Aye-Aye Captain: Reverse Course!

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Unofficial Navy flag

The Navy always seems to have troubles with sex and gender relations. Doesn’t matter if it’s the hetero- or homosexual, they just seem to flub it more than the other services. So it has happened once again: the sea service has just changed its mind on telling its chaplains they will be allowed to conduct same-sex marriages and civil unions on Navy bases once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is history. The Navy stuck to its gun for, oh, about 24 hours.

Talk about putting up a fight when confronting congressional opposition. Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, chief of Navy chaplains, said in a terse memo dated Tuesday that his April 13 decision allowing chaplains to conduct such ceremonies has been “suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination.” Heck, if the Navy unfurled the white flag every time 63 lawmakers didn’t like something the Navy was doing, they’d still be putting to sea in vessels powered by sailcloth.

But these so-called “cultural issues” are different, and the Navy knows it. There was Tailhook 20 years ago, when naval aviators sexually assaulted scores of women at their Las Vegas convention — it almost seemed like it was on the agenda: 9 p.m., by the pool: groping and grabbing. Then the first woman to command a cruiser was cashiered last year for cruelty to her crew — both male and female members. Earlier this year, the male captain of the USS Enterprise walked the plank after a series of dubious and tasteless videos he made years ago were made public (although most of the crew loved them).

But this latest wound is self-inflicted. To use a military term, the Navy failed to shape the battlefield before engaging in offensive operations. Opponents were quick to strike:

“It is absolutely deplorable,” said the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. “It is a total surprise to us in the sense that we did not know it would really come to this.”

If there were an after-action report for this government-sanctioned snafu, its bottom line would read like this: the Navy rushed to update its chaplains’ training to incorporate the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on its own, without coordinating with the other services or its Pentagon overseers. As any soldier can tell any admiral, walking the point is the most dangerous place on the battlefield.