I was excited to see "DADT: Spouse Survey Revealed". I'm waiting for mine to come in the mail and wondered if it would be as poorly worded as the one my husband had received.
I started to read the diary and felt a huge let down. Don't get me wrong... the content of the survey was about what I had expected. It's the lack of understanding about military families that upsets me. I started to read the comments and I felt even worse.
Military wives take a lot of crap from a lot of people. And my first draft of this diary was full of anger. I know that no one ever intended to hurt my feelings. And several military spouses responded in the comments that they think the survey is crap. So why are my feelings hurt and should it really matter? After all, thousands of good men and women are being kicked out everyday because of a lousy regulation.
I hated the first survey. It's very similar to this one and it's horrible. The questions are asked in ways that don't fairly weight the responses and many of the questions are poorly framed. I wrote about it as well, Arrived in the Mail: 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of the Uniformed Services. A lot of what I wrote about that survey is applicable to this one.
I decided to rewrite and explain a few things about military life. I'm not trying to justify a survey, though some of you will think that I am. I am trying to explain military life. I'm hoping that after you're done reading this, you may understand why some of these questions are really important, not to the repeal of DADT, but to what happens after it is repealed. Maybe parts of this survey should have been sent after the repeal... but then maybe that would be too late. I liken it to using the patch instead of quitting smoking cold turkey. I wish they would have just went cold turkey. But we're left with the patch whether we like it or not.
First stumbling block had to do with question 11:
If Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed, the military will want to prepare and assist spouses in understanding the new policy. How would you like the military to provide you with information on the new policy? MARK ALL THAT APPLY
• No special activities or communications would be necessary
• Distribute printed information to spouses about repeal
• Provide information about repeal on military Web sites
• Have interactive chats available on line to answer questions from Service member spouses
• Provide information through military chaplains trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal
• Provide information through military counselors trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal
• Provide information through Family Readiness Group/Work-Life Program leaders trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal
• Offer courses to spouses on how to discuss repeal within their families.
• Other, please specify: __
The diarist response:
I mean, courses? Courses? They're going to make a whole curriculum on this issue? Will it be accredited? Can you get your BA in "Mommy works with a Homo?" So the whole family can go in an learn how to tell little Bobby, "Ok, you know that girl Michelle that Daddy works with? At the end of the day, when she's done filling artillery shells, she goes home to a woman, not a man. She always did, but now the Army has decided that it's ok for her to say it out loud. So, we just want you to be prepared that Daddy's friend at work may say she's a "lesbian" sometime over the course of her workday with daddy. Do you know what a lesbian is?"
Hell, yes, courses. Not everyone who serves this great nation grew up in a household where you could say the word gay or lesbian and not be slapped. There are many, many families that will need help figuring out how to explain to their kids that this is completely NORMAL. If the military doesn't offer courses, or a place for conversation about the issue, then it will take years longer for the families of gay and lesbians to be fully accepted. The military hierarchy can't make military families welcoming and understanding. But they can educate and hopefully make the path just a little bit easier. And when I say easier, I mean easier for the gays and lesbians who will be serving openly and their partners.
[My husband would like to add, if the military leadership doesn't offer courses, then the only guidance most families will get will be in their Sunday School Class].
Furthermore, the military offers courses for everything in military life:
New spouses get introduced to the military through Heartlink. I'm sure they'll add new information to this program about DADT when it is repealed. And don't you think the people who produce this program should be prepared to handle a new influx of gay and and lesbian partners? Won't they like to know the ins and outs of military life?
Spouses of deployed members learn about the entire process of deployment (pre, post, and during) through courses and support groups in the Hearts Apart program. I'm sure DADT will be mentioned as we will need to include partners of gay and lesbian members. They currently can't take advantage of this kind of support and that is a travesty. They need to be included immediately upon repeal of DADT. It won't happen because much of the program is volunteer run and volunteer driven and many spouses will fight including gay and lesbian partners. How do I know this? I've seen how long it has taken for male spouses to be accepted - at some bases, they are still fighting for 'equality.'
There are courses on finances, on jobs for spouses, education for spouses, marriage counseling, raising kids, anger management, etc. You name it, there is probably a class for it - including classes in for our military guys on diversity. They can't make spouses go to this stuff but they can sure as hell offer it and make the transition easier for everyone... including the gay and lesbian family members.
So, yes, courses are par for the course and are not meant to be absurd.
