Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Great Lesbian Mutiny of '91

"Port of Call: Manama"

USS Samuel Gompers AD-37 (inboard) a.k.a. "The Love Boat"
dwarfs a guided missile cruiser.

This long, improbable and unedifying tale comes from the Bear's "And Now it Can Be Told" files, answering the question, "What did You Do in the War, Daddy?" So grab yourself a Foster's lager (Arabic for 'Beer'), kick back, and prepare to lower your opinion of the Bear. Because, as the sign in some bar in Manama said, "The More You Drink, the More You Can Win." What a wonderfully irresponsible advertising campaign! Like Navy JAGs needed any encouragement.

Be forewarned, this is not so much a blog entry as a chapter in the Bear's memoirs, so if you have better things to do, which you almost certainly do, this is long. Blame a commenter who encouraged the Bear to tell it. It will probably be of interest mainly to ex-Navy types and homosexuals. (Welcome to all of you brought here by search engines keying on "bear" and "homosexual!")

Our story is from an era before "don't ask, don't tell," still less today's outright approval. There was a time when just being homosexual was grounds for administrative separation from service. It's true. That's how things stood at the end of Operation Desert Storm, when the Bear was earning his Southwest Asia Service medal by a zealous defense of lesbians and other miscreants in the Gulf.

(The heading comes from a series of Navy recruitment commercials in the 70s. Saturday Night Live's 1979 send-up is at the end of this article. "It's not just a job. It's $96.78 a week.")

Filipina Bands, Old English Rockers, and a Narrow Escape from Fire

Bahrain is a small and tidy island nation connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. Its capital of Manama is pleasant, although the pill boxes scattered about probably say something about its stability. It is the headquarters for the Gulf's Fifth Fleet. It has a decent nightlife for a Gulf nation and, at least when the Bear was there, a surrealistic variety of expat bands.

The Bear has only ever once been propositioned in a bar. It was in Manama by a white-robed Saudi gentleman. Poor Bear did not understand his intent until after enjoying several Foster's from his generous new friend. Boys Beware! (A 1961 educational film is also at the end of the piece.)

The Bear remembers one talented and well-choreographed Filipina band singing "The Name Game" to "Muhammed" and other Arabic names (now, that's talent). There was also an old English rocker playing his guitar behind his head like Jimi Hendrix. The Filipinas exited stage right as smoke started filling the club and the Bear and his buddy did not leave until they were the only ones who weren't wearing fireman gear.

Sometimes it's hard to know the difference between stage effects and a deathtrap. Especially after a lot of Foster's.

Neopolitan JAGs versus Orso Siciliano

The Bear's home base was the Naval Legal Service Office Detachment at Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. We were a disreputable appendix to the actual office in Naples. Officers with career potential seemed to wind up in Naples. Obvious terminal O-3s like the Bear landed in Sig. (The Bear can speak only of his time there; things are probably different now.)

There were Naples JAGs sent to Manama, too, but they play no part in this story because they were no fun at all. They all probably became O-6s, at least. They were always doing silly things like PT on their own and got one of the thousands of SUVs Japan threw at the Gulf in support of the liberation of Kuwait.

They also got gas masks.

Bahrain had been struck by a SCUD missile earlier, but the enemy threat of poison gas, at any rate, had been all but eliminated by the time the Bear arrived. Even so, Sigonella JAGs rated neither a vehicle nor gas masks, and that pretty much says it all.

No doubt, they were spies, too, and reported everything we did to the CO in Naples. Fortunately, Naples could not find Sigonella on a map if their lives depended on it. (Naples is not a nice place like Sicily, either. We probably imbibed some of our attitude from the delightful Sicilian traditions of subverting authority and enjoying life.)

Come to think of it, the Naples JAGs must have gone back to collect medals and promotions before the time of this story or it might have had a very different ending. If you have ever enjoyed either the wonderful television series or John Mortimer's books about Rumpole of the Bailey, we were Rumpole and they were Samuel "Soapy Sam" Ballard.

Where was the Bear's dear driver, bodyguard, factotum and lawfully wedded spouse Red Death, during these high times? Stuck back in a little town called Belpasso on the knees of an active volcano with four small children. Her Navy wife experience was more like Apocalypse Now: Charlie didn't get much USO. She was dug in too deep in diapers and moving too fast chasing kids. Her idea of great R&R was a little cold pasta and eel meat.

She had many of her own adventures, though. If you want to cause a stir, wear a black dress when you do your vegetable shopping in Sicily. Also, "requires ten stitches" translates to "gets a Band-Aid" at the local asilo, or "Baby School." God bless her for raising four tough little Sicilian kids where she didn't even speak the language.

