“The Army is not a political organization”

Disclaimer: This is a personal viewpoint, and does not represent the views of the Department of Defense, any of the Armed Forces, or any federal agency or organization. 

As soon as I signed my contract in 2009, I was told a number of different things by a number of people with many years of military experience. First, that it is our duty to serve our Commander-in-Chief, even if you do not agree with his (or her) political stances; that we shall not publicly slander him while serving; that we shall not participate in any political rallies or take political stances, no matter how personal it gets, while wearing in the uniform. That if we do any these things, we do it as an individual citizen, in plain clothes representing ourselves.

Hi, I’m Therese; and today is Thursday so I’m wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.

They harp on this fact, that, “The Army is not a political organization.” That it stands, no matter who is in power, to do the will of the Department of Defense. So, in a way, they are right: the Armed Forces are standing organizations with people in them who will not vanish or change places according to who is in office – these agencies are not tied to a political party.

But political? You bet your ass it’s political.

Here’s the thing. When you become an officer in the US military, there are a couple things of note:

  1. The Oath of Office is nearly identical to the Oath of Enlistment, with one important caveat: officers are not obligated to “obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Those who enlist, on the other hand, do.
  2. The only duty of an officer is this: “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of [their] office”

So, what does that mean for officers? It means lawful orders are up for scrutiny if they risk unnecessary death, if they are unethical, and if they risk violating the Constitution. This is a control mechanism put in place by people who came many years before us so that if we ever happened to have a tyrant elected into the presidency (or in other positions of power, for that matter) then hopefully more sensible leaders in lower echelons can keep the sprawling tyranny in check.

But officers are people, and people in America have free will. Americans with free will tend to, naturally, value certain parts of the Bill of Rights more than others. Which makes the Armed Forces… you guessed it – a political organization.

Let’s not forget that people tend to join the military depending on their perception of current events at the time of their enlistment. Post-9/11, there was a surge of patriotism and duty to country in the wake of thousands of slaughtered innocent people. Naturally, more people joined in a response to a greater need. As different US presidents sit in the Oval Office, people entering the service might feel greater allegiance to that president as opposed to others. In each of these circumstances, people picked up a pen, raised their right hand, and had some thought deep in their heart, “This [insert President’s name] administration is one I can support with my life.” etc. This is understandable. But again, this makes it an organization greatly swayed by politics.

The point I’m making here is that it would be naive at best to assume the Armed Forces is some unshakable agent of the federal government that does not sway with the political viewpoints of its constituents. At worst, this assumption enforces that people must be devoutly compliant, even during times of highly unethical behavior; which, as we see in the Oath of Office (*ahem, which supercedes any presidential agenda*), is an officer’s duty to prevent.

I bring up all of this because of three main explanations that I hear when it comes to shifting societal norms; each of which insist “it’s not politics.”

  1. It’s Not In Our Job Description: The [insert Armed Forces component] is not political, and is not a place for “social experiments.” Change to fit the military – don’t change it to fit you.
  2. Supporting the Taxpayers: Supporting social agendas costs too much – we can’t ask more of our taxpayers and need to put money toward things that are less political.
  3. Duty to Country: The Armed Forces primary focus should be the security of our country – this distracts from the main cause.

1. It’s Not In Our Job Description

Job description obviously varies by branch of service, MOS, educational background, and paygrade. But all of them have a couple of things in common.

Let’s look at the Soldier’s creed for reference (and inspiration if you’re as motivated by this sh*t as I am):

I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American Soldier.

My first question is: do any of these tasks require you to use your genitals?

No.

(And to those of you who said, “yes” please report this to authorities immediately because that is sexual assault, possibly rape, and those are a criminal offenses.)

So if you don’t use your genitals to fulfill a job, why does it matter what kind of genitals a person has? If it doesn’t, then why does gender (man, woman, trans) matter? Gender, by the way, is the not the same as sex. Sex has to do with the organs on and in your body. Gender has to do with your identity. Let me elaborate further.

Let’s say your name is Ben. But me and like five other people keep insisting on calling you Bethany. You’d probably get kinda pissed at us after a while. “That’s not my name, my name is Ben!” you might say between gritted teeth. I roll my eyes and say, “Well, um, your name tag says Bethany so… as far as I’m concerned you’re Bethany! Teehee.” You might want to get your name tag changed so that you feel more like yourself. You’re sick people forcing you to use the women’s room all the time, regularly looking at an open trash can full of used tampons, and you just want people to understand that your name is Ben, for f*ck’s sake. So you get your name tag changed to Ben.

I start calling you Ben. You get to avoid seeing used tampons. Success!

