This is a picture of one of the most powerful warships ever to cruise the high seas. It is a United States Navy Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer. The ship is powered by four GE LM 2500 gas turbines, each packing a whopping 33,600hp. Its top speed is well above 30 knots, it incorporates cutting edge stealth technology, and comes complete with the most sophisticated Aegis tracking system ever built. It also packs one hell of a punch. Its standard weapons load includes Harpoon cruise missiles, Standard Navy air to air missiles, Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, torpedoes, 2-20mm Close In Weapons Systems, and a 5 inch deck mounted artillery gun. It is an impressive achievement in naval warfare and has been one of the cornerstones in our nation’s naval strategy for the past 17 years. It strikes fear in the hearts of our adversaries, and promotes our national interests around the world. The designers of this world class naval vessel left nothing to chance. They optimized every square inch of the ship’s interior and exterior for the accomplishment of its vital mission – taking the fight to the enemy. They considered factors such as weather, weight, battle damage, system redundancy, reliability, and endurance. When the first Arleigh Burke slid into the water in 1991 it was clear that they had thought of everything…well almost. There seems to have been one minor oversight- they forgot the gay berthing.
Today, most US Navy ships have fully integrated male and female crews (submarines are still the exception). This was no small undertaking however. The integration of women on board Navy ships started in 1979 when about 62 female enlisted and 3 officers were assigned to the USS Vulcan a WWII vintage repair ship. For more than 20 years the Navy studied every aspect of integrating both sexes. Things like readiness, crew morale, good order and discipline, berthing facilities, head facilities, and general personal privacy had to be taken into account. Put simply the entire “male warrior” culture had to change.
There is very little privacy on board an naval vessel and, by necessity, almost all shipboard facilities are shared. Sleeping compartments are stacked 3 high and usually accommodate between 20 and 60 crew members. Showers and sinks are usually designed for multiple simultaneous users, and dressing facilities are open and in full view. This works for a normally integrated male/female crew because the ship is divided into different berthing areas designated solely for either men or women. This obvious separation of the sexes has been tried and tested throughout human civilization. The philosophy is simple, keep the boys away from the girls and no one gets in trouble. So, great effort was made over the years by the Navy to ensure that both sexes had adequate privacy and personal space. The Navy also established harsh discipline for those caught “cheating.” Unfortunately despite the physical separation, stringent rules, and tough penalties the Navy soon discovered that, when you put a bunch of young men and women inside a small steel box and send them out on the high seas for months at a time, they are going to make babies. In one famous case study, the USS ACADIA (AD-42) returned from a six month deployment with the nickname “Love Boat”. Wikipedia summarizes the scandal accurately on their USS ACADIA page. An excerpt reads:
“…In 1991, when the ship returned to San Diego from the deployment, thirty-six women were missing from the ship, the result of medical transfers for pregnancy. It was a particular embarrassment for the Navy, who had to look at the success on the battlefield of the other military branches during the Gulf War while hearing one of its vessels was derisively called ‘The Love Boat.’…”
So even with only two groups, male and female, to deal with the Navy has had no shortage of challenges, readiness impacts, and embarrassments. Now let’s add openly gay and lesbian crew members to the mix. By doing this you now have, in essence, four groups you have to keep separate on a relatively small ship. This task, though trivial sounding to the uninformed, is nothing short of overwhelming. In an effort to keep this post relatively short, I am only going to discuss four of the many issues that the Navy, and other Services, will have to address:
PROBLEM 1: Where would they sleep? Let’s see, would you put the gay men with straight men in tightly cramped 60 man bunk rooms? This would be a disaster. I can only imagine what would happen in a berthing space with 55 straight guys and five openly gay Sailors. It would be a nightmare for both groups. Perhaps you would opt to put the gay guys in with the females. I mean, technically speaking, that would be the right match, but I cannot help but think that the women would have something to say about it. Imagine being a straight woman having to dress in plain view of the opposite sex, regardless of their sexual preferences. Besides, knowing Sailors as I do, I could almost guarantee that creative straight guys would claim to be gay just to get into female berthing. So, the only remaining option would be to put the all the gay Sailors in their own berthing compartment. This would be dangerous as well however, because you now have a “gay section” of the ship. You are basically putting people that, by definition, are sexually attracted to each other in the same confined space and letting them sleep together. It may make for a great party, but the good order and discipline would be severely damaged. This is not meant to besmirch gay patriotic Americans in the least, it is rather a commentary on the reality of our hormonally driven human condition (reference the USS ACADIA).
