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Bill Farrell
A vets View

When Military Intelligence
Isn't an Oxymoron

When I first offered to tell my story, I didn't realize the difficulty of putting my military experience to post.  It isn't that I went through trauma or embarrassment.  It wasn't that my career was suddenly snatched out from under me.  It was the quality of being completely ordinary that seemed to stand in the way of a good story.

Then it occurred to me, that this is exactly the point.  GLBT people do and have served in the military since the concept of a military.  When we offer our service, we do it in the same patriotic spirit as anyone else.  All too often we do our particular jobs better than our cohorts -- because we fear we must.

It is irritating to me that so many GLBT people have given their time, energy and patriotic love to this country, yet we are not accorded most of the benefits of citizenship. It irritates me even further that there are so many in the current regime who refuse to serve the country in any way, shape or form, yet reserve unearned rights and privileges to themselves.

The rest of us try to lead by example.

I volunteered for the Army in 1975; just young enough to miss Viet Nam but old enough to be mentored in my profession by those who had been there and in Korea.  At that time, the Army was making weary transition to peacetime mode, yet the Cold War was still going on.  There was still a need for people who could pick up languages easily.  There were still enough of an older generation who taught us the things you could never learn either in Basic or in school, like how life really worked in the military and how not to get dead needlessly.

When I left high school, I was comfortably fluent in Spanish and French by grace of two fine teachers; one, a native speaker; the other went to university in France.  After that amount of self-application, I was most certainly not going to spend my life in a mill town.  Going into debt for college was certainly not an option, either.

After a chat with several of the recruiters in town, the most attractive choice was offered by the Army recruiter who suggested the Army Security Agency. We went through the extensive list of do-you-now-or-have-you-evers including any homosexual behavior.

Uh. Um.

Truthfully, I answered, "no" -- being gay or being suspected of being "like that" in a tiny mountain community was begging for an "unfortunate accident".  Doing gay things was almost certain death. It's easiest to avoid trouble by trying not to get into it to start with. Swallowing my innermost self deep down inside, I went forward through life, accepting my lot as one of poverty, chastity and obedience, to purloin a phrase.  I really felt that offering my service to the Constitution and my fellow citizens was not only the duty of every citizen, but a rite of passage into adulthood as well.  That's how I was raised -- one should give back to one's country and I still feel that way.

I took the same oath of induction as every other recruit and, because I promised upon G'd's help, meant every word of it. I'm indisposed to "swearing", but if I ask G'd's help to keep a promise, I should keep my end of the bargain.  It means much to me.

As I recall, we promise our defense of the Constitution before all else.  Most especially, I think, because it is America's contract with her people, the contract beyond all others and from which all others extend.  The dignity we gave it in signing our military contracts, we have a right to expect to be returned in kind.  If I interpret the Bill of Rights correctly, we are guaranteed that much.  Off to the Army I went, expecting that my government would keep its end of the deal as seriously.

After my initial schooling, I was assigned to my first company in Colorado.  Until then, that's as far as I had been from North Carolina.  It wasn't long before this naive country boy figured out (ever so slowly) that there were quite a few gay people in the military.  Most were motivated by the same sense of duty and the same pride in performance as I was.  Some, also like me, needed a way to college.  All of us were soldiers in every meaningful sense of the word.  We were proud to be craftsmen, straight, gay or indifferent.

That went doubly when I was assigned to duty in Germany.  I must say I have never worked with a finer group of technicians and analysts but once since then. Many of them were gay.  Pretty much didn't care who knew because that wasn't what they were at work.  Everyone, every single one, was OD green at work.  We had to be close and reasonably close friends.  In MI, we were already "somehow different" from the rest of the Army, at that time with a separate chain of command from everyone else.  Not telling anything meant not. Telling. Anything.  That attitude seemed quite natural to a hillbilly like myself.

Given the cost of our training, what we were expected to do with it, and (most importantly) the stewardship of our national responsibilities, the senior officers were loathe to put someone out of the military.  The Army had a right to expect their money's worth, one way or another.  The biggest threat over anyone's head was, "you'll lose your clearance and before you can say 'amen' you'll be in an infantry unit".  From there, it was either "adapt" or be removed from service with a  discharge under unpleasant conditions.  That went for everyone in our units.  At that time, the front-line units weren't particularly gay-friendly path to being drummed out, which is essentially what reassignment was.

