Toes In The Water: Testing Transition During the Recent Ban on Enforcement of DADT

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Jeremy Johnson is a member of the Palm Center staff and recently used the vacating of the stay of the injunction on the enforcement on DADT issued by the Ninth Circuit court (July 6-July 15) to continue his attempt to reenlist.  Jeremy wants to return to service after receiving an Honorable discharge under DADT in 2007.  These are his observations.

The following blog entry is a personal analysis and not meant to represent the views or opinions of the Palm Center.

On July 6th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on the injunction against the government's ability to enforce the law known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'.  On July 7th, for the second time in nine months, I called up my reserve recruiter and began the process of attempting to join as someone who holds an RE-4 reenlistment code. That means I am technically ineligible for joining the service ever again.  It was assigned to me after I revealed to my Commanding Officer in 2007 that I'm gay and could no longer deal with being an enlisted leader who had to lie to keep his job.

The Navy reserve recruiter in my area knows me and has been, like me, standing by for something to come from this mess we're collectively calling the death of DADT.  The Log Cabin Republicans v USA court case and the repeal law are the two competitors that keep outpacing each other in this snail's race to the finish.  No one seems to be in a rush to see this thing die... and after I got a solid start with my recruiter's assistance on getting into the re-accession process, I began to see just how little progress seems to have been made, despite the willingness of our troops to be done with this chapter of the military's history.

On Thursday, a week after the stay was lifted, I was sent to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to get my enlistment physical.  In that entire day, only one DADT-related incident came and it happened when I sat down to give a "medical history" with a woman who, in frustrated and broken English, kept telling me that she does what's told and she's only a part-time worker who is a civilian doctor.

In the initial briefing, we were required to list on our medical questionnaires whether we had ever been in the military and if so, the circumstances of discharge. I complied and simply put, "Navy, Honorable, Homosexual Statement."

She saw that and flipped back to my DD214 (discharge paper - the veteran's equivalent to a passport) and grew anxious. Clearly, she saw the RE-4 categorization and felt like this was something to be addressed, but didn't know how. So, she proceeded fill out a special form to recommend to the final examining medical officer that I get a consult with a psychologist before receiving my final stamp of approval.

I was a bit irritated and asked her several times why she would put that down - to which she simply pointed and responded she was only doing what she was told in the manual - the invisible one that wasn't on her desk. I objected, trying to get her to offer some logic - "Why would this require a psych eval? It was an honorable discharge and there are no other issues on my screening." I got the same response, but she added, "The chief medical officer will look at this and if he agrees he will let you know what to do then, but if he thinks it is not necessary he will simply throw it away."  And throw it away he did. "They've said this thing is done, so why would it be an issue to require a consult?" He called the Navy office in the building just to be sure they didn't need anything special done with this revelation about my discharge (medically-speaking) and, after getting the green light, that was it. Simple as that.

What I've taken away from the week without DADT enforced in recruiting is this; nearly seven months after the repeal law was signed, the basic questions, ones that can be addressed in a 1-2 page memo, haven't been answered.  My recruiter has had to make phone call after phone call to his chain-of-command to get questions answered about what special steps, if any, need to be taken because of my RE-4. He's had to do this despite the July 6th-related memorandum by Clifford Stanley giving a blank check for enlistments that were previously affected by the policy.

Either the DoD is stumbling along on this transition, which I do not believe, or they have simply chosen to keep all information close to the vest until the last possible moment. Despite the possibility of the Ninth Circuit lifting the stay, a late game training-blitz for recruiters and administrative personnel seems to be their strategy.  I have no theories as to why.  Despite the goodwill and positive encouragement I received from those I've worked with one-on-one since October of 2010 (the "psych eval" doctor being the exception), those in charge of them have - seven months later - left them unprepared for the contingency of a court-based end to the policy.

It can not be argued that this injunction in the LCR case was impossible to foresee.  Former Secretary Gates, when encouraging Congress to move quickly on passage of a repeal law in early 2010, warned that it would be better to let the DoD do it in their own time than to have the courts mandate an immediate end to the policy. Even after an injunction on enforcement was issued in October and the DoJ was forced to obtain a stay on the judgement against the law from the Ninth Circuit, Congress took until the last possible moment to follow through on his advice.

In the meantime, the arguments that might have once held sway in court for justifying the needless silence on the "final plan" and/or concrete "end date" to this mess, are dissolving away like the limestone lies they were built-upon.  Unit cohesion is gaining strength in many places as more and more service members are coming out in anticipation of the final day of repeal -despite the sage advice from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and others to be careful.  Straight uniformed allies are expressing their frustration at seeing the issue constantly back in the news and wondering when it will finally be ancient history.

As for the mythical training that has been the main talking point for why this is taking so long - I freely admit that I haven't seen it or participated in any of the sessions.  What I have heard from friends in uniform who have, has been overwhelmingly that it was just another powerpoint presentation that came and went without much fanfare or incident.

July 6th through July 15th.  More than a week.  In that time, there was not one reported incident from any service about a breakdown in military effectiveness.  Complaints about being forced into early action came from those higher up, but not from the ground.  Instead - the boots on the ground were once again annoyed that the policy was dead again, but for how long?  LGB members in uniform sat and wondered whether the White House and Department of Justice would demand another stay.  And they did.  And it only came back with a much more confusing solution than before - those in uniform are still protected, yet the military is still free to discriminate at the front door.

While this theatrical debate rages on in court - no one in the White House, the DoJ or the DoD has yet to list the real harm that will come from immediate cessation of enforcement.  The scariest part of it is that they almost seem to be inviting problems by wasting precious time in refusing to train recruiters (who are ready to carry out changes) or hand out basic written guidance on how to handle people like me. What have they been doing for the last seven months?

If the stay is permanently lifted until August 29, the date set for the next hearing, what then?  The genie will be out of the bottle.  Certification will likely have happened and the clock will be running in the 60-day countdown to completion of repeal.  Are the White House and DoJ seriously suggesting, along with the DoD, that they would go back on that day and defend the law to ask for another stay for the remainder of the post-certification 60-days?

Comments

Re-joining the Navy

Hi Jeremy, I very much enjoyed reading your latest blog post. Similar to you, I was discharged from the Royal Navy for being gay, and rejoined in 2001 after our ban in the UK was lifted. I've did some work with Aaron and the Palm Centre back in those early days. It's really interesting to hear of your experience, and contrast it with my own, ten years on. On this side of the Atlantic, I actually received a fairly proactive letter asking me if I'd like to rejoin! I hope when DADT is finally dead, you - and many others like you - may get a similar response from the USN. I'm now a reservist (in the British Army, oddly enough), after leaving the RN of my own volition in 2006, and am now serving in Afghanistan on an operational tour. Things aren't always plain sailing, and I still get some strange reactions when people find out I'm gay, but all in all we've moved on great strides. All that to say, best of luck with your bid to rejoin, and do keep us informed of your progress on the blog. Rolf Kurth Major HQ Task Force Helmand

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