Tightly Packed Crew Berthing Space
PROBLEM 2: Where would they shower? Like berthing, showers are crowded places on a Navy ship with lots of Sailors rushing around and getting ready for their day. They are cramped spaces and open nudity is pretty much a necessity. So, do you put the gay male Sailors in the same bathrooms as the straight Sailors? Again, this would create unnecessary stress and sexual tension for both groups. You don’t put them in with the women either for the very same reason. So, again, you are limited to a “gay shower” area where people who have a sexual proclivity for each other will be isolated. This is simply not a good formula for anyone.
PROBLEM 3: How many gay Sailors would be allowed on a ship? So let’s say that we settled on a way to divide the gay crew members appropriately. Perhaps you elect to put gay men and lesbian women in their own spaces. Now you have a facility issue. There are only so many racks and heads on a ship and they are located where they are not to accommodate sexual preference, as much as to optimize space for weapons systems. So it becomes somewhat of an engineering trade-off. You will either have to limit the number of gays you allow on a ship to the size of an existing “gay” berthing compartment, or you will have to redesign the interior of the ship with new facilities. This could not only compromise weapon systems layout, but could also compromise ship stability and seaworthiness as well. This would cost taxpayers billions of dollars that could be better spent arming and protecting our Warfighters overseas. So, it is conceivable that you may actually find yourself in the position of putting limits on how many Sailors of each sexual orientation you billet to a ship. This will most certainly become unthinkably complex and will almost immediately impact the readiness of the Fleet.
PROBLEM4: Promotability vs. Shore Rotation. Some may say that, given shipboard limitations, it would be best to just keep gay and lesbian Sailors ashore. This is a problem from two perspectives. First, it will almost immediately make gay and lesbian Sailors un-promotable. Most Navy ratings require sea service to refine the Sailor’s skills and make them competitive for advancement. Keeping gay and lesbian Sailors ashore would be patently unfair to them, and would most certainly cut their careers short. Second, it would create a real problem for straight Sailors who, having been to sea for several years, could not find a suitable shore job to rotate to because they were all taken up by gays. This would ultimately force straight Sailors to stay at sea and gay Sailors to stay ashore. Retention would suffer in both demographics and Navy readiness would be impacted. This was, in fact, one of the reasons the Navy had to put women on board ships.
At the end of the analysis, introducing gays to an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer or any other naval ship would be an insurmountable problem. It would cost tax payers billions of dollars, reduce ship readiness, and create huge quality of life issues for both gay and straight Sailors forced to live daily in very close proximity with each other. It is also concerning from another perspective. The Navy like the other Armed Services IS NOT a job. Having served on board Navy ships myself for over 21 years I understand this fact first hand. Duty in an Armed Service is a way of life. Unlike a 9 to 5 bank job where you can work with openly gay or straight people and then have the privilege of going home and living your personal life in private, you are with your Shipmates, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Service Members not only have to reflexively support each other in highly stressful situations, but must also be ready to make the “ultimate sacrifice” at any moment. This is why it is absolutely essential that our Service Members eat, live, work, and even play as a single team. A bank manager or plumber would never understand this. This is why gay rights ideologues, though well meaning, are simply ignorant of what they are asking their Armed Forces to do. An Arleigh Burke Destroyer does one thing well – make war. It is not a vehicle for social change or sexual awareness. Those systems simply were not installed at the shipyard.
The flaw lies in the fallacious thinking, by some, that our Armed Force have to accommodate all societal demographics. This notion is completely false. We do not let blind people fly jets, we do not let uneducated people become officers, and we do not let people with low intelligence operate a submarine’s nuclear reactors. The fact is we discriminate across the board when selecting qualified people for our military, because we must protect its ability to fight and win wars. That is truly the only objective that we should be worried about. By turning our military into a equal opportunity venue for every demographic that thinks that it is their “right” to serve, we inadvertently weaken the very thing we are trying to build up. Admittedly it may be unfair, but fairness has never won a war.
So, it is easy for our President to appease his gay/lesbian constituency and demand immediate change in this area. By doing so however, he is showing his own ignorance of the Services he commands. My strong belief is that putting homosexuals on the high seas in our Navy ships, though arguably noble in intent, could well sink our Navy faster than a fleet of Chinese fast attack submarines.