When a mind is lost to from the intelligence community, no matter how low a position, it's a double shame when the only reason is that the person was discovered (or coerced into admitting) that are GLBT.  Qualified or qualifiable analysts are always in short supply.  Military bias against GLBT people wastes a resource that doesn't just grow up out of the ground.

I started out life poor, hence the thought of wasting money makes my teeth itch. The thought of wasting anything is not even considered in this household. Even now, while I make what would otherwise be good money, I'm taking care of my partner of 10 years (he has been poz for 23), it's extremely difficult to make ends meet. Besides not being welcome to serve our country, we don't get the tax breaks a hetero married couple get.  Wasting money just isn't something either we or our government can afford to do.  Wasting clearly irreplaceable resources like willing human beings is unconscionable and wholly preventable.

To add some more of my perspective, my partner was was tossed out of the Navy long ago for being gay -- excellent work record notwithstanding. That's bigoted AND wasteful, a double shame.  There's another fine mind that came to serve gladly and willingly.

Though we served before DADT, we feel that we probably had it a bit better, not having to deal with witch-hunts and too much sudden public recognition.  We live in a college and "gayborhood", so it's not like our neighbors don't know and obviously don't care.  We're amazed that they're amazed that things would be any other way.  But my partner and I remember a time when there were many reasons to be quiet and unremarkable as possible.  We both grew up in the Appalachians and understand the consequences of being too different.

When resources are rare enough and the military is under duress saying "Your patriotism is no good here" is the same as saying, "You're money's no good here."  Except we keep paying money in tax dollars when our own dollars do so much less, these days. As I was saying, wasting willing human resources is followed by the wasting of what we have ever-less to give:

Hard-earned taxpayer money is being spent to find, recruit, and train qualified personnel. Yet we all lose when a trained professional is turned out of the military because of bigotry.  Not because they couldn't or wouldn't do the job.  The monetary loss is compounded when the professional is a member of intelligence services -- background investigations are extremely expensive and hard to get. Moreover, the training is far more extensive (thus far more costly). Most folks have no idea how extremely expensive it is to train and retain these particular professionals.  It's an appalling waste of resources any way you look at it.

DoD is happily pissing away millions per year on DADT and pissing away desperately-needed resources: people who are dedicated to making and keeping our nation safe. Little wonder the intelligence community is so screwed up. As a gay man, I say "ouch" for my patriotism being treated as not welcome.  As a taxpayer, I say "ouch" for the huge lists of waste for which we're paying. Waste upon mismanagement upon insult.  To add witch-hunts to the anxiety we already experienced in the military makes DADT even more of an insult.

Long ago, when I served, the anxiety alone kept me as closeted as one can be in a "small town" type group.  So long as "nobody actually saw anything" nobody could lie about it, either.  I grew up in a series of small southern towns so I know how to wear a mask as well as anyone else.  Fortunately, part of the culture in the intelligence community is "neither confirm nor deny" and that extended a long way past just keeping national secrets.  In order to protect those, often, we protected one another.  This is also the nature of mountain folks, something my partner and I both are.

DADT only adds to the problem; it does nothing for the public benefit. It shouldn't have to be that way, this nowhere-land state of existence, this culture of silence and anxiety  that surrounds the service that all of us GLBT people gave.  Several countries are already ahead of the United States in returning the honor of service to their country with equal dignity and recognition. GLBT people serve and even get married in other modern countries. There haven't been any big soap-dropping shower scenes (damn!), no big uproars, no crowds of people praying for their salvation outside the barracks.  Our younger folks don't seem to have a problem here, either.  Those would be the same age folks as are already serving, and from what I hear, don't care, either.

If there's "no big whoop", then why are we intentionally making only certain people's lives hell, wasting human resources, and money that's stretching ever-thinner?  The only people I see from here who benefit from having a forever higher-taxable class of people are mostly ones who didn't or wouldn't serve at all.

Being GLBT is part of the human condition, like being brown-haired or green-eyed.  DADT neatly removes any hope of dignity for either GLBT people or our hetero counterparts.  When people serve their country, they have the right to expect full citizenship with all of the benefits.