Special-operations troops think the elite force is facing difficulties by accepting open gays into one of the military’s more politically conservative communities.
Interviews with current and former commandos reveal that to maintain unit cohesion of Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs or other elite covert warriors, the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command need to make a special effort to ensure both homosexuals and heterosexuals know the rules of conduct.
“I’m unsure how the Defense Department will define ‘openly gay,’ ” said one Green Beret officer. “I can envision all sorts of new regulations or changes to existing ones, class after class, accusations flying, and more strains on our soldiers. We will spend hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, to establish the new rules of the road and to implement them.”
Of particular interest is how Navy SEALs, the macho sea, air and land commandos who put great emphasis on physical prowess, will accept gays.
“If an open gay does his job, I think he’ll be accepted,” said retired Rear Adm. George R. Worthington, a former Navy SEAL. At retirement in 1992, Adm. Worthington commanded the Naval Special Warfare Command, the unit that mints new SEALs in a demanding qualification process.
“I don’t think there is going to be that many of them that want to sign up for SEALs anyway because of the closeness and the tightness of the training,” Adm. Worthington said.
“My opinion is that they’re probably more clerical oriented. Medical profession. Corpsmen. Stuff like that.”
Gay-advocacy groups said they know of no research that estimates the percentage of gays in support or desk jobs, compared with close-knit combat occupations, such as special operations and infantry.
Integration in what are called special-operations forces (SOF) is particularly important in the war on terrorism. Covert units are active in Afghanistan hunting down insurgents. Troops are expected to bond closely in small units and survive in harsh forward camps.
Special Operations Command oversees about 60,000 troops, including active and reserves. Of those, about 19,000 are combatants, what the command calls operators.
“It would be premature for me to speculate on how USSOCOM will implement the new policy,” spokesman Kenneth McGraw said.
In March, Adm. Eric Olson, who heads Special Operations Command, was asked about the ban during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“I believe the time has come to consider a change to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” Adm. Olson said. “But I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner that should include the conduct of the review that [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force on a change in the policy. It would include an assessment of the likely effects on recruiting, retention, morale and cohesion and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the event of a change and recommend those policies as well.”
The Pentagon has begun a process expected to last several months to usher in open gays, with the first step the writing of regulations and education program to ensure both homosexuals and heterosexuals know what is expected of them.
“Put the word out,” said Adm. Worthington. “If you hit on somebody, you’re going to get in a fistfight. You may not like it. I just think if they maintain their composure, they don’t bother anybody.” The Washington Times interviewed three Army Green Berets who deployed to Afghanistan. They asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press.