Report: Repeal of DADT has caused few problems

Print Date: 
September 19, 2012
Army Times
Andrew Tilghman

One year after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military has reported no substantial problems as a result of allowing gays to serve openly in uniform, according to a new report.

Despite dire predictions from the Pentagon’s top brass just a few years ago, researchers found the repeal, which took effect in September 2011, has gone smoothly and has not affected military readiness.

“I was somewhat amazed about just how much of a nonissue it was. There was virtually no talk about it whatsoever,” David Levy, an Air Force Academy professor, told the researchers.

The independent report, “One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness,” was released Sept. 10 by a group of scholars that included faculty from all three service academies and several civilian experts.

The military officials involved in the report participated as individuals and their conclusions were not formally endorsed by the Pentagon. Yet their findings are similar to public assessments from military leaders who say the repeal has gone well.

No known incidents of violence or assaults have been linked to repeal, according to Pentagon officials and gay-rights advocates, and recruiting and retention remain strong. The vast majority of troops report no impact on their units’ cohesion.

The study found some evidence that the repeal negatively affected morale in some units, pointing to a recent Military Times reader poll in which 4.5 percent of troops said their unit was harmed when a fellow service member came out as gay. But overall, the poll found troops reporting the same level of unit readiness in 2012 as in previous years.

The study also cited its own interviews with dozens of current troops, both heterosexuals and gays, who cited some positive effects of the repeal, such as promoting a greater level of trust among service members.

Some officers said their troops who are gay have grown more comfortable discussing personal matters without fear of punishment, which in turn improves the ability of leaders to support and assist them, according to the report.

For example, one Air Force noncommissioned officer recalled an airman in his command who was depressed about his gay partner’s grave illness shortly before a deployment. The repeal of DADT “opened up more possibilities for [troops] to talk about their lives when doing so was necessary for resolving personal issues so they could focus on their mission,” the NCO told the researchers.

In interviews with gay troops, researchers heard about some isolated incidents of harassment.

“In April 2012, a female officer was dancing with her girlfriend, another officer, at a military ball, when a squadron commander told the women to stop,” according to the report.

The situation escalated and a command sergeant major “swore at the women, called them an ‘abomination,’ and shoved one across the floor,” the report said.

Advocates for gay service members continue to pressure the Pentagon to extend full military benefits to same-sex spouses, now prohibited to some degree under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal agencies from recognizing same-sex unions. The Defense Department says it continues to review the extension of benefits to gay troops and plans to do so as law allows.

The mostly seamless transition is in stark contrast to warnings several years ago from top military officials, including a declaration in 2009 signed by 1,167 retired general and flag officers that predicted repeal would “impact leadership at all levels … and eventually break” the all-volunteer force.

Study researchers attempted to contact the 1,167 retired officers who signed the 2009 statement and were able to find current contact information for 553.

They sent those retired officers a letter urging them to take part in the study, but researchers received responses from only 13.

Several of those retired officers agreed that the transition has created few problems, the report said.