Now that we got that out of the way, does your name tag affect your job performance? (Not unless your name is Dan, he’s always sleeping on the job. SCREW YOU, DAN!) Joking obviously, but in all seriousness, if a name tag doesn’t affect your job either, it’s a piss poor excuse to use gender of a name or genitals (which are both irrelevant) as a reason to prevent someone from doing a job.

Look, if you’re not convinced, and still think we should never change the military to fit other people, here are the other times someone used supposed body parts as an excuse. (Newsflash: We changed it.)

Ovaries: the true enemy of combat arms branches… and the Armed Forces in general.

Ovaries were, and are, a stupid reason to deny entry to any part of the Armed Forces. If the goal was to protect us, that’s a failed cause, because women were already getting blown up and gravely wounded during wartime. Even before the Women’s Army Corps was established in WWII, women participated in WWI as nurses and engineers. Women have died in war zones since the American Revolution. More recently, it’s worth noting that there are no true “front lines” in asymmetrical warfare. (I guess if you’re you’re a legislator whose only exposure to war is your liberty to legislate, then this would be an alien concept.)

Also, if physical strength is the argument, then why do we still insist the ovaries are the culprit? Let’s get all the straggly-ass dudes out of the infantry, how can we expect these scrawny dudes to lift the weight of 300lb linebackers?

Ovaries are also a stupid reason to exclude because everyone kept rationalizing this with, “Oh, this is going to be a logistics nightmare, what are we going to do about bathrooms and barracks! Construction work, ugh.” But frankly, if we’re talking numbers, no one ever died because they had more people available to join the fight on their side. People have definitely died when they did not have enough.

Remember that time in WWI when Americans were sad that women entered the workforce and the Armed Forces because of the bathroom and barracks situation? Oh… that’s right. That didn’t happen. Because there weren’t enough people in the Armed Forces to support World War I and II, and they literally had to ask everyone to play some role in the stability of the country.

 

512px--I'd_Rather_Be_With_Them_-_Than_Waiting-_-_NARA_-_513677
Recruitment poster ca. 1941 – 1945. Located at National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park

(As an aside: honestly, what is it with using bathrooms as an excuse for sh*tty behavior. I’m starting to see a pattern here…)

Skin color: because bad science said a tan makes you less human

Yeah, I’m going there, because skin color is another body characteristic that has nothing to do with job performance. But everyone at the time seemed deluded into thinking it did. Lt. Gen. (Ret) Julius Becton Jr. reflected on his early experiences as a black commissioned officer in the 40s & 50s:

“It is the declared policy of the president that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services, without regard to race, color, religion or national origins.”

This, my friends, is the exact text of President Truman’s Executive Order 9981, issued on the 26th of July, 1948, which ended for all time segregation in the military services of this country. There was some foot-dragging, but that too passed. And my service, the Army, led the way, albeit slowly.

Let me give you three quick examples of both the good and the bad to illustrate my point. The first example has to do with President Truman’s executive order. Immediately after the order was issued, all commanders were directed to read the order to their personnel. I was on reserve duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground between semesters in Muhlenberg College; hence, I was present. I was present in the theater when the post commander, a colonel, assembled all the officers and read the order. And he then said, “As long as I am the commander here, officer club number one, officer club number two, non-commissioned officer club number one, non-commissioned officer club number two, swimming pool number one, swimming pool number two, will remain unchanged.”

It doesn’t take much of a brain surgeon to figure out what he’s talking about. He said that as long as he was the commander, there would be no change at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Tell me, again, why you think the military is not a political space?

We’ve gone through this before. Multiple times. With the collective brains of thousands of brilliant people, the Armed Forces has figured out how to work through the following obstacles to readiness: racial segregation, gender segregation, and, recently sexual orientation. These aren’t social experiments – these are the real lives of real people who are protected under the US Constitution, like it or not. This is not a political issue. Service members can’t decide to protect one group of people and neglect the other. Should service members do so, they would be actively disobeying the Constitution; actively breaking an oath to serve this country and all who live in it. To think these are “experiments” only widens the gap of understanding, decreases camaraderie — which is a necessity in a fighting force — and reinforces the notion that some human beings are more worthy of that time and thought than others.

On a more personal level, being against transgendered service members feels like a personal insult. I’m not transgendered, I’m a straight woman serving in the Army Reserve. But if I was born in another earlier lifetime, these arguments that my coworkers use today could easily have been vaulted at me years ago, as I tried to serve this country. It’s not that hard to imagine myself under similar circumstances. History does, after all, repeat itself, and these are some serious parallels.

*someone in the back of the room raises their hand* “But expenses! How do we handle pee tests? And counseling? Won’t medical and psychology professionals become an enormous expense?”

