261 personnel discharged under DADT
by Chuck Colbert
During its final year as federal law and military policy, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has resulted in the discharge of 261 members of the armed forces. The Department of Defense numbers for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines stand at 250, while the Department of Homeland Security, with authority for the Coast Guard, discharged an additional 11 guardsmen.
News of the latest gay-related discharges, under a nearly 18-year policy that was supposed to allow gays to serve as long as they were not out, came March 24 from Servicemembers United, a DADT repeal advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. The organization requested data under the Freedom of Information Act, which provides for public disclosure of documents and information controlled by the federal government.
Roughly three-fourths, or 180 of the 250 discharges from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, fell under the category of "statement," according to a March 4 DADT separations tally provided by the Defense Manpower Data Center. Another 65 discharges were in the category of "act," with five discharges classified as "marriage."
The information provided by the Coast Guard to Servicemembers United did not include classification categories for its discharge numbers.
Overall, the Army led the way in total number of discharges, tossing out 93 soldiers. The Air Force discharged 64 airmen, the Navy booted 54 sailors, and the Corps discharged 39 marines.
Across the four branches, statement discharges accounted for twice as many as those categorized as act, except for the Army, which reported four times as many – 74 classified as statement compared to 18 categorized as act.
The 2010 fiscal year time period for the numbers reported ran from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010.
"While this latest official discharge number represents an all-time annual low, it is still unusually high considering that the secretary of defense issued a directive half-way through the fiscal year to make it much harder for military units to discharge troops under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.
Nicholson was referring to guidelines, issued last March by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, designed to reduce the number of gay discharges.
There were several regulatory policy changes last year, as debate raged over repealing the anti-gay policy. One raised the rank of military officer who could initiate investigations and authorize separations to flag officer – admiral or general. Another change disallowed "hearsay" and "overheard statements," along with confidential or privileged information as trigger mechanisms for fact-finding investigations of suspected violators of the policy. Additionally, a third party was no longer considered as a "reliable source" of information for initiating investigations.
The 261 discharges last year are significantly lower than numbers from previous years. By comparison, 499 members of the armed forces were discharged under DADT in the 2009 fiscal year, with 715 discharged in 2008 and 696 tossed out in 2007, according to a count by Servicemembers United. Altogether, 14,316 military personnel have been discharged under the policy, according to the organization's unofficial count, which included the National Guard.
And yet, Nicholson said, "Despite this law clearly being on its deathbed at the time, 261 more careers were terminated and 261 more lives were abruptly turned upside down because of this policy."
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the findings point to the need to quicken the implementation of last year's legislation repealing DADT.
"Even one discharge under the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy is too many," Sarvis said. "These numbers underscore the need to accelerate the timeline for training and repeal. The reality is that investigations continue and service members are still in danger of being discharged. We look forward to certification by Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, and the president as we move toward full repeal. Until we achieve full equality for all LGBT service members, the job is not done."
During a lame-duck session of Congress last year, a bipartisan majority of lawmakers voted to repeal DADT and President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on December 22.
But before the ban is lifted, Obama, Gates, and Mullen must certify that openly gay service will not undermine military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces.
The various military branches are currently training their forces in order to implement the policy change. Gates has said he will not recommend certification until training for repeal is implemented throughout the service branches.
After certification, a 60-day congressional review period is also required before DADT is finally repealed.