Did Pentagon Distort “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Survey Results?

December 3rd, 2010

By Dan Miller

An actual read-through of the results shows much greater combat troop opposition to repeal than the public statement would have you believe.

Top leaders of the military have recommended that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) ban on homosexuals serving in the military be abolished, claiming that it would not unduly impair military effectiveness. However, the Pentagon study of the matter leaves substantial doubt as to that conclusion’s veracity. My doubts are principally as to the impact on combat effectiveness. Unless armed combat has vanished as the principal role of the military and the concept of “boots on the ground” has become obsolete, that is important.

(There are, of course, constitutional questions about whether DADT results in unconstitutional discrimination against homosexual members of the military. However, members of the armed forces have long and generally been recognized to have fewer constitutional rights than civilians; there are some good reasons for that, but that’s a subject for a different article.)

According to an early media report of the just released Pentagon study on elimination of DADT, it was recognized that it “might cause some disruption at first but would not create widespread or long-lasting problems.” In the absence of any explanation of “some disruptions,” “at first,” and “widespread or long-lasting,” and the lack of reference in that assertion to combat effectiveness, that is not entirely comforting.

To the extent that elimination of DADT was not a political/ideological matter to be resolved on such bases alone, there appears to have been some reliance on Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored surveys of military personnel. According to the linked news report:

The survey found that some two-thirds of troops don’t care if the ban is lifted. Of the 30 percent who objected, most of them were in combat units. … Opposition was strongest among combat troops, with at least 40 percent saying repeal would be a bad idea. That number climbed to 58 percent among Marines serving in combat roles.

If surveys such as this should be relied upon at all, responses from members of the military serving in actual combat capacities should be seen as far more important than responses from others; they are the ones whose combat effectiveness is likely to be affected, as well as those most likely to suffer any direct consequences. An analogous context might be responses to the question: “How often do you think your rifle should be disassembled and cleaned?” The response of a combat Marine in Iraq would likely not be the same as the response of a personnel clerk at the Pentagon.

The Report of the Comprehensive Review (267 pages) states:

The overall sample was almost 400,000 Service members (split evenly among active duty and reserve component forces). The response rate for this survey (28% overall), as a whole and by Service, was typical for surveys within the Department of Defense. The survey sample of military spouses was similarly designed to ensure adequate representation in terms of Service and active/reserve component. The overall sample was just over 150,000 spouses (70,000 active duty and 80,000 reserve component). The response rate for the spouse survey (29% overall) was also typical for this type of survey within the military community.

I could find no indication of the number of combat personnel on active duty, “boots on the ground,” who were surveyed. However, here are the total response rates for active duty personnel:

Army — 19%
Marine Corps — 29%
Navy — 28%
Air Force — 39%
Coast Guard — 54%

To some extent, low numbers may reflect the physical location of respondents in areas where responses were difficult to make — the front lines in Afghanistan, for example — and the high numbers may reflect ease of response from aboard ship. (It is entirely possible that many were no more able to respond (even if repeatedly asked to do so, as they were) than they had been able to vote in the November elections.)

While less than clear, the overall results of the survey were most likely slanted toward troops serving in non-combat units and those who, even though theoretically in combat “units,” were not “on the front lines” as suggested above. The mere logistics of distributing and responding to such a survey suggest this.

The full text of the Report of the Support Plan for Implementation (95 pages) suggests that attempts were made at every turn to adhere to political correctness and that valiant efforts were made to support the desired answer. Freshman Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has said:

[He will] read every page of the DoD/Joint Chiefs of Staff report and will seek a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations to discuss his findings before making a decision on this issue.

It seems unlikely that he will find much good red meat in the 95 single-spaced pages of the Support Plan for Implementation, as distinguished from politically driven conclusions.

He might want also to read the 267-page Report of the Comprehensive Review. As noted in the latter Report, Question 71 was:

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how, if at all, would it affect your immediate unit’s effectiveness at completing its mission … [asked only] of respondents with combat deployment experience since September 11, 2001.

Here are the responses in three different contexts:

In a field environment or out at sea.

11.4% very positive or positive
44.3% very negative or negative
32.9% net negative

When a crisis or negative event happens that affects your immediate unit

12.5% very positive or positive
29.4% very negative or negative
16.9% net negative

In an intense combat situation

12.4% very positive or positive
30.6% very negative or negative
18.2% net negative

Responses from those who had never been deployed or who had not been deployed into a combat environment since September 11, 2001, were substantially less negative than from those who had been so deployed.

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8 Responses to “Did Pentagon Distort “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Survey Results?”

  1. Clarissa |

    “The Pentagon report suggests to me that elimination of DADT will more likely retard than enhance military effectiveness”

    -But why is that? What can be the reasons for that? (Sorry, the quote is from your complete article at Pajamas Media.)

    Also, I discovered that Dan Miller is a fellow Yalie. I knew there had to be a reason why I liked his writing so much, in spite of disagreeing with most of what he said. :-)

    Dan Miller, is Yale’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese where you learned your Spanish?

  2. Dan Miller |

    Thanks, Clarissa

    The militarily has many different functions and many specialized people to perform them. The Army, for example, has physicians, pilots, aircraft maintenance personnel, police, cooks, lawyers, clerks, historians, quartermasters, engineers and a whole bunch more. All of them, however, have only one basic function — to ensure that the combat forces on the ground are in the best position they can be to kill people and to break things in combat. Were there no combat, no threat of combat and no need to prepare for combat, combat personnel would not have that function; the non-combat personnel would have no necessary function either and the military might as well be disbanded.

    The negative effects of repealing DADT can be thought of as of two types: the actual, direct effects and the perceived effects. Both types are important. To give an analogy, if infantry company A charges an enemy fortification and all in Company A are unexpectedly killed or captured, the military effectiveness of company A is obviously diminished — all the way to zero. If infantry company B, along the same line of skirmish, learns of the fate of Company A it will most likely conduct a similar charge on the enemy fortification with greater fear than did Company A because its members anticipate a similar fate. It seems reasonable to anticipate that fear, reasonable or otherwise, will diminish the likelihood that Company B will be successful.

    Should Company A’s charge of the fortification have been successful, with no more casualties than normal but leaving the fortification in enemy hands and no less dangerous to Company B than it had been to Company A, the elan and effectiveness of the troops in Company B during their charge are less likely to be diminished.

    The survey results, to the limited extent that they deal with combat personnel such as those in a front line infantry company, suggest substantial concern about the impact of the repeal of DADT on their combat effectiveness. Fear, and concern not amounting to fear, are powerful motivators. This is true even though the future is cloudy; on a large scale, I think it’s part of what’s called the “fog of war.” In the example above where Company A was destroyed, the fate of Company B might be entirely different than its members had anticipated. Companies C and D might envelop the fortification and render it relatively harmless. In the example where Company A was successful, Company B might nevertheless be wiped out by an enemy artillery barrage responsive to the success of Company A.

    I served in the Army Chairborne JAG Corps many years ago and was never even close to combat. I therefore have no basis in experience to anticipate whether repeal of DADT would have an actual, as distinguished from perceived, adverse impact on combat effectiveness. Nor do I have any religion based concerns. However, the survey suggests that the adverse impact perceived by those currently and recently in combat would be substantial, and that’s important.

    If DADT is repealed, the integration of acknowledged homosexuals in combat units such as front line infantry companies may have no actual adverse effect at all; perhaps it could even turn out to be beneficial. But it may have adverse consequences, and in times when such units are actively conducting military operations it does not seem prudent to find out; they need to be as effective as they can be and social experiments should be delayed until a more propitious time, should there ever be one.

    Back when I was in the Army in Korea, the Vietnam war was in progress simultaneously with a social experiment. Many people were drafted or enlisted voluntarily who, due to their very low intelligence test scores and prior antisocial conduct, should not have been. Some could not even read and it was hoped that military service might prepare them for better civilian lives. Some were sent to Korea. They were referred to as McNamara’s One Hundred Thousand, had more disciplinary problems than other troops and thereby adversely affected military discipline. “It was a failed experiment. It proved to be a distraction for the military and of little benefit to the men it was created to help.” The only analogy I would suggest to repeal of DADT is based on the dangers of social experimentation during time of military conflict.


    No, unfortunately I didn’t learn Spanish in college; I studied German and came pretty close to flunking. I didn’t even start to begin to think about trying to learn Spanish until I got to Latin America and even now I am very slow. It’s all my wife’s fault. She spent two of her undergraduate years at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, learned Spanish there and is fluent. She has been my crutch, which does not please her. I try to read the lead stories in online versions of a Panamanian newspaper daily but can barely muddle through. Strangely, I have a much easier time reading legal documents written in Spanish.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Dan, I’m not sure your extended analogy to the strength of enemy resistance to an attack is valid. Combat Arms units are effective or they’re not, regardless of whether they encounter a stronger foe. The fundamental basis of effectiveness is small unit cohesion. It’s been well established that soldiers/Marines don’t fight so much for flag, country, colonel, or captain as they do for each other in small units/groups. That means teams, squads, maybe platoons. Would the presence of one or more open gays in a small unit reduce the effectiveness of that unit? I guess it’s possible, depending on the people involved, but probably less than a soldier who was cowardly, ill-trained, or unskilled. At the bottom line, I think a gay soldier who carried his own weight in combat would be an accepted member of the unit and would contribute to combat effectiveness. The bottom line is that soldiers who conform to accepted standards of behavior and do their jobs aren’t going to hurt a unit.

    I suspect that the higher numbers of combat soldiers who expressed reservations were simply stating their personal preferences and attitudes. That’s to be expected, and I understand it. However, I’m certain that the vast majority will accept a new policy and follow the rules. Those few who might not will be welcome to seek civilian employment.

    In a larger sense, I don’t like the military being used for social experimentation. It’s purpose is far too serious for that kind of nonsense. Racial integration and general broadening of the opportunities for women were changes whose time had come within the larger society, which the military represents. An argument that gay rights has reached that plateau can be made. Other things that really are social experiments, like Project 100,000, are very bad ideas. I was there at that time, and it hurt us.

  4. Dan Miller |

    Tom, as noted in my earlier comment, I never got anywhere close to combat. I yield to your views on small unit cohesion and that “the bottom line is that soldiers who conform to accepted standards of behavior and do their jobs aren’t going to hurt a unit.” I am less confident of the latter, but hope you are right.

    As to whether gay rights have become adequately accepted generally to make a social experiment such as envisioned by the DOD Report viable, I simply don’t know. The issue is currently a highly political/ideological/religious one and views on all sides seem to be firmly held. Combat effectiveness appears to have taken a back seat in many cases; I think it should be the, or at least the most important, consideration.

    Repeal of DADT still remains a contentious issue, although perhaps less so than was integration of “colored troops” into the US military. President Truman issued an executive order mandating that in 1948 but the Army didn’t formally announce plans to desegregate until three years later, well into the Korean Conflict. Eventually, it worked well but probably not all that well during the first few years.

    If I had a choice, I would like to see all non UCMJ limitations on service by homosexuals culled, but first for non-combat troops in situations where they have substantial freedom not to live on post or otherwise in close proximity. That seems likely to involve the majority of military personnel and should go relatively well, as the survey seems to suggest. If it does, then the program could expand gradually, perhaps at the discretion of local combat commanders of flag rank.

    The UCMJ is a different problem. It makes criminal various things more or less accepted in society at large. Adultery is covered by the general article (134) (an act of Congress) as supplemented by the Manual for Courts Martial (an executive order) establishing the elements of proof. The MCM but not the UCMJ requires that to be punishable adultery be

    prejudicial to good order and discipline or of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

    The elements of proof of adultery are such that proving an offense beyond a reasonable doubt is usually very difficult and I suspect that few if any courts martial for adultery now occur.

    Sodomy, rather differently, falls under Article 125 of the punitive articles, an act of Congress. Sodomy need be neither “prejudicial” to “good order and discipline” nor of “a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Article 125 subjects to punishment

    any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal . . . .

    Unless and until the punitive articles of the UCMJ are amended by an act of Congress signed by the President, I am uncomfortable with any direction that any of them not be enforced. Unless the courts nullify the UCMJ in these respects, they should be no less up to the Congress and the President, jointly, than other statutory changes. Perhaps the easiest solution for Article 125 would be its statutory incorporation into the General Article, with elements of proof to be as stated in a revised Manual for Courts Martial.

    Be all of that as it may, it strikes me that the DOD sponsored survey fails to show persuasively that there would be little or no adverse impact on combat effectiveness and that it as well as the DOD report based on the survey and other information need substantial congressional review before action is taken.

    The remaining term of the present Congress is short and the matter should be dealt with at whatever length is necessary by the new Congress. I see no need for action “right now,” and doubt that it will happen.

  5. Tom Carter |

    This really isn’t a “hot button” issue from my standpoint. If they repeal DADT, I can live with it, and I believe the military will make it work. They always do, regardless of the silliness of some of the things imposed on them by their political masters.

    If openly gay soldiers are allowed to serve, they’ll have to adhere to standards of behavior and the UCMJ just like everyone else. That eliminates most of the more bizarre behavior that some may be worried about. As far as Article 125 and other parts of the UCMJ are concerned, if they have to be amended or removed, so be it. There’s nothing unusual about law changing with the times. I have to admit, though, that it will be fun to watch members of Congress ducking and dodging when they have to vote on changes to the UCMJ that would seem to permit what Article 125 now prohibits.

    One note of caution: Article 125 doesn’t apply only to gay people, and it’s not aggressively enforced now. If the politicians prefer to see it strictly enforced rather than eliminating it, then a whole lot of folks could be in trouble….

  6. Dan Miller |

    Tom, I agree that UCMJ Article 125 by its express terms applies to both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy; I quoted from it in the comment to make that clear. I think it has been applicable to both for as long as the UCMJ has been in existence. I also agree that were the politicians to demand, successfully, that it be strictly enforced as it exists, lots of presently happy folks would become unhappy and perhaps in trouble. I am glad that you clarified any ambiguity.

    DADT is not a hot button for you and in isolation from whatever military realities may exist it is not one for me. I think my position on that has been reasonably clear. it does appear to be a hot button issue for many members of the military in combat situations and also for others. Here is a column by Victor Davis Hanson published on December 4 concerning the subject. It seems well worth considering. If DADT is to be repealed, consideration should also be given to modification of portions of the UCMJ; I suggested that in the comment.

    The survey and other information provided in the lengthy report fail to answer satisfactorily what I consider to be the most important questions: (1) would repeal adversely affect performance of the combat mission of the military, (2) if so how and to what extent and (3) would inflicting whatever type and amount of damage, if any, that would likely occur be in the overall national interest? Those are very important questions, their answers are important not only for the happiness of the military, and to proceed hastily and without further enlightenment as to all of them during the short and rapidly waning time available for the lame duck Congress could be unfortunate.

    Many legislative initiatives have been pushed hurriedly through the Congress for political/ideological purposes without adequate review — by either the proponents or the opponents, even those who voted yes or no; ObamaCare was one of them. To make that mistake once again under the pressure of other important national business as to which the press is also on for hasty action would not be a good idea.

  7. Tom Carter |

    Dan, I agree that the survey is flawed, in a lot of ways. One aspect of it that I wonder about is the motivations of those who responded negatively. Were they responding to the questions as intended, or were their responses motivated by individual moral and religious beliefs, as opposed to objective questions of military effectiveness? There’s no way to know that, of course, but it goes to the validity of the survey results.

    The questions Hanson asked are logical, if somewhat biased toward his own personal position. The same kinds of questions were undoubtedly asked regarding blacks and women in the military.

    The majority of the public has consistently supported allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, as shown here. That’s been true since DADT was created early in the Clinton Administration. This is an issue whose time has come, and I don’t know what will be changed by further delay. However, it looks like it won’t happen in this lame duck Congress, as you’ve indicated. Then it might not get through the new Congress at all, and I’m not sure that’s good. I have to wonder what we gain by letting the issue continue to fester.

  8. Clarissa |

    “No, unfortunately I didn’t learn Spanish in college; I studied German and came pretty close to flunking. I didn’t even start to begin to think about trying to learn Spanish until I got to Latin America and even now I am very slow.”

    -I’m sorry I disappearead for a while: end of semester, I’m sure you know what it means. Still, I feel nothing but deep admiration for someone who keeps learning new languages and discovering new cultures. Your desire to learn about a completely different culture is nothing short of admirable. You will, surely, forgive me for attributing this invincible curiosity about all things new to your being a fellow Yalie. :-)

    No response is required to this comment. :-)

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