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Obama's military
Obama's military
by Shaun Michael K. - Special to the SGN

President-elect Barack Obama has acknowledged his intent to earn the military's respect. Now, after winning a grueling two-year race for the office of the president of the United States, Obama faces having to make good on his promise.

In politics, promises are the name of the game. Holding true to them however is a different story. But now more than ever, it is important to our uniformed men and women that President-elect Obama keeps his promises and restores stability in the lives of our troops and their families.

During his campaign the Illinois senator pledged to have a "people first" national security plan.

Undoubtedly, concerning the armed forces there are many difficult decisions that lay ahead for the Obama administration. Evidence on how well he will equip and arm the military will be seen when he proposes his first defense budget. Obama and his team expect to deliver the new budget to Congress within his first three months after assuming the job as U.S. president.

Among the plethora of intent, there are three major changes that Obama has pledged: withdraw of U.S. combat troops in Iraq, see that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are given a fair trial, and allowing Gays to serve openly - which may be the most important issue concerning Gay servicemen and women, but not necessarily for the rest of the country.

Ending the war in Iraq, which began March 20, 2003, by withdrawing U.S. combat troops may be easier said than done. During his campaign, he promised to pull out troops within 16 months of taking office, if conditions allow. Security conditions have improved since the insurgency began stepping up attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians in late 2003. Still, the U.S. military has suffered 4,205 deaths according to an official defense department casualty report.

Opponents of an Iraq War pullout say that the "surge strategy" began by Gen. David Patreus is working and it is too early to turn security operations over to the Iraq government.

Obama cites Afghanistan as the need to pull troops out of Iraq, believing that Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom are where the real War on Terror exists. Obama also pledged that catching Osama Bin Laden would be a Defense Department top priority.

Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2007 and is ongoing. Commanders on the ground have consistently asked for more troops within the past year due to a recent influx of attacks on U.S. personnel by the Taliban.

The way Obama has it outlined the withdrawal is threefold; he will bring our troops home with honor, establish regularity in deployments for active-duty members, and end the U.S. Army's stop-loss program, which automatically extends soldiers service after they've reached their end of service date.

All of this, Obama said, is contingent on what U.S. commanders on the ground have to say.

The second major change Obama and his team pledge is to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and hold U.S. terror trials.

The prison is located at the southeastern end of Cuba on the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The prison was opened in October 2001 when the current war in Afghanistan began. Out of the 775 detainees brought to Guantanamo, approximately 420 have been released without charge, and as of November, approximately 270 detainees remain. The detainment camp is used to imprison suspected militant combatants from Afghanistan and from around the world, but specifically not for captives taken in Iraq, who qualify for Prisoner of War status.

The issue is an important one, specifically for the U.S. Navy, where an enormous amount of the services Master-at- Arms (security personnel) run the detention facility, often referred to as GITMO. Sailors assigned to watch the detainees receive special training prior to their arrival, usually in the form of detainee and sensitivity courses. Still, there are daily reports from sailors who speak of being hit with human feces, spit, urine, or semen.

During his campaign, Obama described Guantanamo as a "sad chapter in American history."

Under a plan being crafted by the Obama camp some detainees would be released while others would be charged in U.S. courts, where they would receive constitutional rights and open trials.

One of the biggest issues facing Obama's decision to close GITMO is creating a new legal system to handle the classified information regarding some of the most sensitive cases. Defendants would have the right to confront witnesses, meaning some undercover CIA agents may have to take the stand, which could jeopardizes their cover and may reveal classified intelligence tactics. Then there is the matter of evidence, some of which was gathered through military interrogations may be thrown out.

But Obama's plan makes it likely that some detainees would be returned to the countries from where they were captured for further detention or rehabilitation. The rest, who are not cleared for release, would face charges inside the U.S. court system.

The biggest push back is coming from Democrats who oppose the creation of a new legal system and from Republicans who oppose bringing terrorism suspects to the U.S. mainland.

Since the policy's beginning, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been met with criticism. During their campaign Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden talked about having great respect for the views of military leaders. Although Obama has vowed to repeal the failed policy, he said in order to do so, he must first consult military leaders in order to come up with a plan to lift the ban on Gays serving openly.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an American law that lets homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation. Questions about sexual orientation are supposed to be forbidden. Disclosure of orientation, references to a homosexual partner, public supports of Gay and Lesbian causes, and other related behaviors can be grounds for discharge from the military. Almost 13,000 Americans have been discharged from the service since the law passed 15 years ago.

The policy was introduced as a compromise measure in 1993 when then President Bill Clinton vowed to allow homosexuals the right to serve openly. Clinton did so without consulting the U.S. Service Chiefs or Congress, who then took executive order away from the president within regards to the issue. The actual policy was crafted by Colin Powell, serving as Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, who still supports the law.

A major blow to the policy was delivered in December 2007 when 28 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to repeal the policy. According to the retired leadership, 65,000 Gay men and women currently serve in the armed forces and there are as many as a million Gay veterans. Almost a year earlier in January former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, spoke out against the policy - a somewhat ironic historical twist, saying that allowing Gays and Lesbians to serve openly would not undermine the efficiency of the armed forces. Shalikashvili's opposition to the policy was particularly important because he was the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to oversee the implementation of the law.

Now, in order to repeal the law, Obama will have to do so with the consent of Congress.

On his official website, the Obama camp said the president-elect believes the key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. They said Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure we accomplish our national defense goals.

Some of our nation's allies agree. Twenty-two allied countries, some with troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, allow Gays to serve openly. Among them are chief allies Great Britain and Israel.

Enforcing the policy has been a costly venture for the U.S. taxpayer. The government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops expelled from the military, including language experts fluent in Arabic - discharged taking place at a time when those members are most needed for the two wars our military is fighting.

Repealing the policy is a priority; however, it is the last among the top three. Obama's plans to a quick repeal may have to wait until 2010, because he needs his new political appointees, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Pentagon to reach a consensus before present legislation to Congress.

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