Steve Ralls

Disrespecting the Troops, One Thousand Officers at a Time

Filed By Steve Ralls | April 02, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: Congress, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Elaine Donnelly, military, politics of fear, President Obama

Throughout their history, right-wing activists, when left with no facts to defend their case, have often turned to scare tactics to keep their crusades going. Whether it is "code red" terror alerts a few days before an election, or dire warnings about hurricanes seeking revenge for our pro-choice ways, the far right has long been fond of playing Jungian psychology to prey on ancient fears.

That is certainly the case with one of the right-wing's darlings of the moment, Elaine Donnelly, who heads up the misleadingly named Center for Military Readiness. Donnelly, who rose to fame by maligning brave, patriotic women who sign up for service in the armed forces, has recently set her sights on another set of troops, and set out to malign gays. From warning - before a Congressional committee, no less - of the "inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community" to repeatedly calling an Army command in Texas in an attempt to get a gay soldier fired, Donnelly has crossed lines of decency and respect again and again.

In fact, Donnelly's attacks on women (she recently said - you just can't make this up - that "to treat [women] equally would be unfair") and gays has become the subject of constant ridicule. Everyone from Jon Stewart to The Washington Post have lambasted her 18th century sensibilities.

Yet, while it's easy to use her rhetoric as fodder for news media comedy, the furor she spews is also based on outrageous bigotry that is not just inherently anti-woman and anti-gay. It's anti-military, too. Which is why it's all the more perplexing why some of those who have worn our country's uniform have also signed on to her campaign of disregard and disrespect for our country's troops . . . and given her more fuel to fire up her campaign of irrational fears.

Earlier this week, Donnelly released a list of 1,000 military officers - from a slew of 1-stars to a select few who wear 4 - to the Associated Press. The officers, who were surely recruited by Donnelly following a 2008 "secret meeting" she convened in Washington, urged President Obama to step back from his campaign promise to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and keep the counter-productive ban on gay troops permanently in place.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, a thousand officers are surely worth a look at the big picture. And the picture Donnelly and her minions paint is neither pretty nor based on what's best for our country, our military or our troops, whether straight or gay.

There is little doubt that Donnelly's newest salvo in her relentless public relations campaign is meant to scare President Obama and Congressional leaders into thinking that any move to lift the ban will result in a '93-esque debacle over gays in the military. By testing Obama's resolve with a group of military veterans who disagree with him, Donnelly is sending a clear message that she believes she can recreate the hysteria of the Clinton administration's early days and cause political pain for a new commander-in-chief without a military background.

The truth, however, is that she can't, because even though a list of 1,000 officers might seem impressive, the number pales in comparison to the growing army of Americans, both military and civilian, who can see past manufactured fear.

Of all the things we have learned since 1993, one of the most important is this: That heterosexual service members, by and large, do not buy into the gay panic press that Donnelly wants to push on the American people. And that when 'leaders' live up to their title, service members, both gay and straight, are inspired to see - and do - the right thing.

"Besides being discriminatory to gays, the policy demeans all the heterosexual men and women who honorably serve our country by assuming that they, too, are driven by small-minded prejudice and bias," Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, Dean and President of Franklin Pierce Law Center, told me. "If they are told by 'leaders' that gays are unworthy to serve, they will act accordingly. On the other hand, if they are told that they are mature and disciplined and that gays will enhance, not undermine, unit cohesion, they will act according to that. We must display confidence in our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and not presume they are too immature and ill-disciplined to accept gays in the military."

That is to say, it's all about leadership. And as a new generation of military personnel begin to move up the ranks and take the helm of the armed forces - alongside a new generation of political leadership reflected in the current commander-in-chief - old stereotypes and prejudices are quickly falling away . . . even if officers of an older generation continue to push their anti-gay ways.

Indeed, a quick look at the list supplied to the AP by Donnelly shows a few tell-tale things: There are very, very few women who endorse the gay ban, even though women continue to play more and more important roles throughout the ranks. And among the signatories on the list, one has had to apologize for suggesting African-American Marines were somehow less competent than whites, and the same one, in 1993, hand-delivered a virulent, anti-gay videotape, titled The Gay Agenda, to federal lawmakers considering then-President Clinton's proposal to lift the military's ban.

Surely, those are not the "leaders" President Obama will look to for sound policy guidance . . . or the ones he will allow to bully and scare him into doing the wrong thing.

