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More on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell

12:14 PM, Jun 18, 2010 • By STUART KOEHL
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My recent article on the proposed repeal of the 1993 Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell law drew a considerable amount of feedback, most of it private.  One of the more significant public responses came from David Rittgers, a legal analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.   

More on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell

Rittgers takes me to task for being “too quick to dismiss the fact that other first-rate militaries have allowed gays to serve without damaging readiness.”  However, I never made that argument.  I said that allowing gays to serve would damage combat effectiveness, which is an entirely different matter.  “Readiness” is merely a measure of a military unit’s ability to deploy for combat in a timely manner; “combat effectiveness” is a measure of how well it will fight once it arrives.  Readiness is a function of manpower, materiel and training, which are fairly objective criteria.  Combat effectiveness is something more subjective and difficult to measure in advance.  Not only are the two unrelated, they are often antithetical.  For instance, a newly-raised unit will have all of its personnel and equipment in excellent condition; it will have passed all of its training exercises, and thus will score very high for readiness.  But until tested in battle, its combat effectiveness is an unknown quantity—it may fight well or poorly, depending upon a host of unknowns—unit leadership, the appropriateness of training and tactics, and, of course, small unit cohesion.  So, a unit with a high combat readiness score may not have high combat effectiveness. 

Conversely, a unit with high combat effectiveness may not score well for readiness precisely because its combat effectiveness was acquired in battle.  In combat, the unit proves itself, learns what works and does not work on the battlefield, becomes inured to the stress of combat, and develops a high level of morale.  In doing so, it will lose men and equipment, and the equipment that remains will be in need of maintenance and repair—all of which detract from “readiness.”  As a perfect example, one can look to the Battle of the Bulge, where the recently-deployed 106th Infantry Division relieved the veteran 2nd Infantry Division.  By all measures, the 106th had a higher state of readiness, while the 2nd, which had been in continuous combat since Normandy was understrength and worn out.  But when the Germans attacked, the 106th broke, with two entire infantry regiments surrendering en masse.  In contrast, the tired but battle-hardened 2nd Infantry Division fought tenaciously and stopped the German offensive at Elsenborn Ridge; its combat effectiveness was not related to its readiness. 

Rittgers also takes issue with my assertion that neither the British nor Israeli armies have experienced extended, high-intensity combat since allowing gays to serve: 

    Israel certainly has experience with an extended, high-intensity war. Since its birth it has faced the threat of invasion and terrorism, and the forecast for the last few decades has been scattered machine-gun fire with a chance of rockets by mid-afternoon.

    Except for the United States, Britain remains the largest donor of forces to Afghanistan (now America’s longest war), according to the ISAF website. This excellent dispatch from Michael Yon portrays them as a first-rate force. There’s even a female combat medic on patrol with Yon. I see no difference between American and British experiences in Afghanistan to support Koehl’s claim. 

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