The Desert Storm Allies on Parade

The Bear flew from Sigonella to the Gulf on a chartered Hawaiian Airlines DC-8 four-engine narrow-body. He landed at night to see out his window a rearing horse when the airplane rolled to a stop. It's a different world. His three-quarters empty bottle of Jack Daniels (long flight, ancient airplane) was confiscated and there he was, looking for a cab to the Manama Holiday Inn.

The next day, he went to work. Possibly the day after.

The pier at Manama was like a model UN where allies did their best to reinforce stereotypes.

Here was a Japanese contribution with crew members departing for liberty with cameras around their necks. A German ship had very competent-looking tanned sailors in tropical uniforms. A British ship had pasty kids that looked far removed from the tars of Nelson's day. On the quarterdeck of an Italian ship, the duty sailor had made an instrument from glasses of water and was playing it with two spoons. There was even a pitiful little ship of unknown purpose flying the Kuwaiti flag with, "Thanks America," painted on it.

At the time, the Bear noticed Russia's absence from the WWII lineup, but the Soviet Union was in its death throes, and didn't like us, anyway.

The allied ships were small, all minesweepers to the Bear's recollection. At the end of the long pier were two big American ships. On the right was an oddity: the Fifth Fleet command vessel, painted look-at-me white for some reason.

And towering over everything like an enormous floating factory was the slab-sided USS Samuel Gompers, a destroyer tender everyone called "The Love Boat.".

Getting Snuggly Haze Gray and Underway

Navy ships have nicknames, official and otherwise. The Bear remembers an LST in Valencia that had so many sailors barred from liberty it was known as the "USS Liberty Risk."

The early mixed-sex crewed Gompers was known as "The Love Boat," and, like all unofficial names, it was well-deserved.

Homosexual admin boards made up a good part of he Bear's MOJAGs (away missions to various ports and ships underway) in those days. Gompers was unusual in that they had saved up some lesbian cases, a novelty for us. There was not really the mutiny claimed by the shameless click-bait title, but the Bear never forgot the unintentionally funny meeting with the Love Boat's captain.

There was about to be a change of command and the captain was very insistent that his "lesbian problem" got cleared up before he handed his ship over to a new skipper. "I want a clean ship," he kept telling two of us JAGs. He was so earnest and even a bit Queeg-like about the purge both of us chuckled later, even when we were sober. We started calling it "The Great Lesbian Mutiny" to get into the spirit of things.

Of course, to be fair, naturally he wanted all pending legal matters resolved in advance of the change of command, if possible.

The more the Bear learned about the case - and there did seem to be quite a bit of enthusiasm behind the charges - the more he found "The Love Boat" to be a fitting nickname. There was plenty of enthusiasm to go around and not limited to lesbians. The Bear still fails to understand how the lesbians posed any greater threat than their occasional change-of-pace male partners or everyone else who was getting snuggly haze gray and underway.

Legal Exigencies Require an Interesting Choice

A little bit of the Navy stuff went a long way with the Bear. Ships are cluttered, confusing, cramped, and unpleasant places (especially for a Bear) until you get used to them, which he was never permitted to do. Little nonsense unsanctioned by tradition is tolerated by the Navy, even from JAGs, the limits of whose power were never quite understood by line officers. (Once, just when the Bear was starting to feel at home on USS Wasp underway, he got sent home by helicopter in disgrace over some silly misunderstanding.)

The Ursus Arctos is a land animal. The Navy was probably not the best idea the Bear ever had. Authority rubs the fur of Bears the wrong way, too. The Bear was an excellent criminal defense lawyer. As a lieutenant in the United States Navy, however, the Bear admits he was not the very model of a modern naval officer.

After weighing complex legal factors, having the purest sympathy for our clients, no doubt upholding the lowest traditions of the Sigonella detachment, and, honestly, a bit piqued that our clients were being singled out for behavior which was not only famously widespread, but winked at when they got a bit snuggly with male sailors, too, we conducted our entire investigation and case preparation from the place of our choice. Gompers was in a hurry to wrap things up and nobody was in a mood to ask questions.

All legal work was conducted at the pool of the Manama Holiday Inn. Both beside it and in it.

Every time a helicopter passed overhead, the running gag was that we hoped it didn't have a CNN crew on board, or we would be on national news.

The Bear's Court-Martial

It sounds much worse than it really was and it was truly all in good, clean fun. We knew the evidence and the outcome was not in doubt in my case. We figured at least our clients' final days in the United States Navy might be memorable for something other than sitting in a greasy, stifling hot ship with everyone talking about them.

They could splash around in innocent childlike fun with their little friends.

