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Is It Mutiny Or Command Failure?

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President Donald Trump has been working to restore sound priorities that promote military readiness, not demoralizing social agendas that the previous administration pushed to extremes.  Recent news reports brought to our attention by our friends at the Center for Military Readiness suggest, however, that some Defense Department and military officials are not following the President’s lead and orders.   

In March 2018, President Trump approved a new policy regarding persons who identify as transgender or suffer from gender dysphoria.  The policy approved recommendations made by former Defense Secretary James Mattis, following a six-month study that Mattis initiated.

The Trump/Mattis policy disqualifies persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria – one of many psychological conditions known to affect personal readiness to deploy.  New directives also provide exceptions for personnel “grandfathered” under Obama administration policies and include allowances for persons identifying as transgender if they have been “stable” for 36 months and serve in their biological gender.

The Department of Justice has been vigorously defending the Trump/Mattis policy against lawsuits that LGBT activists filed in 2017, before the policy was even finalized.  On January 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted lower court preliminary injunctions that were blocking the policy, allowing implementation to proceed while litigation continues.  The January ruling suggests that the government has a good chance of prevailing when the Supreme Court hears the merits of the case, possibly next year. 

On March 12, the Pentagon issued Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 19-004, which instructed all branches and communities of the service to implement the Trump/Mattis policy regarding persons who identify as transgender, effective on April 12.

Last year the Center for Military Readiness published a comprehensive report analyzing the Trump/Mattis policy. The CMR Policy Analysis explained why the Trump/Mattis policy deserved support, but also noted several unresolved issues that would need to be addressed.

Military personal conduct rules, which impose restrictions beyond anything in the civilian world, require clarification and constant reinforcement.  To faithfully execute Trump administration’s policies, the Secretary of Defense should instruct subordinates to eliminate unusual interpretations that are causing confusion and inconsistencies with the administration’s intent.

For Example:

1. Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the Chief of Naval Personnel who has been confirmed as the next Vice-CNO, recently announced a permissive dress code that attempts to circumvent the Trump/Mattis policy regarding persons who identify as transgender.

Admiral Burke’s policy statement indicates that transgender personnel may “live socially” in their “preferred gender” and “express themselves off-duty in their preferred gender” when not in uniform.  This problematic policy disregards DTM 19-004, which announced implementation of the Trump/Mattis policy on April 12.  The directive clearly states that transgender persons are expected “to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex.”

Adm. Burke’s permissive dress code allows special, unequal treatment for individuals seeking to live a double life “expressing” their sexuality after hours.  Burke’s misinterpretation of the Trump/Mattis transgender policy also weakens the historic principle that personal conduct rules apply on-and off-base, 24/7, on-and off-duty, at all times a person is in the service.

Contrary to expectations from transgender activist groups, military service does not allow individuals to dress and express themselves as they choose.  Extension of Burke’s rogue policy to all services and all personnel would have the effect of increasing inappropriate behavior that weakens morale, discipline, and mission readiness.

As we are seeing already, incremental changes in long-standing personal conduct rules will continue trends toward problems of sexual misconduct, both non-consensual and consensual.

2. Sexual expression on ships and military bases, which can take many forms, invites voluntary sexual misconduct that brings discredit to the service.

In August 2018, Navy Times photographed a Yeoman 3rd Class performing a drag queen strip-dance wearing a wig, tights, and red high heels in front of other off-duty sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.  (See photos in this article: Sailor by Day, Performer by Night — Meet the Navy’s Drag Queen, ‘Harpy Daniels’.)

 If a male sailor can perform a sexually charged drag strip-dance on the USS Reagan, and if personal conduct rules no longer apply after-hours, male and female heterosexual personnel surely will claim comparable opportunities to express their own sexuality while off-duty, regardless of the impact on others.

There are no indications that anyone questioned the judgement of the former CO of the USS Reagan, Capt. Michael Donnelly, who allowed the male sailor to dance in drag on his ship.  Additional news reports have demonstrated the point that all forms of sexual misconduct, both voluntary and involuntary, are harmful to morale, discipline, and cohesion.  (See Section B below)

3. The leaders of National Guard units in six states (CA, NM, NV, WA, OR and NJ) are refusing to implement the Trump/Mattis policy regarding persons who identify as transgender.

Public statements of the state governors involved betray confusion and misinformation about the Trump/Mattis policy, which is based on the medical condition gender dysphoria, not the status of transgenders as a class.  Tolerating the governors’ defiance could cause operational problems when National Guard units are brought under federal control, and similar defiance in additional states.

4. The U.S. Marine Corps has issued a directive encouraging (essentially ordering) participation in LGBT Equality Month events to be held in June.

MARADMIN 274/19, signed by Marine Brig. Gen. W.H. Swan, authorizes events in June that are not consistent with the Trump/Mattis policy.  Since taking office, President Trump has declined to issue an official proclamation recognizing LGBT Pride Month, and the Marines have not announced such activities before.

Anthony Kurta, an Obama Administration holdover, has been quoted using the title assigned to him during the previous administration as well as “Performing the Duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness,” even though his unconfirmed nomination for that position was withdrawn earlier this year.  Kurta has initiated or participated in past LGBT Pride Month celebrations in June at the Pentagon, even without presidential authorization.

In the same way that our military does not allow labor unions or political demonstrations in the Pentagon or military bases, activist events promoting LGBT causes and demands should not be sponsored by the President, the Department of Defense, or the military services.

5.  Permissive Policies Appear to be Worsening Problems of Sexual Misconduct, Both Involuntary and Voluntary.

The Navy has more than a sexual harassment/rape problem; it has a military discipline and sexual misconduct problem that has been evident for some time.

This news report about gross indiscipline on the USS Florida, the second submarine to integrate female sailors, demonstrates how sexual misconduct, both voluntary and involuntary, undermines morale and mission readiness:

Military.com/Task & Purpose: Sailors Created ‘Rape List” Aboard Navy’s 2nd Sub to Integrate Women

A FOIA request unearthed an investigative report about a sexually explicit list of activities between male and female sailors serving on the Florida’s Gold Crew.   Military.com and several other news outlets reported that in 2018, sexual acts were recorded on a “list” (mis-headlined a “rape list”), which rated with 1- 4 stars sexual performances of female sailors aboard the submarine.  According to the investigative report quoted in the article, “The list describes aggressive sexual activity, but does not reference non-consensual acts.”

Even without non-consensual assaults or worse, the situation caused fear and distrust aboard the Florida.  Military discipline had broken down, leaving distrust and shattered vertical cohesion between male and female sailors and commanders.

It is unfortunate that leaders of the U.S. Navy seem to have escaped professional responsibility for problems occurring on their watch.  Outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, for example, apparently failed to recognize problems that have been papered over with glowing statements like those from the former CO of the submarine Florida’s Gold Crew.

Capt. Gregory Kercher boasted in an interview that gender integration on his submarine, the Florida, was proceeding seamlessly.  Kercher was rightly removed for a poor command climate on the submarine last August, but accountability for the degradation in personal conduct rules should have gone higher in the chain of command.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran was nominated and confirmed to replace Adm. John Richardson as CNO.  And the Chief of Naval Personnel – the same Vice Adm. Robert Burke who relaxed personal conduct rules for transgender personnel expressing their “preferred gender” after hours – also was named and confirmed to replace Adm. Moran as the Vice CNO.

Year after year, Pentagon officials have tried “remedies” recommended by the same ideologues whose social agendas have contributed to or worsened problems that are weakening morale and discipline in our military.  The Trump Administration should connect the dots in matters of sexual misconduct and restore sound policies that encourage discipline rather than indiscipline.

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