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January 5, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 01
 
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Local retired general, once nation's top military officer, opposes military ban on Gays
Local retired general, once nation's top military officer, opposes military ban on Gays
A local retired army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, returned to the national stage this week with a opinion piece published in the January 2 edition of the New York Times in which he calls for an end to the military's ban on openly Gay servicemembers.

General John Shalikashvili, who retired in 1997 and now lives in Steilacoom, WA, had supported the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy during the four years he spent as the nation's top military officer.

"I now believe that if Gay men and Lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," he wrote. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

Rear Admiral Alan Steinman (Ret.), applauded Shalikashvili's statement. He had served as the Coast Guard's Surgeon General in Washington, D.C. during Shalikashvili's term as chairman of the Joint Cheifs. However, the two never met until recently. In 2003, he joined two retired generals in coming out about his sexual orientation in the New York Times. He now lives in the Seattle area.

"It is hard to overestimate the importance of General Shalikashvili's opinion on this because he was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time that the law was passed," he said. "To his credit, he changed his mind. He was able to look at the problem and recognize that the military is hurting for people right now and ask himself, 'Would Gays and Lesbians be a source for potential new military members.' They certainly would be."

In his opinion piece, Shalikashvili cites conversations with Gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq and an openly Gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew, and a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with Gay people.

Military advisors in 1993 had warned that allowing Gays to serve openly would "lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion." However, opponents of the policy say their concerns lack merit, especially as social acceptance of Gays continue to grow.

"There is great indication that the attitudes of service members - as well as high ranking D.O.D. officials - are beginning to change," Steve Ralls, director of communications for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, told the SGN on Wednesday. "Since 1993, we have been able to compile a mountain of evidence showing that the policy of exclusion is unnecessary and - in fact - counter productive to the military's interests. There has been a significant power drain since 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and - at the same time - servicemembers have become increasingly comfortable serving with openly Gay members."

Currently, 24 nations - many considered allies in the War on Terror - allow Gays to serve openly, including Great Britian, Isreal and Austrialia.

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