In truth, Elaine Donnelly's list of 1,000 officers proves only one thing: That the more things change, the more the agents of intolerance will fight to keep them the same. But, as we did so proudly and patriotically in November, the American people can, once again, side-step the politics of fear and see the big picture again. Because, while 1,000 generals may paint one picture with inflammatory words, no amount of right-wing hysteria can, ultimately, cover up the truth. And not even 1,000 starred officers should be given the authority or stature to undermine, disrespect or dishonor the service of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight troops.

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Beautifully written. You are the right person with the right gift at the right time. keep it up.

I started seeing a therapist, partly because of major changes in my life, partly from old memories coming up. What I am attatching below is one of those old memories, a particularly bad one as it involved the deaths of eight people that I knew and like, and even loved. This is as much as I have done. Tell me, Elaine, Donnelly, am I not equal as a woman? In what way was I different from a male boat commander? And, Elaine, I am a Lesbian

The First of April, 1984

Twenty five years ago this eve I was ordering lines singled up and officers and crew to stations to leave harbour in the twilight at Las Palmas. Ten days later I would be on the bridge swathed in bandages, unable to pilot her in because of my injuries , watching my first officer bring us to dock, with the bodies of eight of my crew, including the leading quartermaster at the wheel when we left, gone from the boat forever.

"Cast off lines, fore and aft"

I stepped out onto the port wing to observe before turning back and ordering

"Dead slow ahead, port engine only"

I could feel the vibrations of the diesels winding up to turn the generators that powered the electric shaft engines. We were beginning to move.
"Quartermaster, starboard ten degrees"

We turned away from the pier and moved to the middle of the slip

"Quartermaster, parallel course to the walls, both engines ahead dead slow"

Our boat cleared the dock walls and the depth reached a "comfortable" 22 metres
I eyeballed the port channel marker carefully

"Both engines ahead slow"

It would have been showy for the tourists to leave at half, or even full speed. But this was a very heavily trafficked harbour, with most of the vessels skippered by very inexperienced sailors. Showy was dangerous. We had time, this was a patrol. I could ring her up soon enough.

"Quartermaster, port your helm. New course, 165 degrees."

We began our turn. Perfect. We were in the outbound track
I could hear my 'First' switching charts, from "Puerto de la Luz/Las Palmas" to "Islas Canarias"
I knew the chart well. We were heading toward that lilac-inked area marked "trawling prohibited"


The depth was sliding off quickly and was now 119 metres
I decided to mark the beginning of our voyage with a bit of formality

"Leading quartermaster, make our course 88 degrees east. First officer, signal to Tenerife "Underway, course 88 degrees to West Fuerventura banks"


In the time before GPS on patrol boats, one of the best indicators of your position relative to Las Palmas at night was the depth beneath your keel. The depth was now 438 metres. I was enroute to the dumping grounds, where I would change course to the north-northeast to reach the seamount that Moroccan Fishermen used illegally and frequently and that the Soviet Trawlers occasionally used to spy on subs heading to the south from Rota or Gibraltar. Another 'fisheries" patrol, a moniker used to avoid offending Moroccan sensitivities on Spanish territorial claims.
When we reached the explosive dumping grounds we received a signal from Cadiz relayed through Tenerife ordering us to change course to take a position to the east of Isla Fuerventura, which requires taking a southeastern course to the tip of the Isla, then a northeastern course up the coastline but well off shore to come up onto a very small bank, once part of the island. We were looking at a voyage of about 210 km, about 117 nautical miles, as I did the math in my head. Six hours at full speed, twelve or more at half. To save fuel I decided on half. Course charted, orders given, I spoke to my First officer:

"You have the bridge"

I hit the rack for a few hours sleep. Another "fisheries" patrol, promising long days of boredom hove-to, watching for trawlers and listening for subs was underway.

The Second of April, 1984

Let me make this clear. I do NOT get seasick. No, I don't. I simply cannot hold down anything more exotic than mashed potatoes and toast in any kind of seaway. I do not spend days miserable, I don't lie in my bunk waiting for death, I just cannot keep food down. Rice, fine. Buttered noodles, fine. Spicy chicken over rice, arroz con pollo, which I had had for dinner ashore with a friend from the Naval Advocate's office at Las Palmas before we departed, not so much.
Our turn to the southeast had put us broadside to the offshore winds; the waves from the meeting of currents running between the Islas and the Bahia off of the African coastline had caused our boat to roll and to pitch during the night, so I was out of my rack twice to engage in a fair approximation of bulemia. Consequently, the morning of the Second of April found me on the bridge, sipping a mug of very sweet tea and nibbling toast as we cleared the southeastern tip of Isla Fuerventura

"Capitan, targets on the scope"

My Second was relaying a message from our radar operator. Nice boy, my Second, but he was in exile to "fisheries," as the patrol boats out of Las Palmas and Tenerife were designated, because of some high spirited adventures while serving with the Fleet. Since nearly everything important associated with patrols occured in the dark hours, I preferred my First and Third on the bridge then and had set up the watches accordingly. One of the advantages of being very far away from HQ.
I looked at the scope with my operator and my Second.