Of course, had our actions been discovered, we could have been, in theory, mind you, in trouble. By a long stretch, someone might even have considered a court-martial under Article 134, UCMJ, which covers "fraternization." A close reading of the relevant law and regulations, however, does not mention anything about swimming pools, and seems to cover less innocent interactions between officers and enlisted personnel, such as loaning money and dating.

Anyway, with USS Samuel Gompers, "prejudicial to good order and discipline" was a problematical concept at best. We had to conduct the business of our mission somewhere, and a ship is claustrophobic, distracting, lacks privacy, and is not conducive to a trustful attorney-client relationship.

Not to mention, you waste hours wandering around lost until you find the quarterdeck or die.

We exercised sound operational and professional discretion to promote a good attorney-client relationship under exigent circumstances. It was, after all, technically a theater of war, with temperatures over 100 degrees, and we were under constant threat of death by smoke inhalation, sunstroke and, possibly, drowning.

If you think the pool was a bad choice, what about inside the air-conditioned hotel? The Bear and his buddy were always in public view and always with each other.

It goes without saying we would have done the same if our clients had been men.

In the end, my buddy's client beat the rap. A damning letter sealed the Bear's client's fate.

Oh, and he never really got court-martialed, either.

A Bear's Defense, in All Seriousness

It may or may not have been a good story. In truth, the Bear feels less pride in it than the relish with which he tells his tales suggests. He recalls that whole period as surreal.

The Bear admits to lack of good judgment both as an officer and a lawyer. And, even with our buddy system, it was stupid to put ourselves into a situation that could have been a near occasion of sin, certainly looked bad, and could even have escalated to disciplinary action. We were just lucky word never got back to either the Love Boat's command or our own. It was pretty inexcusable.

For all the smart-ass M*A*S*H* inspired fun, it was a reckless way to start a legal career. And, it was a pretty shabby way for a married Bear to behave, even with non-lubricious motives.

Red Death knew Bear was living it up in a swell hotel with great food, tennis courts and a swimming pool, drinking Foster's by the gallon, and doing a little gold shopping for her. (Decent prices for 22 caret gold bangles is sort of Bahrain's thing.) But conducting business with female clients and witnesses at the pool was probably the last thing she imagined. 

Shame, shame, shame on Bear. Really.

But every MOJAG generated some crazy story. At the time it seemed to be on a continuum of capers.

As JAGs, we were not quite like anyone else in the Navy. On MOJAGs, we were unsupervised, hard-drinking (in port), and, unless we were with another JAG, isolated behind enemy lines. It's hard to convey what a psychologically challenging place a large ship can be. You don't know anyone, every square inch is already being used by somebody else, and you have no idea even how to get from A to B. If Bear had to so much as to visit the head (toilet) he had to wake somebody up to show him where the damned thing was.

You're viewed with suspicion by everyone, including your client (to whom you are just another officer) whose trust you must somehow gain fast. We traveled light, lived by our wits and a copy of the UCMJ, and the best of us stood up as Staff Lieutenants to ship captains and Marine COs.

You have to remember, we were also new lawyers, figuring out what worked on our own, without the mentoring and practical training most new lawyers get. We had real legal power limited mainly by our creativity and willingness to push hard and get pushed back - harder. There was definitely an "us-against-them" attitude between a few of us and commands.

But, most of all, the  Bear must admit to rebelling against authority that (again, Apocalypse Now comes to mind) singled out our clients for speeding tickets at the Indy 500 of romance that was the Love Boat.

Here is the background to his bad attitude.

Bear Contra Mundum

The Bear was not a line officer. He was dropped onto ships to face commands that were at least suspicious and sometimes hostile. Most saw due process and the attorney-client relationship as a threat to their authority. Courts and boards were an unwelcome distraction from the real business of cruising around being ready to kill people. Defense counsel were tolerated, and sometimes even treated very politely as guests, but everybody knew our job was to gum up the works in pursuit of the best result for our clients.

Some were more zealous than others.

So, along comes Lieutenant Bear. He was a deliberate and effective irritant in a system where all but the least sensible commanding officers instinctively knew how hot a clever O-3 JAG could make things for them. Bear was not cut out to be a naval officer, but was made for the role of defense lawyer.

In other words, the Bear has always been the lawyer you love to hate until little darling gets charged with sexual assault after a drunken college party. Or, as Robert Downey Jr's character in "The Judge" puts it: "Everybody wants Atticus Finch until there's a dead hooker in the bathtub."

The incident in which he was kicked off the USS Wasp is sort of a funny story, but became a major Sixth Fleet investigation after the Bear alleged command influence in a case already sensitive enough to get him kicked out of Israel and barred from reentry. (Red Death was waiting at the airfield for Bear's return from Israel when she was informed that, perversely, Israel had refused entry to the C-130 that was to bring him back. He later returned on Alitalia, which was much more comfortable.)

