Saturday, January 29, 2011

So General Amos, the commandant of the Marines, knows how to honor his uniform after all


Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine commandant, and Carlton W. Kent, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, deliver to their fellow marines a confident, unequivocal, and determined commitment to enforcement of DADT repeal, including an upbeat exhortation to "respect the rights of all who wear this uniform."

by Ken

General Amos took a lot of heat, and deservedly so, for his publicly expressed skepticism that the Marines could safely implement DADT repeal, rather flagrantly stepping outside the military chain of command. I thought he should have been fired on the spot, and I still think he would have deserved it.

But I'm here to give him credit for taking this initiative to prepare the corps for the new era where mutual respect is to take the place of lawful bigotry. I don't see how he and Sergeant Major Kent could have made a stronger or more affirmative presentation to their fellow marines. There's no reason why sexual preference should in any way compromise military discipline, as we already know from the experience of countries that have taken this step, and discovered that it was really no big deal at all. Of course people who want there to be trouble have the power to make trouble; as both General Amos and the Sergeant Major Kent stress, the key to making sure that doesn't happen is leadership at all levels, and they've set a stirring example here.

For those of us who worried about problems in DADT-repeal implementation arising from equivocation and foot-dragging in the Marines, it's especially gratifying to see the USMC on the contrary taking the lead in upholding the new (however long overdue) law of the land.

Immediate winners: the many gay men and lesbian women already serving proudly in the Marines, who can look forward to a new era in which their service is finally fully respected, by their country and by their peers. It's good for the morale of the corps and good for the country's miiitary preparedness. The only losers are the bigots and haters, and they deserve to lose.


and also to show that the U.S. military establishment is already capable of doing it once the bureaucratic wheels are properly aligned, here's a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, with emphasis added but, it seems to me, no further comment required:
Gay Marine’s husband surprised at respect shown by Naval Academy

Neil Steinberg Jan 29, 2011 11:03AM

John Fliszar had a heart attack in 2006 and was rushed to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

“When I was in the emergency room with him, he asked me to promise him, if he died, to make sure his ashes were interred in the Naval Academy,” said Mark Ketterson. “He loved that place. He very much wanted to be there.”

Fliszar, a Marine aviator who served two tours in Vietnam, survived that heart attack. But last July the Albany Park resident suffered another one that killed him at age 61.

Hoping to fulfill Fliszar’s wishes, Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and told them that Fliszar, Class of ’71, had wanted to have his ashes interred at the USNA’s Columbarium, a serene white marble waterside crypt next to the school’s cemetery.

The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.

“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”

He was and they did, the couple having been married in Des Moines when gay marriage became legal in Iowa two years ago.

Ketterson sent a copy of the marriage license. That changed everything.

“I was respected,” he said. “From that moment on, I was next of kin. They were amazing.”

The USNA alumni association sent Ketterson a letter expressing condolence for the loss of his husband.

The USNA says Fliszar’s interment followed standard operating procedure.

“His next of kin was treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to the next of kin of all USNA grads who desire interment at the Columbarium,” said Jennifer Erickson, a spokesperson for the academy. “We didn’t do anything differently.”

Shipmate magazine, the publication of the USNA’s alumni association, ran Fliszar’s obituary. It noted his two Purple Hearts for “having been shot down from the sky twice in military missions.” It noted “for the rest of his life he would joke about his ‘government issued ankle.’ ” It noted “his burly but warmly gentle manner.” It noted he was “survived by his husband, Mark Thomas Ketterson.”

“The word ‘husband’ in the obituary has created a bit of a stir,” said Ketterson, a Chicago social worker. “I’ve heard from a number of officers. It’s been amazing. This has not been absolutely confirmed, but I think I’m the first legal same-sex spouse who planned a memorial.”

The memorial service was held in October, in “the beautiful, beautiful Naval Academy chapel,” said Ketterson. A uniformed officer stood in the back and played taps.

“They did the standard military funeral, a wonderful service,” said Ketterson. “Since I was the designated next of kin, they were going to present the flag to me, but I deferred to his mom. She gave it to me.”

One of the groups Ketterson heard from afterward was USNA-Out, the organization for gay graduates of the Naval Academy.

“From my perspective, attitudes and actions are changing at the Naval Academy and certainly at the alumni association,” said Brian Bender, chair of USNA-Out, observing that while he “can’t speak for the Navy as a whole, we do interact with active-duty Navy folks, and they check in with their chain of command.”

I tried to find someone who could speak for the Navy as a whole, but with whatever era replaces “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ still in its infancy, well, let’s say that Navy communications specialists are not jostling each other for the chance to address this subject.

While the public generally approved of the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ in the U.S. military, the details still need to be worked out. The thorny issue isn’t ending the costly and counterproductive practice of forcing gays out of military services -- that cost $40 million a year to enforce and deprived the armed services of thousands of qualified personnel. A bigger challenge is the question of entitlements: Who is a survivor? Who gets military benefits?

A marriage certificate was the key that let the USNA know how to treat Ketterson in relation to his husband’s service. Gays in the military and gay marriage are thought of as separate issues, but without legal gay marriage, or at least civil unions, how can the military know who gets the folded flag?

Such practical concerns were far from Ketterson’s mind when he and Fliszar got married after dating for six years — “because I loved him and he asked me,” Ketterson said, adding that the USNA alumni he’s heard from have made grieving more bearable.

“It’s been some months. I’m still doing mourning,” Ketterson said. “As a gay man who grew up in a military family, getting communications from USNA, having heard from alumni who say, ‘You will always be one of us’ — that’s powerful, and healing.”

“One of the e-mails said that I was a ‘trailblazer,’ ’’ said Ketterson. “I didn’t blaze any trail. I buried my husband.”

That said, he still finds himself marveling at how it all unfolded.

“I am a patriotic American, but I know this is not a perfect world,” he said. “The point is, when the chips are down, when the issue was patriotism and honor for a veteran, they were wonderful. Whatever their private feelings, they made me proud to be an American. We really do get it right sometimes.”

"We really do get it right sometimes." Yes, indeed.

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At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry but for this Army retiree, this is "the sun rises in the east kind of story." The law has changed and the military leadership truly lives the oath of "support and defend the constitution..." which thereby requires obedience to the laws of the land.
I love to make fun of my Marine buddies, but without a doubt, they and their leadership have a compass that does not waver from "ever faithful". Gen Amos did his job, he told his boss what he thought of DADT and then when told to execute, saluted and led. That's the mission of a leader and he truly is one.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

My only quarrel, Anon, is that General Amos didn't "tell his boss what he thought of DADT," he mouthed off publicly, which bears no resemblance whatsoever to telling your boss, something that is becoming dangerously common among high-ranking military officers. For what he said, there's no question in my mind that he should have been fired immediately.

That's what makes this a story. And, happily, a good story. It's entirely the general's fault that a lot of people wondered whether, or at the least how enthusiastically, he and the Marine leadership under his comman, would enforce the law. That should never be possible.

But General Amos has gone a long way toward redeeming himself, and assuming he follows through on this excellent start, he is, as I wrote, honoring his uniform.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on this!


At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the DADT Policy and refuse to accept homosexuals serving openingly in the USMC. General Amos capulated to the POTUS as he wanted a second tour of duty as the CMC.

I would not serve under a homosexual officer, so thank God I'm retired. A sad day for USMC History and it happened on General Amos watch!

Ted C. Mc Neel Sr.
Major USMC Retired


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