Last week, the Senate Republicans killed any chance of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” as part of the National Defense Authorization Act before the looming lame duck, Congress. DADT is the Clinton-era compromise on allowing gays to serve in the military on the condition that their preferences and conduct are kept secret. While the Republicans may be gloating about another setback to the Obama agenda, those concerned with military readiness should be rightfully angry.

The current debate focuses on whether open homosexuality will degrade our nation’s effective fighting force. As a former Army noncommissioned officer (NCO), my job happened to be maintaining unit discipline and morale. While officers are tasked with the ultimate responsibility, NCOs execute that mission. Repealing DADT would actually make the job of “good order and discipline” easier. It is clear that Republicans have it wrong: DADT itself is making America less safe by making our forces less able.

When I first arrived at the Defense Language Institute to study Korean in 2003, the biggest story on base was that five Arabic linguists had just been kicked out of the military for being gay. At the time I was agnostic about whether DADT was an effective policy or not. We may all differ on our views of the morality of homosexuality, but kicking out Arabic linguists shortly after the invasion of Iraq seemed senseless at best and counterproductive at worst.

It did not take long to find that a significant number of gay soldiers existed in the military despite the obvious risk of being discovered and discharged. The fact that they joined at all is a testament to the heroism and patriotism of the young men and women. They were constantly hiding their lifestyles from their fellow soldiers and leaders. We all lived in very close quarters and issues of girlfriends, wives and family often were raised. The tightrope they walked meant that they were forced to sacrifice their integrity to serve the nation. That they couldn’t trust a fellow soldier without chancing being outed raised a high barrier to the overall cohesion among soldiers.

After I became an NCO, the negative impact of DADT on unit morale and readiness became more apparent. The loss of an individual soldier who had been trained to become a linguist and military intelligence specialist meant a loss to overall unit readiness. The largest tragedy to the soldier and the most significant effect of the policy on morale consisted of the opportunity for blackmail. If a soldier wished to kill the career of a fellow closeted gay soldier, all he would have to do is find an email, a letter or a picture showing that the soldier was gay. These soldiers were constantly at risk of an opportunist who wanted a competitor kicked out of the way for promotion or recognition.

DADT undermined my role as an enforcer of discipline and builder of unit morale. Male and female soldiers often reside in the same barracks buildings and sometimes on the same hall. Heterosexual conduct is not permitted in these facilities and certainly not during professional duties. While soldiers at times lost discipline, they were punished at the level that reflected the conduct. Vary rarely would it be career ending. Yet, instead of trusting NCOs with the responsibility to enforce discipline among gays as well, we are forced to initiate paperwork to investigate and potentially discharge offenders.

DADT therefore is an insult to every small unit leader in the Army. It implies that NCOs are not competent enough to do our jobs. It implies that we do not have the judgment to determine how to handle misconduct amonggays, even though we deal with heterosexual misconduct on a regular basis. DADT represents Congress’ lack of understanding and respect of the lower-ranking soldiers and leaders.

Old and retired generals and admirals who haven’t led individual soldiers in 30 or more years often express their support of DADT on cable news and talk radio. The Republican leadership repeats excuses for opposing the repeal. They fail to acknowledge the dramatic culture changes that have occurred in the last 20 years when it comes to public opinion about homosexuality. They also refuse to publicly recognize the serious negative effects of DADT on readiness and morale.

Senate Republicans continue to treat DADT as a convenient means of gaining support among their religious and conservative base. Gay-baiting is no more respectful than race-baiting. Beyond the injustice to gay would-be and current soldiers, DADT represents an insult to every military leader, makes their jobs more difficult in maintaining morale and deprives their units of trained and otherwise competent men and women. Last week’s vote continues to undermine the nation’s military as we continue to engage in combat worldwide.

Peter Nesbitt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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