I’m glad you asked.

2. Supporting the Taxpayers

RAND Corporation conducts most of the surveys and research for the Department of Defense, and they did an assessment of the cost of incorporating transgendered servicemembers. Here are some key findings:

  • Applying a range of prevalence estimates, combining data from multiple surveys, and adjusting for the male/female distribution in the military provided a midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component (out of a total number of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members) and 1,510 in the Selected Reserve.
  • Using private health insurance claims data to estimate the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.
  • Even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.

Did you hear that? Cost increases of about <0.1%

It’s also worth noting that the Army would only pay for medically necessary transitions. As for pee tests, there are options for a trans service member to ask a medical professional to observe as opposed to someone of their currently assigned sex. The increase in medical personal doesn’t change drastically, considering only 0.1% of the military is transgendered.

You know what the Army DOES pay for that isn’t medically necessary? Viagra. And it costs the military 5x as much as gender transitions. Viagra is not a medical necessity, so if you’re gonna discuss what the Army doesn’t “need” to pay for… there is a lot more we can talk about.

As for camaraderie and cohesion? Well, to put it bluntly, when transgendered people entered the Armed Forces (or more accurately, came out, because they were likely probably already serving under a different gender), most people didn’t give a sh*t and no one cried, unless out of happiness, maybe.

  • The limited research on the effects of foreign military policies indicates little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness. Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.
  • Policy changes to open more roles to women and to allow gay and lesbian personnel to serve openly in the U.S. military have similarly had no significant effect on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.

What about the cost of psychological expenses? You know, because transgendered people are supposed to be “so much more mentally unstable?”

Let’s discuss mental health and the military’s problem with it. On average, about 12% of veterans experience PTSD in some form. PTSD can occur from a number of different causes: combat experiences, abuse, and sexual trauma. These are all things that service members are more likely to experience, in general. The VA explains:

Another cause of PTSD in the military can be military sexual trauma (MST). This is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. MST can happen to both men and women and can occur during peacetime, training, or war.

Among Veterans who use VA health care, about:

  • 23 out of 100 women (or 23%) reported sexual assault when in the military.
  • 55 out of 100 women (or 55%) and 38 out of 100 men (or 38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

There are many more male Veterans than there are female Veterans. So, even though military sexual trauma is more common in women Veterans, over half of all Veterans with military sexual trauma are men.

Let’s also consider why transgendered folks might experience certain psychological stressors. Psychology Today explains that possible influences for mental instability include shame, stigma, lack of acceptance, parental rejection (not to mention sexual harassment & assault). You know, things that could influence any human being. Yes, these issues regularly happen to transgendered folks, and often all at once. But they also happen to everyone else. These aren’t “new” problems. These are the same problems that service members already face. These are same problems the military needs to address with or without transgendered people. Because it’s not a “transgendered” problem. It’s a human problem.

So those S.H.A.R.P. and Suicide Prevention programs service members keep having to sit through? They do them a bajillion times a year because these issues are important and decrease readiness – they remove people from the fight when we need them there. Suicide in the military is an active problem. Sexual harassment and sexual assault is an active problem. (Oh and if you think we’re out of the woods with that, we’re not.) These don’t vanish if you suddenly decide to keep transgendered folks out of the ranks, because these are human problems.

*this person keeps raising their hand in the back* “But wouldn’t that mean that we’re focusing less on the mission and more on politics? What about our priorities?”

3. Duty to Country

Any American can put the pieces together about what our impending threats are, given the most recent current events: North Korea keeps trying to expand its capabilities in hopes to nuke American soil. Russia poses a tremendous cybersecurity threat and possesses a technologically advanced military. Other global leaders (Philippines, China and non-traditional leaders/terrorist threats) are citing their distaste with American policies, past and present. Many countries with conventional military forces (as in, with all the trappings of high headcount, advanced technology, and effective weaponry) are positioned to inflict severe harm on us. We have a need, more than ever, for more able-bodied volunteers as we prepare for a large force-on-force conflict. Yeah, sure, ISIS is still around, and there are still asymmetrical battlefields, but this country is perilously close to being blindsided by larger outside threats.

Thus, it seems counterproductive to decrease the pool of volunteers. It seems back-asswards to want to get rid of a few thousand people who, as it currently stands, add value to an organization that is already painfully stretched thin. I see detriment in defying the Constitution, in excluding willful volunteers, and in ignoring the international and domestic threat that lies before us: enemies of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If the mission is to defeat our enemies, it does, in fact, seem to distract from our issues: if we intentionally decrease our readiness by removing able transgendered bodies.

So, if these three presented reasons don’t hold, why exclude transgendered folks from serving in the military?

