The military desperately needs Arabic linguists in order to provide translation services in the ongoing war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. But at least one Navy linguist is no longer providing those much-needed services, because, for some in the Pentagon, there’s a war more important than the war on terror.
The war on gays in the military.
Arabic linguists are in short supply all over the government, and have been for many years. In the military, they provide critical battlefield intelligence which can save soldiers’ lives. This doesn’t matter to the brass back in Arlington, though. If you’re gay, it doesn’t matter if you’re desperately needed. You’re out.
That’s what happened to Stephen Benjamin, a chief petty officer in the Navy who served for two years providing Arabic translation services to troops on the ground. He was done in when he used the Army’s internal instant messaging system, exchanging casual — not explicit — messages with a soldier in Iraq that indicated that they both were gay. A later inspection of the computer system at Fort Gordon turned up 70 service members whose use violated policy in some way.
Benjamin tells his story in a New York Times op-ed:
The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The 68 other — heterosexual — service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn’t consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.
My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well. — New York Times
He also points out that since the Clinton-era policy was instituted, 58 Arabic linguists, already in short supply, have been kicked out of the military, compromising a critical intelligence mission in the war on terror.
In Tuesday’s Republican Presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., hosted by CNN and WMUR-TV, only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said that gays should be allowed to serve in the military and that only “homosexual . . . and heterosexual behavior that is disruptive should be dealt with. It isn’t the issue of homosexuality, it’s the concept and understanding of individual rights.”
What’s it going to be, the war on terror, or the war on gays?
Until the military gets their collective heads out of their asses, you 58 Arabic linguists might consider serving on the civilian side at the National Virtual Translation Center.