Admiral Mullen says goodbye (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
It is customary and proper to thank people in military uniform for their service to our country. At his retirement ceremony Friday, Sept, 30, President Obama did that for outgoing Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
And today, thanks to Mike's principled leadership, our military draws its strength from more members of our American family. Soon, women will report for duty on our submarines. And patriotic service members who are gay and lesbian no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country that they love. History will record that the tipping point toward this progress came when the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went before Congress, and told the nation that it was the right thing to do.
Mike, your legacy will endure in a military that is stronger, but also in a nation that is more just. (Applause.)
Mullen is being succeeded by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, whom Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, told the Washington Blade is "in tune" with Mullen about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And also like Mullen, Dempsey is keen on the watching what's happening with youth. "The younger generation embraces adaptation and change better than older generations, Dempsey told an Army publication, “and I’m going to test that theory.” (See SLDN’s profile here)
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen observes the passing of the honor guard at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of responsibility ceremony, Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Sept. 30, 2011. Mullen is retiring after 43 years of service as Dempsey takes over as chairman (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
But Mullen has earned the gratitude of LGBs for his insights, leadership and advocacy for the dignity of LGB servicemembers. During a difficult Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2, 2010, Mullen said he's served with gays since 1968 and joined Defense Sec. Gates in saying that he unequivocally supported ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military. Without his support – and the way he presented his testimony – DADT repeal would have been much more difficult to achieve.
Admiral Mullen testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee on DADT (DoD photo by Cherie Cullen)
Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity - theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.
Admiral Mullen addressed graduates at the Virginia Military Institute on May, 16, 2011 (DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy)
Setting the tone for the U.S. military of the future, Mullen also told the Senate committee:
I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.
Republican Sen. John McCain, who believed DADT was "effective," said he was disappointed - especially since "clearly biased" military leaders were trying to circumvent Congress – “in many respects by fiat.” that he believes to be effective. However, three years earlier McCain said, “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”
After the hearing, Mullen tweeted: “Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.”
As Tom Carpenter has pointed out, there are still important issues to deal with and correct before LGBTs (especially the “T”s) are no longer second class citizens in America. But one issue on which I hope retired Admiral Mullen will continue to advocate is the care of servicemembers with PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And now that DADT has been repealed – I hope Mullen will see the connection between the emotional and psychological harm serving in silence had on LGBT servicemembers and their families – and the harm that still exists and same sex couples still must deal with the impact of injustice from the Defense of Marriage Act.