CommunityPam's House Blend

What it's like to serve your country under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

To underscore this stupidity of DADT discussed in my “Rummy wasting $200 million” post — there is a book out, Major Conflict : One Gay Man’s Life in the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell Military, that is the first memoir by a soldier faced with the implementation of the regulation. This puts a human face on the toll this ridiculous policy, and it shows how our government, in desperate need of every warm body it can get, spits in the face of someone willing to sacrifice so much for their country. Granting soldiers the ability to be who they are will not destroy unit cohesion. Someone needs to send Rummy a copy of this book pronto. Its release date is March 8. (Rocky Mountain News):

What [Major Conflict] reveals is the devastating impact on Jeffrey McGowan’s ability to fulfill his dream of serving his country in the U.S. military and to live his life with integrity as an openly gay man.

After college in the late 1980s, McGowan was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. McGowan made the transition with relative ease, largely because he had always looked forward to a military career: “I’ve always wanted to be a soldier. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I could imagine being anything else. It was, I think, my destiny; my path was pre-ordained.”

…What is most striking and poignant during McGowan’s first few years in the military is how well he fits in: He’s a perfect soldier, fully committed to the sacrifices he must make. Such loyalty is facilitated in part by his almost complete denial of his homosexuality. As he tentatively begins to admit to himself that he is attracted to other men, his faith in the military begins to waver, yet his commitment to his duty remains firm.

Stationed in Germany at this point, McGowan prepares for his deployment to Iraq and the first Gulf War. As he watches the married couples say their goodbyes, he yearns for someone to comfort him, but realizes that “the love I wanted was against the rules. I was, in fact, a criminal.”

Writes the author: “I could meet the standard, I was popular, I was accepted by my peers; my blood would shed as red as easily as the straight soldier fighting next to me. Why was I forbidden to be the person I am?”

McGowan postpones such soul- searching. As he finds himself in the midst of war, like most soldiers, he worries more about protecting the lives of the men under his command than foregrounding his own differences from them.

As he returns stateside, he continues to struggle with the ever more powerful sense that he lacks meaning in his life. During this period, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also becomes law, and McGowan offers an insider’s perspective into what it was like to experience this shift inside the military. McGowan writes that contrary to its vision as a kindler, gentler treatment of gays in the military, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” resulted in an increase of gay discharges and an entrenchment of anti-gay sentiment.

This increasingly hostile environment ultimately forces McGowan to re-evaluate his military career. After a number of disturbing experiences that threaten his own well-being, he returns to civilian life.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding