(Editor's note: Openly gay attorney and former Marine Captain Tom Carpenter has fought Don't Ask, Don't Tell as part of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network since the discriminatory law was signed by President Clinton in 1993. While the anniversary of the repeal of DADT is being marked by President Clinton and a number of LGBT groups, Carpenter decided to reflect on the anniversary from a personal perspective - as an Annapolis alumni with former Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Add this to our history - Karen Ocamb)
Thank You, Admiral Mullen, for Emphasizing Integrity in the DADT Repeal
By Tom Carpenter
As I stood in the crowd of over 1000 on the sweltering hangar deck of the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York City Tuesday night, Sept, 18, celebrating the one year anniversary of the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) law and honoring the one person who was, in my opinion, the “tipping point,” retired Admiral Mike Mullen - my mind raced back more than 45years.
It was a typically hot summer day in June of 1966 in Annapolis when I proudly reported as a member of United States Naval Academy class of 1970 and was first introduced to the men who would mold us- the Plebe Detail from the class of 1968. These Second classmen would become known as the "legendary leadership class." Among its distinguished graduates were Mike Mullen, Jim Webb, Ollie North, Charlie Bolden, Dennis Blair, Mike Hagee and 20 other lesser known Admirals and Generals.
Plebe Summer was the most challenging and grueling experience of my life and it was the members of the class of 1968 who were charged with the difficult task of changing eighteen-year-old high school graduates into midshipmen. Teaching us to march, salute, wear proper uniforms, keep our chins in, and sit on the last four inches of our chairs while eating our meals with our “eyes in the boat” were a small part of this transformation. The most important lesson we were to learn from these men was that integrity was foremost in everything we did.(West Point Cadet covers at the Intrepid. Photo courtesy Tom Carpenter)
Like many LGBT folks of my generation, I did not come to grips with my sexual orientation until I was in my twenties. By then, I had graduated from the Academy, became a Marine officer and was a fighter pilot when I met another Marine who would become my partner for 20 years. We talked frequently about integrity and how our relationship was requiring us to live a lie. In 1976, I made the most difficult decision of my life, to resign my commission, to give up the career I loved and was good at. To me, it was all a matter of integrity.
In the many years I have served on the Board of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, my constant argument was that DADT was against the core values of the military and that in the end, its repeal was simply a matter of integrity.
You can imagine how, on February 2, 2010, I anxiously awaited Admiral Mullen’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the pending legislation to repeal DADT. As the senior member of the military, his statement, like General Colin Powell in the 1993, would carry great weight. Would he remember the lesson he and his classmates taught us so long ago? I held my breath as I heard Mike say:
"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
As Admiral Mullen took the stage on the Intrepid Tuesday night, standing in front of a group of young LGB Servicemembers, he said:
“It’s pretty easy to stand up and represent the values you have held close for your entire life and be fortunate enough to be in a leadership position where that value actually crosses over in a time and a place and in a way where you as a leader can really make a difference."
I suspect Mike is just beginning to understand the impact his sense of integrity is having on the LGBT community, both civilian and military. In a moment he transformed the debate from the red herrings of showers and privacy to where it should have been from the very beginning - simply a matter of integrity.
As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the repeal of DADT, it is clear that those who threw up so many roadblocks to the open and honest service of LGB patriots were just dead wrong. Repeal has been as predicted: a “non-event.”(Tom Carpenter talking with Annapolis alumni Admiral Mike Mullen at a USC event in LA. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Thank you, Admiral Mike Mullen, for reminding the nation that those lessons you learned at the Academy so long ago - and taught to me and my classmates - are enduring and lead inevitably to justice and equality.(Tom Carpenter, former PA Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran and lead House sponsor of the DADT repeal and Carpenter's husband Art Andrade at the SLDN event in NYC. Photo courtesy Tom Carpenter.)