Taking Account: The Aftermath of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

— by Sgt. Brian Kresge, Jewish Lay Leader of the 56th Stryker Bridge

Editor’s Note: Jewish tradition calls for an accounting of the soul cheshbon nefesh during the High Holidays. Now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer in effect, we can openly discuss the issue of homosexuality in the military. In this spirit, Sgt. Brian Kresge shares his regret at getting one of his friends kicked out of the army under DADT.

In 1996, I was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, just north of Anchorage, as part of a separate parachute infantry battalion.  Two years before, I had become ba’al t’shuvah coming out of Fort Benning to the 101st at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.  This continued in Alaska, working with the “Frozen Chosen” of Chabad Lubavitch in Anchorage.

This cast me, sadly, an odd-man out in my unit.  The request for special accommodations often put me at odds with my leadership.  They weren’t anti-Semites, they just were of the mindset that if the military wanted to bother with family or religious matters, they’d issue them to you.  I was regarded as a solid performer, a good shot, and a great infantryman, but the needs of faith compromised that at times.  The requests for kosher rations in the field and even exemptions from duties on Shabbos in garrison were met with disdain, and almost 17 years of having to repeatedly answer for a kippah in uniform never got old.

I made fast friends at my Alaskan duty station with an amiable fellow from Richmond, Virginia.  His fondness for smoking a pipe (an indulgence we shared) and flannel shirts made him look like he escaped from a porch on a hovel in Appalachia.  An infantry company only has a few non-infantry personnel, be it supply, or in this guy’s case, the unit Nuclear, Biological and Chemical specialist.  As such, grunts enjoy a branch-specific chauvinism that doesn’t view non-grunts as of sufficient military merit, thus he was equally an odd-man out.

Adam, my friend, was also gay.  He had a boyfriend in Anchorage who often came to visit him in the barracks, alternately dressed as a man or woman, but because of Adam’s 1950s woodsman appearance, no one gave it a second glance.

More after the jump.
My squad leader, a storied staff sergeant who helped write the book (literally) on long range surveillance operations, was a raging homophobe.  I, however, liked him because out of all my leadership, he looked out for me, in part because I never made him look bad in terms of my abilities.  His squad had the highest physical training average, the best marksmen, and we won squad competitions.  He was the best leader I worked for in the active duty Army.

There was a cycle when we enjoyed a number of back-to-back operations that separated us from kith and kin for a good period of time.  First Wales for a unit exchange which lasted over a month, then several weeks at the Northern Warfare Training Center (then at Fort Greeley), followed by weeks in the field.  We were arctic paratroopers, after all, winter operations were our bread and butter.  My squad leader and others at his level began to get cabin fever, and took to tormenting and humiliating junior enlisted as means of entertainment.  Adam began to inhabit the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to escape from that.  I was at least insulated.  No one wanted to be seen picking on the unit Jew.

Unfortunately, my squad leader found Adam and another soldier in a compromised position.  It was really nothing more than two of them emerging from a bathroom buttoning their trousers, but it was enough for him to demand the launch of a DADT investigation.  Gay or not, the accusation and call for investigation were out of line.  Ultimately, the commander made the matter go away.

Adam, however, was filled with indignation, and filed a complaint against my squad leader, who perceived this to be career ending.  I liked Adam, he was a good friend.  A decent squad leader, though, engenders a certain amount of loyalty on the part of his subordinates.

I told him Adam was indeed gay.  While he was incensed that I hadn’t come forward before, he was relieved that someone could save his career, though I seriously question if it was ever in danger.  I went before the unit commander and told him about how Adam came out to me, and about his boyfriend, who as it turned out, was under age.

Adam was discharged under Chapter 14, incompatibility with military service.  It wasn’t a dishonorable discharge, but it did mean the benefits he was a year shy of earning were now gone.

My reward, sickening as it was, was an enhanced reputation as a soldier who “did the right thing.”  My advancement came at the expense of a good friend, one I lost forever and to whom I would apologize given the chance.  The under-aged boyfriend notwithstanding (especially in a unit where many guys had 16 and 17 year old girls in their barracks room more often than not), Adam did nothing to merit the humiliation and discrimination, and I wronged him grievously in my betrayal of his confidence over what would have amounted to a negative counseling statement for my squad leader.

While I don’t find homosexuality compatible with Torah-observant Judaism, one could see as a service member, DADT was always an imperfect policy.  It was easily weaponized based off of rumor and speculation.  When I left active duty, I believed that the less frequent interactions with the military under the National Guard would entail less scrutiny into personal lives.  However, here in the Pennsylvania National Guard, a chaplain from Lancaster–clergy from a liberal denomination–was targeted under DADT by an anonymous chaplain superior who we do know was from a more conservative denomination.  The matter was dropped, but certainly it could have humiliated the chaplain involved, not to mention compromised his civilian ministry.  Meanwhile, they protected the anonymity of his accuser.

And the policy wasn’t just useful to those with an anti-gay agenda.  I performed duties full time at my Guard unit’s armory a few years ago during a mobilization.  We had a soldier transfer in from Minnesota.  He was gay, though not openly.  His boyfriend dropped him off and picked him up from drill.  What was important to me, taking attendance, was that he showed up and did his duties for the weekend.  I had other soldiers, some combat veterans, being AWOL or failing drug tests, and you could have heard crickets chirping for volunteer opportunities.  He volunteered and did a great job as part of the National Guard security presence in Washington, D.C. during President Obama’s inauguration.  When he transferred to Texas to be closer to family, his jaded boyfriend came to the armory and dropped off gear he left behind, obviously hoping that outing him would land his ex in hot water.  The irony of DADT being wielded by a jilted lover wasn’t lost on me.

Informed by my experience with Adam, I wasn’t about to bite.  The kid was a good soldier.  He’ll deploy with the Texas Army National Guard, if he hasn’t already, and he’ll show his mettle in the service of this country in Iraq or Afghanistan, and his performance will have nothing to do with his sexuality.

My great-uncle, of blessed memory, was a Marine and fought at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  He was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star.  He expressed sentiments regarding gay Marines he fought alongside back then.  “If they were gay Marines, I would actually call them Marines that were gay,” he said to me, the distinction lurking in the organization of his phrase, “and anyway, history won’t mention anything other than that they were Marines.”

For my part – my military credentials – I served from 1994 – 2011 with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Alaska, and with the Pennsylvania National Guard as part of the now disbanded 28th Infantry Division Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) and the 56th Stryker Brigade.  I was also the 56th Brigade’s Jewish Lay Leader, as endorsed by the Aleph Institute, the military and prison service organization that was created to answer a call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to serve Jews in those circumstances.  In my civilian occupation I am a programmer and author.


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