Time: Families Matter in Our Military. All Families.
Truman Fellow Jonathan Hopkins writes on DOMA and what it means for military families.
West Point, the country’s oldest continuously-operated military post and home to the eldest of all American military academies, held two weddings last week.
Every aspect of these weddings spoke to tradition. Each was held in a cadet chapel. Finely dressed brides graced the aisles while attendees stood in rapt attention. Both culminated in the traditional saber arch, which is the only fitting way to welcome a new spouse into the Army.
Yet one thing was different from the countless weddings I watched after my graduation there 11 years ago. For the first time since the Academy’s founding in 1802,those being wed were of the same sex, and their weddings were legal. For the alumni present, we saw our intensely traditional, Rockbound Highland Home respond a way some might expect. They celebrated it, for that’s the natural response when two people honor their conviction to each other with matrimony.
The irony of this display of apparent equality is that nowhere are the deleterious effects of DOMA felt more acutely than in our nation’s military. For this reason, servicemembers and veterans should be watching very closely as the Supreme Court proceeds to hear marriage equality cases from across the nation, having just agreed to review a challenge to DOMA (as well as a challenge to California’s Proposition 8) Friday.
Families matter immensely to our military. As an infantry commander of nearly 200 troops, the only thing I spent more time on than supporting families was the training of soldiers.
Why was this? Simple. What we ask of our Soldiers is tough stuff, but the stronger and more complete the team supporting them, the better they will do their jobs and the more likely all of us will get back alive. Strong families make soldiers more resilient and effective than they would otherwise be. When we are at war and ask ourselves “why we fight,” we simply need look no further than our spouses and children back home to see what we are protecting.
The military recognizes this value. Married soldiers, who make up more than half of the all-volunteer force, receive greater pay and benefits based upon family size. This simply makes good practical sense: Married troops stay in longer, keeping more seasoned troops in the force, resulting in an unparalleled level of training and experience that heightens unit quality and soldier safety. Further, it is a cost-saving measure, reducing the number of new recruits requiring costly initial entry training that would be needed if retention were lower.