Don Davis

115,000 LBGT Troops: How Many Is That, Exactly?

Filed By Don Davis | December 02, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, Congress, Democrats, Don't Ask Don't Tell, LBGT, Marine Corps, politics, Republicans, US Air Force, US Army, US Navy, USMC

I took a couple of weeks off, as Thanksgiving and snow came around (a subject we'll address in a day or so), but we are all again occupied as lots of things we've been talking about either will or won't come to pass, and it seems like all that's happening all at once. Today we'll take on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT); this because the Pentagon's top leadership just came out and manning the rails.jpgreported that revocation of the policy, following a period of preparation, would be their preferred way to go. There will be lots of others who will take on the question of what's right and wrong here, and exactly how implementation might occur; my interest is, instead, to focus on one little fact that makes all teh rest of the conversation a lot more relevant. That is the fact that about 70,000 LBGT troops serve in the military today, DADT notwithstanding, and, that if it wasn't for DADT, almost 45,000 more troops would be serving that aren't today. And that one little fact leads to today's Great Big Question: exactly how much military would 115,000 troops be, exactly?
"Dad, if I were you, I wouldn't tell that story. Now I have no doubt that there might be a lot of truth in it, but you know how funny these people are. You know you always used to tell us when we were children: "Never smarten up a chump." --"Victoria Whipsnade", to her father, "Larson E. Whipsnade", in W.C. Field's "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man"
As we so often do, let's set a stage: we use the 115,000 figure because we have the academic work of UCLA's Gary J. Gates informing our estimate, and that estimate was updated in May of 2010. A stage having been set, let's move on to painting some pictures:

The Army

These days the Army organizes themselves around Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), and a BCT might normally be assigned somewhere between 2500 and 4000 soldiers, and 115,000 troops could equal more than 30 BCTs. It appears that more or less 12 BCTs and two more Combat Aviation Brigades are on the ground in Iraq today, which works out to about 49,000 troops in total...and that means 115,000 LBGT troopers could theoretically fill every billet in Iraq, and then replace themselves after a year, with about 15,000 left over.

The Navy

The Navy is organized around Carrier Strike Groups, which each consist of one of the 12 aircraft carriers now in service and the additional ships they require to complete their missions. Those aircraft carriers require crew to operate the ship's basic equipment, Marines who provide security and other functions, additional crew to operate the "Air Wing", which is the organization on board responsible for flight operations, and, because carriers also serve as the "traveling headquarters" for the Admiral who is commanding the Strike Group, a few more crew to serve as the Admiral's personal staff. Add it all up, and a carrier can have a crew of almost 6,000 on board...and that means there are enough LBGT forces available to occupy every bunk on every carrier in the Navy, from the actual bed in the Admirals' Cabin all the way down to the "stacks of racks" way down belowdecks for the ordinary Sailors and Marines. Even beyond that, there would be enough people left over to crew every one of the Navy's 100 or so submarines--and you'd still have about 30,000 sailors left over to maintain the ships and their associated aircraft when they return to port.

Air Force & Marines

The Air Force, as with the other Services, is composed of components drawn from Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces. As it turns out, the entire Air National Guard is 106,700 strong. Our 115,000 LBGT troopers could fill every one of those slots--and that would still leave enough personnel to completely fill the Air Force's pilot training schools for seven years after that. The Marine Corps' fighting forces are designed to work with the Navy to combine a variety of capabilities into self-sustained "over the beach" units that can, if required, take and hold beaches, ports, or airfields, or build a base of their own and hold it, until a larger force can come in and expand the foothold, so to speak. (The Corps refers to one of these units as a "Marine Expeditionary Force", or an MEF.) To provide this capability worldwide, the Corps maintains three MEFs, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, and one stationed in the Pacific, based in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam. 115,000 Marines would equal almost half of the entire Corps, Active Duty and Reserve, and that's more troops than two of the MEFs combined, which might typically comprise 45,000 Marines each, more or less...which means if the LBGT Marines needed to, they could most assuredly take and hold some serious real estate, more or less anywhere in the world--and if they ran into trouble, they could send back home for another 25,000 more LBGT troops to help make their point.

