Recently, Ashley Broadway applied to join Fort Bragg’s “Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses.” She had just been married to her partner of 15 years, Army Lieut. Colonel Heather Mack. But Ashley’s application was returned, saying she was “not qualified” to be a member. When she asked about it, the answer was that she didn’t have an ID card.
Oddly, the ID card requirement was not listed on the group’s Facebook page, website, or by-laws prior to Ashley’s application; the Facebook page and website were revised to add the requirement only after Ashley’s application. That’s questionable enough, but the larger question is this: Why doesn’t Ashley, a legally married military spouse, have the ID card given to soldiers’ wives?
The Department of Defense says that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits them from issuing one. Without it, Ashley can’t use the PX, the commissary, the post gym; she has no access to supportive, educational, and counseling benefits granted to straight Army wives.
There are specific legal arguments around what DOMA does and doesn’t permit; but no one argues that it prevents Ashley Broadway from being part of a spouses’ club.
Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), one of the most heartwarming effects has been the open-arms welcome of so many straight spouse organizations – not just national groups like Blue Star Families and the National Military Family Association, but local spouse clubs and Family Resource Groups (FRGs).
Military spouses’ organizations aren’t just social clubs – they provide critical support to families that face challenges that civilian families don’t understand – long separations due to training and deployment, stresses on everyone in the family when a loved one goes to war.
Most Army wives, and husbands recognize that we need each others’ support to deal with the tough challenges of military life – and that we’re all in this together. So what the heck is wrong at Fort Bragg?
If you think for one second that this group doesn’t closely follow the lead of the Commanding General – or that he doesn’t closely follow the lead of Department of the Army and the Pentagon – you’ve never served in the military.
For whatever reason, the senior officer at Fort Bragg, Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn, has created a command climate in which some soldiers’ families are respected, while others aren’t. Where might he have gotten the notion that it’s okay to ignore gay spouses?
I can answer that. Two years ago, the Pentagon’s own Working Group on DADT addressed spousal benefits at length; recommending post-repeal assessment and review to address what benefits could be legally extended to same-sex spouses. We have heard for months on end that the Pentagon is “in the process” of approving a plan, yet they continue to drag their feet.
Is it any wonder that a prominent commander feels free to disrespect a soldier’s wife just because she is gay?
This is a leadership issue.
At West Point, I was taught “Mission first. People always.” I was taught that taking care of my troops and their families was my highest priority, parallel with accomplishing the mission. I was taught never to show partiality to any soldier or group of soldiers. Yet, by slow-walking new policies to help our spouses, the Pentagon is telling its commanders that some troops are “more equal” than others.
Some commanders have tried to do the right thing: when Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson was killed in action, her partner – also a soldier – was allowed to accompany the remains home to the U.S., a privilege usually granted to family members.
But at the top, our military leaders are failing in this, from the Secretary of Defense to Lt. Gen. Allyn. They have had an opportunity to swiftly correct the problem – but “swiftly” is beyond them now. Now the best they can do is make it right.