Thursday, December 4, 2003

What A Waste

You would think that with the “War On Terror” being focused on Arabic countries, there would be a high priority in the Defense Department to hire and train people to learn Arabic. You would think that it would take a very high priority, overriding the seemingly minor issue of who those people sleep with. Well, you would be wrong. From the WaPo, via the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Cathleen Glover was cleaning the pool at the Sri Lankan ambassador’s residence recently when she heard the sound of Arabic drifting through the trees. Glover earned $11 an hour working for a pool-maintenance company, skimming leaves and testing chlorine levels in the back yards of Washington. No one knew about her past. But sometimes the past found her.

Glover recognized the afternoon call to prayer coming from a nearby mosque. She held still, picking out familiar words and translating them in her head.

She learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, the military’s premier language school, in Monterey, Calif. Her timing as a soldier was fortuitous: Around her graduation last year, a Government Accounting Office study reported that the Army faced a critical shortage of linguists needed to translate intercepts and interrogate suspects in the war on terrorism.

“I was what the country needed,” Glover said.

She was, and she wasn’t. Glover is a lesbian. She mastered Arabic but couldn’t handle living a double life under the military policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” After two years in the Army, Glover, 26, voluntarily wrote a statement acknowledging her homosexuality.

Confronted with a shortage of Arabic interpreters and its policy banning openly gay service members, the Pentagon had a choice to make.

Which is how former Spec. Glover came to be cleaning pools instead of sitting in the desert, translating Arabic for the U.S. government.

In the past two years, the Department of Defense has discharged 37 linguists from the Defense Language Institute for being gay. Like Glover, many studied Arabic. At a time of heightened need for intelligence specialists, 37 linguists were rendered useless because of their sexual orientation.


The Army says the discharged linguists were casualties of their own failure to meet a known policy. “We have standards,” said Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. “We have physical standards, academic standards. There’s no difference between administering these standards and administering ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The rules are the rules.”

Military scholars say that it’s a matter of time before the ban is lifted.

” ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is an interim step until the inevitable change,” said John Allen Williams, a professor of political science at Loyola University in Chicago and president of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. “It’s a useful speed bump.”

President Bush has made no move to re-examine the ban, despite the enormous strains placed on the military since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


On the same day in late October that car bombs hit the Red Cross and police stations in Baghdad, killing 35, Glover had eight pools on her route. She wore Army shorts and listened to the radio as she drove from house to house.

Finally, her luck changed. Three weeks ago, she was called for an interview with a nonprofit organization in Washington that builds private enterprise overseas. Her Arabic sealed the deal. The salary: $28,000, with possible travel to Cairo.

To brush up, Glover dug out her Arabic-English dictionary from her days at the Defense Language Institute. On the inside page was the inscription she’d written as a new soldier: “Property of the U.S. Government (just like my head!!)”

Glover looked at the exuberant inscription. “They wasted me,” she said.

They sure did.