and veterans community has really not been included in this dialogue to the extent that they should be, so I hope that changes throughout this summer. I want to go to the White House and talk to the President about this. Other groups want to do that as well, and it's important to know that it's not just about whether or not we pass it, but it's once we make that change, how do we ensure that people who are serving in the military who are gay are protected? How do we ensure that their rights are protected? How do work through the nuances of property issues, and life insurance, and all that other stuff that's gonna be a part of figuring out how to actually implement a change. We want to be a part of that discussion, and we can be a valuable asset to whoever is driving that discussion, but so far, unfortunately, it hasn't happened.
Recorded August 2, 2010
Interviewed By Max Miller
The idea that there will be some sort of mutiny or resistance when "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is repealed is "ridiculous."
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