The Cost to National Security

So there you go: the next time someone's talking about how much national security might be threatened if we change DADT, you can tell them that there's a cost to national security from keeping DADT as well. How much of a cost? If you pulled those 115,000 potentially affected troops from the Army, DADT could cost us two Iraqs worth of troops, with 15,000 reinforcements left over, and if it was just the Navy, it could affect enough sailors to crew every aircraft carrier and submarine and 30,000 more besides. If you removed that many personnel from the Air Force it would affect more people than the entire Air National Guard and seven years' worth of new pilots combined--or, if you prefer to look at it through the prism of a eagle, globe and anchor, it could be enough LBGT Marines to take and hold darn near anything, from the halls of Montezuma, to at least somewhere near the shores of Tripoli. I don't want to pay that price, and apparently the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff don't either...so hey, John Mc Cain...why don't we just get over this imaginary Great Big Deal and move on to some real ones?

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While I normally approve of LGBT as a generally inclusive acronym, in this case it doesn't really apply as even if DADT is appealed trans people are still not allowed to serve.

it's a good point and one that i could not resolve well, stylistically.

for example, the "lbgt" tag is important to help readers find this story, and an "lbg" tag would not have been informative.

using "gay" and "lesbian" was a reasonable compromise for tag choices, but it seemed unwieldly when i was working out the title and in the story body, and "lbgt", despite the "t" issue, was, to me, a better style and search choice, even as it was an imperfect one.

Regardless whether or not what the Repeal of DADT specifies, Trans individuals *are* serving and have served in the military. That we will have to remain in hiding is wrong, in light we are as well protecting the freedom of those that hate us.

I think we should discuss trans people serving too. Did that 60K statistic (palm center, I think) include trans people? Whether trans troops are included in DADT or not the basic problem of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and general anxiety around minorities is driving policies towards everyone LGBT.

alex, i would amplify upon your comment by pointing out that the "christianization" of the military over the past decade adds an additional element of difficulty in overcoming these sorts of prejudices, and i suspect that over time the ultimate success of the effort to roll back some of those phobias you mention is going to be tied to our success in "un-jesusing" the armed services.

because you really wouldn't expect to ever see a trans or androgyne person who is obviously out and open about how they present themselves in the military, it's pretty easy to forget that there are likely to be troopers who can't present themselves as they would wish, and your point here is well taken--and i have to think that among the thorniest issues for the military to work out as this (pardon the pun) transition takes place is how to uniform persons who have their own ideas about how gender presentation should occur.

here's what i mean: in the civilian world, gender presentation is at the discretion of the individual, and individuals are free to make changes in those choices at will...and we're even free, if we should so choose, to make those changes on a daily basis.

but that's unlikely to be the case in the military, and i would expect rulemakers will end up limiting some of that freedom.

another issue: how to deal with trans spouses who might live on base, who may be far more flamboyant than the current rather insular base community might be used to.

typically the military works to educate the community on what conduct is expected from the base commander and the service, and i would expect this would have to occur here as well.

still another: how will the military health care system deal with the medical aspects of all of this...and pretty much any answer, as you can imagine, will be cause for a giant hissy-fit issue from the right.

Don I don't really care if the military accepts gays and lesbians and your numbers do not really mean much to me. I do care that the USA should not discriminate and for that simple reason I support repeal of DADT.

The major obstacle to repeal at this point seems to be John McCain who was a POW for a lengthy period and I suspect his obstinate attitude has to do with what he experienced during his captivity. He almost dealt with it when he stated in today's hearings that his views were based on personal experience.

Forget all the other rhetoric. Call the question. John, tell us about the personal experiences that have made you so committed against gays in the military.

i guess what i would say to you about this comment is that i realize that this is a place where i'm preaching to the choir (and to be frank, i think the choir, with near unanimity, sees the civil rights issue as you do), but at the same time we all encounter those who are not so sold on the idea of change (and for some of that group, the logic of social justice is not nearly so apparent as it is for the members of the choir), and this is really intended to be a useful "pointer-outer" for those folks.

and i should have added: it is also possible that mccain experienced some traumatic event before his military service that has contributed to his irrationally self-contradictory behavior, and i would suggest keeping that possibility in mind as well as the one you've brought to the table.

Really interesting break down, great piece! Thanks Don!

thanks, john, i do appreciate that.

These numbers are impressive illustrations -- but as the Pentagon study points out, there will also be a certain number of troops who have a real problem serving alongside GLBT co-horts, and they will choose not to re-enlist when their contract is over. I can't imagine this number being huge, but when figuring that actual effects on head counts in the military, it has to be included in consideration.

