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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 26, 2010

Army commander in Hawaii rebuked by Pentagon, Gates


By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon

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The top uniformed officer in the U.S. military yesterday sharply criticized Fort Shafter's Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon after Mixon said he is against repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the military.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates took Mixon to task on the same day that the Pentagon announced new limitations on "don't ask, don't tell," which prohibits gays from openly serving in the military.

President Obama has called for a repeal of the 1993 law.

Mixon yesterday did not publicly address the rebuke from the Pentagon's top military and civilian leaders or his status afterward.

"At this time, Gen. Mixon does not have any comment, but we appreciate your concern," said his spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Donnelly.

Mixon, who has led the U.S. Army in the Pacific from Fort Shafter since Feb. 1, 2008, was commissioned an officer in the Army in 1975. Before arriving at Fort Shafter, he was commander of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks. During 2006-07, he commanded 23,000 U.S. troops in northern Iraq.

Mixon penned a letter to the editor that was published March 8 in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes in which he made reference to reports that most service members are in favor of repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

"I do not believe that is accurate. I suspect many servicemembers, their families, veterans and citizens are wondering what to do to stop this ill-advised repeal of a policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen's desire to serve and acceptable conduct," Mixon said in the letter.

The three-star general added that "now is the time to write your elected officials and chain of command and express your views."

Both Gates and Mullen yesterday said Mixon's actions were inappropriate. Mullen said the issue is being addressed and that he had spoken specifically to Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, about Mixon.

Mullen said if there is a policy that someone in uniform disagrees with "and you feel so strongly about it, you know, the answer is not advocacy, it is in fact to vote with your feet."

POLARIZING ISSUE

The swift rebuke has returned the polarizing issue of "don't ask, don't tell" to Hawai'i, and raised anew the rights of military leaders to criticize U.S. policy.

While other U.S. general officers have spoken out against a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the comments have been in response to questions from Congress.

That's where Mixon erred, said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

"If Congress were to ask the general, 'What do you think about this?' I think it would be perfectly appropriate to say he doesn't agree with it," Korb said. "But this was a little bit different. He was telling people to write letters."

Korb said officers can express concerns through their chain of command, but once a policy is decided upon by the president and Pentagon, "you've got to follow it. If you can't, the honorable thing to do is step down."

Other flag officers have gone public with complaints or political views before. Some survived with careers intact, and some did not.

Korb said Army Gen. David Petraeus, now head of the U.S. military effort in the Middle East, wrote an opinion piece that was published in 2004 before the presidential election.

The newspaper piece talked "about how good things were going in Iraq. I criticized him for that," Korb said. "A, it was too close to the election, and B, it wasn't true."

In 2008, a public disagreement with the Bush administration over its Iran policy led Navy Adm. William "Fox" Fallon to resign from the position that Petraeus now holds.

The Pentagon yesterday made policy changes that make it harder to discharge gay members of the military.

REACTIONS VARIED

The news of Mixon's admonishment and continued efforts to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" brought a variety of reactions.

One Hawai'i soldier, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said, "Don't ask, don't tell, it works."

Repealing the policy would diminish the high standards of the military because openly gay people would draw attention to themselves, he said.

Gay activists will "fuel it up. I demand this now. I demand that now," the soldier said.

"I support Lt. Gen. Mixon's statement," he said. "If we feel that it (a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell') is wrong, we should be able to say it's wrong without repercussions."

Army Spc. Michael Bowyer, 28, said there are mixed emotions about a possible repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which he believes is not discriminatory and does not prevent gays from serving.

"I think most people would be OK with it (a repeal). It is going to take some getting used to," Bowyer said. "Are we going to have to have separate showers and latrines and all that stuff?"

Bowyer said he doesn't have a problem with gays serving openly, although religiously, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

"I've had friends who are gay and I've never had a problem working with them," he said.

Shannon Smith, a lesbian who was on active duty in the Army for six years, including three at Fort Shafter, and then was a Reservist at Fort Shafter from 2002 to 2005, said a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is important because the policy is discriminatory.

"We can go serve and die for our country, but oh my God, don't be gay," she said.

Gay soldiers knew other gay soldiers and Smith, now 41, remembers two girls getting caught. "They just turned all our names in and I remember how scared I was living in the barracks knowing they (military officials) could come in at any time," she said.

Smith said under a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," gay soldiers would continue to blend into the ranks because the military weeds out bad behavior.

"You can have a straight person in the military and if they don't behave appropriately, that should be dealt with," she said. "Just because you are gay, that shouldn't be a reason to be pointed at or segregated."

The whole issue of a repeal would settle down after a while, she believes.

"It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight you are supposed to be carrying yourself and handling yourself in a professional manner in the military," Smith said. "That (being gay) shouldn't be the defining factor."