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Let Us Answer the Call

Last night, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke to a group of students at Duke University, where he encouraged “all young Americans, especially those at the most selective universities” to consider military service. “Instead of wearing J.Crew, they wear body armor,” Gates said of our young troops, suggesting a contrast between 18-to-24-year-olds reading comfortably in wood-paneled libraries and their peers fighting in the unforgiving sandbox.

Nearly all Americans can call up the memory of a relative who served in war, whether a grandmother in Europe during World War II or an uncle or cousin in Vietnam. But now that less than 1 percent of the American public serves in the military, putting faces to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan can seem more difficult. Meanwhile, applicant numbers skyrocket for Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and international fellowships and volunteer opportunities. My generation is deeply engaged in a plethora of global issues – but this interest in service does not often extend to military service.

Speaking from my own college experience, most of my peers don’t understand military culture. The armed forces are often misunderstood as old-school and out of touch with today’s generation. Meeting ROTC cadets from Wellesley, Harvard, MIT, and other universities, I witnessed just how untrue these stereotypes can be.

Young service members demonstrate great sacrifice and discipline. My own peers have given up the freedom to live and travel as they please – freedoms so highly valued by our generation – to serve where duty calls. These sacrifices are already difficult, and Secretary Gates’s call is even more of a challenge for my gay and lesbian peers.

As evident in former West Point cadet Katie Miller’s story, sometimes these young people must take the opposite approach that Gates recommends. Banned from serving openly, Miller actually transferred out of West Point into elite Yale University. The Army lost a capable potential officer, while the Ivy League gained an intelligent mind – all because of Miller’s sexual orientation.

As long as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” remains on the books, many young people will continue to be discouraged from considering a future in the military because they cannot serve openly. Repealing this law will demonstrate to my generation that Congress is catching up with our society. Another barrier of intolerance will fall away, and the military will benefit from having more of the talented young people it needs.

Only Congress can enable all qualified young Americans to answer Secretary Gates’s call for service. Write your senators now, especially the 43 who voted against us on September 21, and tell them to vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the Defense bill comes back to the Senate floor in the lame-duck session this year. No more excuses, no more delays. Let all who are qualified, serve.

By Elizabeth Shirey, Grassroots/Policy Advocate |


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Vietnam era vet on September 30, 2010 at 02.08 pm

Well said,
As a Vietnam era vet who now holds appointments at several elite Boston based schools, and who has taught ROTC cadets who could be anywhere (one of whom won a Rhodes Scholarship but first spent two years in Afghanistan), I agree military service should be seen as an option today.  But I also agree that Congress will have to end DADT before the Gates message is fully convincing.