war stories

His Comrades Spotted Him Leaving a Gay Bar. So This Army Mechanic Deserted. Thanks, DADT

When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell became law, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman supported the policy. Not because he had anything wrong with gays, he says, but because not having DADT would mean he’d spend too much time (and the military too much money) training soldiers not to be bigots. Keeping gays in the closet solved all that. So he maintained his personal support of the law — until men in his company spotted one of their own leaving a gay bar. That changed everything.

We’ll let Bateman tell the whole story here, but it goes like this: The man he refers to as Sgt. X was a mechanic, “specializing in the maintenance and repair of the complex Bradley Fighting Vehicles.” But when soldiers saw him leaving an Austin gay bar, and “nobody said a word” on the ride back to Ft. Hood, he disappeared. “He emptied his personal gear from his room (leaving all his military-issued gear behind) and deserted the Army that he had so faithfully served for six years. And with his departure, the Army lost all its investments in time, training and experience that had gone into making Sgt. X the good mechanic and fine soldier he was.”

And that was enough for Bateman to start his “reconsideration” of DADT.

I did a rough, back-of-the-envelop calculation and realized that the U.S. government probably sank more than $2 million, directly or indirectly, into Sgt. X. Two million in federal tax money, flushed down the drain in an instant by don’t ask, don’t tell.

And I thought, “What could I do to train and prepare my men for combat with an extra $2 million?” Even if I spent half of it on things like additional training to keep people from acting on their anti-gay bigotry, some modifications to the barracks, etc., I’d still have plenty left to make my men more fit to fight.

That changed my mind.

My initial assumptions about the costs of allowing gays to serve versus the potential benefits were wrong. I was wrong. Since 1994, we have lost almost 14,000 trained servicepeople to this law. Quite a few of them — I would guess an overwhelming majority of them — were valuable careerists like Sgt. X. (A one-enlistment serviceperson isn’t likely to get caught in the very short time he’s in. A career serviceman or officer is, over the years, both more valuable and more expensive, and more likely to get “caught.”) And these 14,000 are only the ones we can count because we deliberately threw them out. We really have no idea, nor any way to track, how many more left in the way Sgt. X did.

So don’t repeal DADT because it’s the right thing to do. Do it because it’s the economical thing to do.