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OutServe: Serving Now and After Repeal


former Marine Captain Tom Carpenter

When my father was stationed at the Pentagon in the 1970’s he used to joke that the Department of Defense (DOD) had contingency plans for everything, even the invasions of Canada and the United Kingdom!

My father, Colonel Dalton Carpenter, USA, administering the oath of office to me as a
Marine Second Lieutenant. Memorial Hall, US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, June 6, 1970.

Now that we finally have certification, what is the DOD’s contingency plan to manage any questions or issues that arise post repeal? While we all anticipate this will be the same “non-event” experienced by our allies, we would be nave to think that there will be no problems. Just look at the ongoing efforts by conservative fundamentalist Chaplains and their civilian supporters to derail implementation by using the fictitious argument that their exercise of religious freedom is being somehow limited.  Over and over again the military leadership has told them that they won’t be required to violate the tenants of their faiths. Not good enough. Several  weeks ago we learned that two soldiers based at Fort Carson, Colorado, were the victims of a hate crime while leaving a restaurant in Colorado Springs. Who will address the other issues the Comprehensive Review Working Group(CRWG) report stated would be dealt with after repeal?

I have heard rumors that the DOD is considering establishing a Gay Lesbian and Bisexual (GLB)version of the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services(DACOWITS).This committee was first established in the early 1950’s by then Secretary of Defense General George Marshall. The committee is made up of “civilian women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces.”

Because of the many practical challenges that were faced by the military in integrating women into the force, I would submit the establishment of DACOWITS was appropriate and very prescient. History shows that until the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on June 12, 1948, women were in separate female only reserve divisions of each service.  We have seen a major welcomed change of the role of women in the military in the past 60 years. They have been able to move into nontraditional fields and with the exception of the combat arms are fully integrated into the force.  This was all made possible with the advice and assistance of DACOWITS.

The situation with the repeal of DADT is completely different. Gays, Lesbians and Bisexual service members have always been part of the force. The CRWG made it clear in their report that LGB troops will be treated, as much as legally possible, the same as their straight counterparts. There will be no separate billeting for LGB service members, no need for separate uniforms, different Physical Training standards or any of the myriad of accommodations necessary for the integration of women.

I would submit there is no need to create a GLB committee similar to DACOWITS because there already exists a structure to assist the DOD address these issues internally within the military. It is instructive to look to the experiences of our allies. The British, arguable our closest ally, have in place a low cost, simple system that seems to work perfectly for them. Initially, a group of actively serving soldiers and their partners set up a privately funded website they named Proud2Serve. About a year later, the individual service groups, Proud2Serve Forums, were unofficially established. When the MOD saw how effective and successful the Forums had become, they were bought into the official MOD organization by being recognized by the three services and given official status and funding. Through use of the Forums, troops and family members can discuss various issues, ranging from service careers, family housing, medical issues, bullying and harassment. Each of the three services has established their own Terms of Reference (TOR) for their Forum. The Naval Service (Royal Navy and Marines) TOR is endorsed by the Second Sea Lord, the senior Naval Officer responsible for personnel matters.

Royal Navy contingent in the London Pride Parade on July 2, 2011
(photo courtesy of official MOD photographer)

The Army and Royal Air Force TOR’s are also endorsed by their service’s senior personnel Officer. Those who participate in the individual Service Forums are volunteers and this is a secondary duty for them.

Royal Air Force contingent salutes the Cenotaph, war memorial, in Whitehall
during London Pride parade on July 2, 2011(photo courtesy of official MOD photographer)

I have discussed how this works on a practical level with representatives of all three services. A British Army officer observes, “One of the key areas where we can really sell ourselves is by being able to assist informally in complaint resolution.  Inevitably in the Army we occasionally have instances of bullying and harassment- some of it from time to time is gay related. By being seen as an alternative and informal source where soldiers can raise their concerns we can often offer advice to the soldier and if necessary pass their complaint on to the appropriate authorities.  On a number of occasions we have been helpful in heading off individual problems early, by use of this informal network and avoided problems getting to the really serious stage. However, we are keen to ensure we are not seen as an alternative to the official Army welfare services- we are not trained counselors.” Representatives of the Royal Navy and Air Force had similar experiences.

Army contingent at London Pride parade, July 2, 2011(Photo courtesy of official MOD photographer)

Fortunately, our service members are ahead of the curve. Last year a group of active duty troops created an online organization, OutServe. In just 12 months, this group has grown to over 3800 members with chapters at major military installations in the states and over seas, including Afghanistan and Iraq. They have demonstrated their professionalism by filing with the IRS to establish themselves as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, creating a user friendly website, using social media to dramatically increase membership, publishing a high quality magazine, as well as organizing the first OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit to be held on October  13-16, 2011.  The DOD should use this group in the same way that our British cousins are using the Proud2serve Forums.  They are an off the shelf organization, made up of actively serving LGB troops, ready and willing to assist the DOD in the transition to open and honest service. As my father also taught me, “Don’t re-invent the wheel.”

 2011 Tom Carpenter