Frankly, the only sensible reason I can find for denying entry to transgendered folks would be a political move: one that puts this discussion into the foreground rather than giving the American public time to scrutinize other questionable conduct. This is purely speculation at this point. But essentially this statement from the President forces political opponents to battle with this specific platform, to address it in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community (and in the eyes of other more conservative constituents) rather than focusing on more compelling, more detrimental issues, like an election influenced by foreign entities and other possible acts of treason. It allows an administration to point a finger to say, “See what this group values? They don’t value our national security.” Which, of course, is untrue, and it is, in fact, possible to care about multiple platforms at the same time.

It does, however force people to debate whether some issues are worth more time than others, while simultaneously preventing any solutions for any of the issues.

For a metaphor, we are all hunting this ideal of peace and well-being, and someone keeps throwing a rock at a nearby tree so that we, for a moment, take our eyes off the prize, and allow domestic and international enemies to escape, unscathed.

So if you think a transgender ban is great for national security, I have terrible news for you: we’ve all taken the bait. We’ve turned away from the real problems, and we’ve become complicit in the agenda of a political group. America is still severely lacking in its national security approaches. That said, if we don’t let this ban happen, then we might still have a chance to protect this Constitution. After all, in the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But If this ban gets implemented, we might as well make it official: The Army is a political organization.


 

If you are a participant in the US government (no need to raise your hand, just listen) – I beseech you to read this essay by Dr. George E. Reed, a dean at the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs. It’s called Expressing Loyal Dissent: Moral Considerations from Literature on Followership. It’s an excellent discussion on what it means to be a great follower, how to successfully perform your duty to this country, and how to properly dissent when you are surrounded by unethical behavior. There may be a number of things that go against your morals in the coming years, and this is one way to prepare for for the coming storm.

The Checkbox

Here is one feeling I’ve never been able to properly explain, but I will try to explain it today.

Imagine you are filling out some government forms. Most of the time, on these forms, you are not permitted to check off more than one race box.

When you fill this form out, what is typically an act of regurgitating facts becomes an intentional choice.

“Who do I want to be today?”

“Will one choice influence the outcome of this form more favorably than the other choice?”

Do this exercise once.

Then do this exercise hundreds of times.

Read about complaints about affirmative action and read about how academic institutions identify potential “at-risk” students.

Then do it while applying for a scholarship.

Read the research report about two identical resumes, one with a “white” name and one with an ethnic name, getting vastly different results.

Then do it while applying for a job.

Read the news about North Carolina gerrymandering in order to ensure some districts had fewer black votes.

Then do it while you’re applying for a new voter registration now that you’ve moved to another state.

Hundreds of times, I have had to strategize  my identity; very clearly playing race politics. It weighs heavy on my heart, because in all circumstances I feel like a fraud.

Am I a person of color who uses whiteness as shield against the world’s fury? Should I be ashamed for lying all these years and not embracing my non-white ethnicity with more vigor?

Or am I a white girl who pretends to be a person of color in search of community? Am I a Rachel Dolezal as I cling to my palabok and my tinikling?

I walk this line in which I exploit my whiteness, wearing it like a shroud of safety, and yet, want deeply to be accepted by my people. I look Hispanic, my ancestors have a very Filipino last name, and if we were to go by numbers, more of my bloodline resides in the Philippines than they do in the United States. I want so deeply to belong, but I have not struggled like them. I have not been killed like them. I have not been shamed like them. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of racist comments in my life – how my sex organs are supposed to be different from a white person’s, how, as an Asian, I’m “supposed” to be subservient housewife (or otherwise can “provide services” for “fye dorrah”), how my food “might have dog in it.” I’ve been asked to speak Spanish on behalf of my colleagues (which I can’t really, I am not of Hispanic heritage – what Spanish I do know is from living in Jersey City). The list goes on. But I have always, ALWAYS been able to choose that box on the piece of paper. I have always had white privilege.

That is the biggest difference between me and my friends – the choice of a life in which you aren’t hurt; the choice to hide like a sheep in wolf’s clothing; the choice to forego the struggles in a very selfish interest. They cannot remove their skin or their heritage. Even in becoming “westernized” they risk losing all that brings them joy and love – the flavor of mom’s cooking, the songs from grandparent’s lullabies, silly nursery rhymes to remember names of body parts, celebratory dances, all the dressings of nostalgia. These are small trappings, but what is life but a smattering of scents, songs, and memories? What is even worth living for if we do not have these gems to cling on as we close our eyes to sleep?

Maybe the guilt can go away over time, but in the end, all I want desperately is to belong, somewhere. And frankly, my friends do, too. Maybe in that much we can seek solace.

Where’s the box for that?