MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
The impending repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will, for the first time ever, allow gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in military ranks.
After the president signed into law legislation that set conditions which must be met for the repeal, the Marine Corps began comprehensive training to educate all Marines on the coming legal and professional changes.
While debate over the policy polarized the political world and gripped national headlines, senior enlisted Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., said that in the wake of the order, they anticipate little trouble implementing the policy changes.
“The transition with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is pretty much what I expected – professional,” said Sgt. Maj. Thomas E. Sherwood, the sergeant major for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron here. “It’s kind of common sense; you don’t treat anyone differently than you treat anyone else.”
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron consists of more than 900 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who conduct support operations for the air station, ultimately giving training and infrastructure support to tenants like the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, the largest aviation element in the Marine Corps. Sherwood’s Marines run the gamut from air traffic controllers and aircraft rescue firefighters to the military police and the Marines who work in the mess hall, to name a few.
Sherwood said his instructions for the Marines in his squadron are exactly in step with what the online training focused on.
“As long as we maintain professionalism, dignity and we stay within our core values, we’ll be able to adjust and do what we have to do,” Sherwood said.
Elsewhere on the air station, in a small, unadorned compound of white, cinderblock buildings, the senior enlisted leader of a unit with an entirely different operational function than H&HS paralleled Sherwood’s sentiments.
2nd MAW’s Military Police Company is a small unit of roughly 200 Marines who deploy frequently in a variety of military police functions. It is lead by 1st Sgt. Wilbur T. Amaker, a deep-voiced, candid leader who spoke of how much the Marine Corps has changed since he joined in the 1990s.
He said the modern Corps is well-suited to adapt to changes in policy and will neither break stride nor take its eye off of operational goals when “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed.
“There is a lot more emphasis on education today,” Amaker said. “We make sure training is done the right way.”
The first sergeant seemed to express frustration not with the policy change, but that he would have to focus on anything except the mission of MP Co.
“This policy change is very, very minute compared to what we’re doing. We have a war to fight,” Amaker said. “My priority is with the war. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is not going to stop MP Co. from rolling.”
In true Marine Corps fashion, Marines are professionally and diligently carrying out the training. Amaker said he expects the Marine Corps will be the first branch to inform the Department of Defense it is ready for the repeal.
“We are smarter, faster, lighter, more mobile and agile, and we’re tightly knit. We’re structured differently, so we can get the word out faster,” Amaker said. “We’ve always done more with less. We’ve always been faster than everyone else.”
Sergeants major and first sergeants serve as the right hand of their commanding officers. As the senior enlisted Marines in a unit, their leadership and example will be integral to the policy change.
Combined, Sherwood and Amaker have spent more than 40 years in uniform. At the head of two very different units, they said they expect the way they implement the policy to be the same.
“We follow orders and regulations. That’s it. This is not a request, it’s an order,” Sherwood said. “We will march forward with our orders. That’s what Americans have come to rely on when you’re speaking about the Marine Corps.”
“My Marines are easy – they’re MPs. They know their job is to enforce all rules and regulations regardless of their personal beliefs,” Amaker echoed. “They will carry out this order like everyone else.”
“That’s the drumbeat from the commandant on down,” Sherwood said. “Were going to do this, and we’re going to do it professionally.”