Also: 115,000 troops is roughly twice the number of soldiers who died in Vietnam -- a sobering comparison, but another example that puts the numbers in perspective.

it is entirely likely that some number of troopers will choose not to stay after the change...but it's also true that there is no other place in the world where a young man can sign up to visit new and interesting places...and then, on a daily basis, blow them up.

that is hugely attractive for a lot of those same combat soldiers who are now the most vocal about maybe not reenlisting--and if you throw in a lousy economy, i don't think anyone's going to be using the theme from "exodus" to score an ironic news story anytime soon.

Yeah, like the old National Lampoon parody of a recruitment ad .. visit far-off lands, meet exotic people with foreign cultures ... and kill them.

Wendell Cochran | December 3, 2010 5:02 PM

Deena wrote, "(John McCain) almost dealt with it when he stated in today's hearings that his views were based on personal experience."
McCain needs to be called on this to explain in detail EXACTLY what personal experiences he had that caused his obstinate opposition to repeal of DADT. If it had something to do with being sodomized while a POW in Viet Nam, it is doubtful that it was because of homosexuality on the part of the perpetrator. Sociologically, rape, whether upon the person of a male or female, is almost never an act of aggressive sexual orientation. In times of war, rape is the ultimate expresion of depravity, acted out as a means to psychologically and physically humiliate, subjegate and terrorize defeated enemies, especilly POWs, at the basest animalistic carnal level. To equate captive rape to sexual orientation, if that is what McCain seems to be doing, indicates that the man continues to retain a lot more Post Tramatic Stress Disorder than he is will to admit. Or, is able to rationally cope with in his capacity as a U.S. Senator. If his hate is so deep seated, he needs to seek professional help. I certainly believe that the American public deserves a complete and honest answer that explains his past experiences that clouds his thinking on this legislative issue of DADT.

i would amplify upon your comment as well.

it's not just in wartime that rape is a weapon: we "rendition" certain persons to egypt because we appreciate the professional way that they run their rape rooms--and the use of rape even extends to a means of keeping bloggers quiet when they annoy the egyptian power structure..

It would seem that a lot of T-people have already served aboard Submarines! Counting me it seems a very High percentage of T's are ex-Submariner's! No study has even been done however! It would seem that we Hid well while "In the Navy" So why is there still problems with us serving????

i would say the same thing to you i said above: because folks are so well-hidden, you never think to consider exactly who's having to do the hiding.

it's a point well taken, and i glad you brought it up.

Excellent story. Having served 7 years active duty in the Marine Corp I can tell you (as a G-A-Y man)Senator McBigot..errr, McCain would most assuredly have a serious stroke (not a bad thing) if he had any IDEA just how MANY gay/bi/questioning troops there are in the Marine Corps!

And I hope that bigoted son-of-a-bitch CHOKES on the numbers if they ever get published!

i feel badly for mccain because, in my view, the only thing he's been true to in his entire political life is his willingness to say or do anything to keep himself relevant in political life.

it's a sad way to live, and i actually have more respect for a strom thurmond, or even a david duke, who truly hate from their hearts and not as part of some political calculation.

The tag is beyond imperfect,it is innaccurate. This is the first time I have ever heard of trans being included in a dadt story. Its ok to use trans for your tag but got forbid any gay person fights to include trans in the verbage or legistlative reform of dadt.

This type of politics continues to divide our communities and exemplifies the alienation the trans comm faces from gays. Its like,if the gays don't even include trans, why should we (mainstream).

who cares about serving in the military or getting married when trans people are suffering just to get laws on the books to protect them from harrassment,discriminination, brutality and murder, oh yeah....the gays. You see when it came time to put such laws in place to offer protection against discrimination for ALL of us, once again, gays cut trans folk out the equation for the greater good of obtaining rights for their kind only... much like with dadt... so american.

i guess i would commend you to some of the comments above, particularly robin carolyn montagues', which points out that there are today trans persons serving...and obviously, if you're one of those troopers, this is a matter of actual interest right now, and i can imagine that getting it fixed is indeed a big, big, deal.

Excellent, Don!
I've been waiting for just such a breakdown- this is the kind of stuff I can use in casual conversation, and the kind of numbers that stick in people's heads.
Just what we needed.

i was happy to do it--and i'm glad to hear folks will pick some of this up and put it to good use.