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The majority of Americans, somewhere between 65% and 79%, support allowing gays to openly serve in the military. The minority, albeit a strong one, see gays in the military as a threat to national security, arguing that new recruits won’t serve with service members who openly display their homosexuality. While possibly true 30 years ago, this belief does not hold water today. According to a recent poll, 76% of potential military recruits said that lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban would have “no effect” on their decision to enlist. Ironically, those who see gays openly serving in the military as a threat to military readiness appear to gloss over the impact of don’t ask, don’t tell. From 1994 (since implementation of the policy) to 2004, the military has discharged (“fired”) more than 10,000 service members under don’t ask, don’t tell. A February 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that the overall cost to recruit and train replacements was $190 million. A blue ribbon commission that included former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry says the figures are closer to $363 million. More importantly, many of those discharged worked in hard-to-fill areas. For example, between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi linguists. Also, since implementation of the ban, the military has discharged more than 244 health care providers, including doctors. Many, if not all, of those discharged had received substantial training and education at government expense. These personnel losses, which impede the military’s ability to perform its mission, could not have come at a worse time, especially for the Army. To combat personnel losses and recruitment woes, the Army has taken several drastic steps: raising initial enlistment age from 35 to 42; softening rules on marijuana use; removing a ban on childhood asthmatics; accepting a high number of Category IV applicants (those who score the lowest in Army aptitude tests) and nonhigh school graduates; lowering fitness standards; and offering bonuses up to $40,000 for hard-to-fill jobs like Farsi and Arabic linguists and those in the medical field. Apparently, supporters of the military’s ban on homosexuals openly serving have not connected the dots. Don’t ask, don’t tell hurts military readiness and makes the country less, not more, secure. Rather than lower standards to meet recruitment goals, the ban should be overturned. Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), however, is not the answer, as made evidently clear by the recent 8-0 Supreme Court vote. (Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not hear oral arguments, so he did not participate in the opinion.) Surprisingly, FAIR (a coalition of law schools and law faculties) was unable to persuade even one justice, despite succeeding at the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law schools were attempting to restrict the access afforded military recruiters on law school campuses. The law schools argued that requiring them to choose between hosting military recruiters on campus and losing federal funding forced them to endorse the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy, thus violating their First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Interestingly, the Supreme Court noted that this case was more about freedom of association than freedom of speech. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., “It affects what law schools must do-afford equal access to military recruiters-not what they may or may not say.” The Supreme Court pointed out that law schools don’t have to accept federal funds and remain free to disavow the military’s policy, to denounce it or even to help students organize protests against the policy. The Supreme Court determined that the law as currently written allows both students and faculty to associate freely and voice their disapproval of the military’s message. According to the Supreme Court, current law only requires law schools to treat the military like any other employer. Recruit the best and brightest As a matter of public policy, the arguments made by the law professors also failed. This lawsuit appears to have been generated by those who were bothered by military recruiters on campus, which often are law professors and not students. Many students, unlike faculty and school administration, are OK with the military on campus. For example, a 2003 poll at Columbia University showed that a majority of the students favored the return of ROTC on campus; however, the faculty senate and school president voted against the return. Rather than consult with students, the ones most likely to be affected, the law professors took it upon themselves to decide which recruiters should have access to students. When did law professors acquire the power to decide student employment choices? In the end, the law professors were acting no better than the supporters of the military’s ban on homosexuals. Regardless of the reasons, both want to keep the best and brightest out of the military. Don’t ask, don’t tell is unnecessary and unwanted. Continuation of this policy hurts military readiness. Now is the time for Congress and the executive branch to remove the ban and put our country’s national security before archaic stereotypes. Thaddeus Hoffmeister is legislative director for a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has served in the U.S. Army for 18 years and is currently a Judge Advocates General captain in the U.S. Army Reserves.

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