Questions 16 and 19 had to do with retention and recruitment. The diarist was bothered by the questions themselves but framed his response in a way that denigrated the importance of the military spouse.
Can anything useful be gleaned from whether the spouses would recommend service? Of all the factors that influence the military's ability to recruit--compensation, safety, VA benefits, college tuition, economic climate, current military mission--does anyone imagine spouses attitudes about DADT could possibly have a measurable impact?
Should spouses' opinions matter to the repeal of DADT? No. Do spouses' opinions matter to their husbands or wives staying in the military? Yes. Measurable impact? The survey will decide that one.
Spouses' opinions to do matter. They matter to the active duty member. The military is learning that if a military family is unhappy at home, then the deployed member can't do his or her job as effectively. That said, this will be the same for gay and lesbian members. Their partners will need good morale as well. They will appreciate it when someone asks their opinion. It has taken literally decades to get to the point where any spouse opinion matters at all.
Let's not belittle military spouses to make a point. Stick to the problem - the opinion of military spouses should not affect the repeal of DADT, no matter what they are. But military leadership may need to plan ahead if large numbers of military families choose to leave the military. I don't think that will happen, but if it does, they need to know.
Lots of folks, including the diarist, had problems with this phrase: Family Readiness.
And of course, it's sad a major civil right battle will be waged, possibly won or lost by whether someone's opinion of how it affects their "family readiness," whatever that means.
Wow. I wish Family Readiness was a vague term to me. It isn't. It means having kids prepared to have their dad leave for 6 months to a year or more at a time. It means knowing that I can handle all the finances and have the powers of attorney in order when it's time for my husband to leave. It means having a contingency plan for help when there isn't family in the area to call on. It means talking to neighbors and trusting the folks that work with my husband to call me every once in a while. It means having someone to watch my kids if I need to go to my injured husband. It means knowing where I will live if my husband dies. It means so much more. It isn't vague to the men and women answering this survey.
So, should the repeal of DADT effect Family Readiness? No. Will it? Probably. Is it right? No. Will it happen. Yes. How will the military deal with it? It's easy to say nothing and it's that person's problem. But wouldn't it be better to educate in the first place so we have fewer of these incidents happening?
Questions 27 and 29 ask about attendance at events or deployment activities. Believe it or not, military leadership already has a hard time getting families to a lot of these events. Many of us just ignore them and don't go at all. But they are trying to improve events and activities all the time (and when my husband was a commander, I was a part of that process too) to convince us to be a part of the team.
There is a funny thing about these questions - I find I want to answer them as inappropriate as they are. I want to answer yes, having gays and lesbians attend these events will make me more likely to attend. And I find it's because I am already stereotyping gays and lesbians in the military. I am hoping to find more progressives at events and I secretly hope that their inclusion will open up some new doors and bring in some new opinions. Logically, I know this is a load of baloney. Gays and lesbians will not necessarily be of the same political spectrum as myself. But the repeal of DADT gives me hope.
I find that I want the survey to ask if I would attend events if I knew that the military chaplain wouldn't offer a prayer or if we could all discuss the upcoming election. Of course, those things would never happen, but asking these completely inappropriate questions makes me wonder when we can start asking some appropriate ones.
To be sure, this survey wasn't written for the general public. It was written for military spouses to answer and a lot of the hurt comes from not understanding the military system. This survey sets us up and I'm not sure there is a good way to answer a lot of the questions - I'll answer it because I know I'll have the chance to answer the final question:
- As the last question in the survey, we'd like you to tell us about any other thoughts or opinions you have - positive, negative, or neutral - about the implications on family readiness and support or other aspects of military life if the government decides to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and policy.
And I will let them know how horrible the survey is and how they have already prejudiced the entire thing by asking the questions they did.
I'll end with this:
If you honestly think that DADT won't be repealed based on the answers to this survey, then you think more highly of military spouses than the actual military does. Family opinions about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly haven't kept our spouses at home. Policy decisions are not made by spouse opinion.
But answers from this survey may prepare military leadership to pave the way for better acceptance of gay and lesbian active duty members and their families. Marriage may not be legal yet, but it will be. We will live next to each other on military bases and need to call one another in times of need. If you believe that not talking about it is the best way to start out, then so be it. But I know that I want to be in the room when Sally from down the street starts whispering about John and James and the things she needs to keep her children safe from. Better if Sally doesn't get to start the rumors in the first place because she attended a class that helped her understand that being gay isn't something to be scared of.