"Plot, of the disputed zone?"

The disputed zone of what was once Spanish Morocco, quarrelled over by both Morocco and Algeria, with rebels from both countries fighting their own wars as well, was a political no-man's land, Ships stopping in Angola periodically picked up arms and would attempt to supply the various groups, exchanging weapons offshore. They would have a hard time of it in with this kind of seaway.
I walked over to the plot where my Second had been keeping track. They were indeed off of the disputed zone, apparently trying to keep at station but falling away repeatedly in the waves and the wind.

"Keep plotting til we are out of range. Radio officer, message to Tenerife '3 vessels plotted outside of Moroccan waters near disputed zone hove to, proceeding to our station unless ordered otherwise.' I will take the helm for now"

Tenerife acknowledged receipt of the message, but no order to divert and investigate followed. We continued on our course. One hour later, I was satisfied with our distance from the tip of Fuerventura. We still had the 'malos'(baddies) on the scope.

"Quartermaster, new course 025 degrees NorthNorthEast. Starboard Engine to full speed, port engine half."

The changes in shaft speed would make the turn easier. My boat was blessed/cursed with heavy armament topside and I had found that this trick solved the problem of developing a heavy starboard list when executing a sharp port turn in a seaway, or the bow tending to fall away to starboard while pitching. I watched and heard the repeater compass indicator over the bridge windows click off the course change til we reached the new heading.

"Both engines ahead half. Maintain course 025."

About an hour later the three vessels that we had been plotting were off of the scope because of our increasing the distance northward. I released the bridge to my Second, closed the plot, and sent a message to Tenerife.

"3 vessels off of disputed zone now off of our plot. Last contact indicted they were still hove to in close formation. Proceeding to station at half speed."

Tenerife acknowledge the message, but just as with the last, no orders to investigate followed. Intellegencia Armada knew that the ships were there, we had established that they were not moving and passed the info on; our work was done. In four and a half hours I would be at station over the western shallows ostensibly to "keep Spain's fish Spanish," to monitor surveillance ships and submarines actually, and to keep both out of Spanish territorial waters.

Same as a male commanding officer, Elaine. I think that my friend Ms Helms, a sailor herself, can attest to that. The rest I won't share, at least not now, as it is personal and painful.

I know you need a hug, and after reading this, so do I. I type with tears in my eyes. We will save these hugs for the day we finally meet. If anyone can easily prove that women and LGBT people can serve in the military, you just did. Thank you for watching my back as our boat left Rota for our patrol.

Thank you Monica, deeply appreciated Sis

Oh, and Elaine...this wasn't my regular boat. This was the Navy's great experiment, a converted MineWarfare vessel, re-powered, re-armed and re-designated as part of an aging vessel life extension project. They must have thought a lot of this particular woman to let her shake it out, particualrly as I was a Naval lawyer by that point who kept up a minimum of sea duty...

Perhaps you are not equal to a man, Elain. Perhaps you cannot perform as well as a man.

The women on this board, gay, straight allies, women of trans history, all of us, we can.

inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community

That sounds about right. I've seen quite a bit of passive/aggressiveness among homosexual men. Although I could say the same about Mother, *sips martini* and she is not of the homosexual persuasion.


1000 officers? Did the military suddenly turn into a democracy?

that only means that you've 1000 living fossils.

Mind you, we could probably find 500 retired Spanish generals who thought that El Caudillo(Franco) was the best thing for Spain or 1000 retired Soviet generals who long for the days of Brezhnev.

A. J. Lopp | April 3, 2009 3:52 PM
... a few tell-tale things: There are very, very few women who endorse the gay ban, even though women continue to play more and more important roles throughout the ranks. ...

In a military world that has demonstrated itself incapable of dealing with its own internal sexual assault problem, this is not surprising. I think the military women tend to recognize that there is an entire macho mindset that needs to be jettisoned, and that straight women and LGBT's are natural allies in working toward this --- even many of the more conservatively minded women would be forced to come to this conclusion once they are immersed in the male-dominated military milieu.