The adversary role against god-like ship captains and even whole countries was heady for a brand-new lawyer, especially when he got the last laugh. The rare wins Bear had came from learning what buttons to push, and, frankly, the lessons he learned early were not about being nice and "dialoguing." They stuck with him the rest of his career.

The temptation to twist the tale of the Love Boat's captain, even behind his back, by stretching an attorney-client relationship that was sometimes the subject of command interference was hard to resist. It was almost a poetic turnabout for two JAGs who had no future as such mainly because they enjoyed the tale-twisting too much.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story, then, is not about lubricity. It's really about pride. Pride is a powerful fuel and the Bear's career ran on it from the beginning to the very end. The Bear knows most of his readers are in favor of the death penalty, but being responsible for someone's very life in an adversary system is something most people can't even imagine. Even being responsible for years in prison, or an enlisted person's career in an adversary system is something hard to appreciate if you've not been there.

Note the key word: "adversary." Each side is doing its best within the rules of the game to beat the other. A boxing match has rules, too. It doesn't mean fights aren't brutal. And the stakes in criminal cases are very high.

There are probably good defense lawyers who are truly humble. The Bear is still trying to learn humility, and not doing a very good job. Pride is a powerful fuel, but those who think they can safely handle it are fooling themselves.

A Word About Military Policy on Sex

The Bear supposes this is long past being an issue to anyone. Nonetheless, he has seen it from both sides up close.

The Bear also prosecuted cases in the Navy. It was for a long time unique among the uniformed services to have prosecutors and defense counsel under the same command. (Others separated the roles to avoid the reality or appearance of defense counsel feeling like they were not free to be zealous advocates.)

A story Red Death likes to tell is how she was in labor when the Bear (then at Naval Training Station Great Lakes) had to drop by the nursing school on base to pick up some paperwork on a case he was prosecuting. (It was number four; we made it in plenty of time.) That case involved a homosexual sailor who got too curious and was charged with sexual assault. Bear was defense counsel on a similar case involving a Marine underway.

So, the Bear gets the argument that it's not fair to put straight guys in close quarters with gay guys who might look at them as objects of sexual desire, because he's seen a couple of cases involving bad things. In actual practice, the Bear doesn't remember enlisted people objecting to others believed to be homosexual, as long as they kept it to themselves. A sort of practical "don't ask, don't tell" which seemed to work. The Bear has no idea how things are working under the current system. He suspects it's probably not too bad.

But, back then, in 1991, the Navy had no problem putting straight guys in close quarters with straight (or equal opportunity) females who might look at each other as objects of sexual desire. Its solution was and is to prosecute the few sailors who do make unwanted advances. (It is true, however, that the quarters are not quite so close.) The Bear has no idea how that is working out for them, now, either.

Out of all the homosexual admin separation boards the Bear did, none of them involved nonconsensual behavior. (Those were rare and went the court-martial route.) Many were excellent sailors who were discharged solely for being homosexual. Sometimes, it was the real-life version of Bill Murray in Stripes: "No, we're not homosexual, but we are willing to learn." In other words, it was an easy out for straight sailors really, really tired of the Navy. 

So, what is the Bear's opinion about the Love Boat, which was the shape of things to come? The Bear thinks it was a bad idea then, and is a bad idea now.

You put young men and young women in close proximity where they are not allowed to snuggle at all during very long cruises, and, well, call Bear crazy, but the results are foreseeable. The Love Boat generated a whole lot of pregnancies, too. (Nobody got separated for all the straight snuggling that was going on. In fact, the command couldn't care less about the Bear's client's snuggling with the boys, which seems odd, since the risk of pregnancy and consequent loss of a sailor would seem to be of greater consequence.)

A command doesn't need the drama. Or the pregnancies. And guys and gals don't need the temptation, and wives don't need to be thinking about their husbands transiting the Pacific with a bunch of fit, nubile young women.

The question of women in combat is different. The Bear must defer to his son's opinion on that, and he thought the women he met downrange were good soldiers who were able to handle situations that would have been extremely awkward for guys, especially in that culture.

The Fate of the Love Boat

Like the Bear, the USS Samuel Gompers reached the end of its useful service life. In 2003, it was destroyed as a target, a fate the Bear has so far avoided through care and a high constitution. There are actually three DC-8s still flying in commercial service as of 2016, but not for anyone you've heard of.

Mixed-crew ships are ho-hum.

There are no more homosexual administrative separation boards. Who knows what Navy JAGs do these days. But, as long as there is a Sixth Fleet and there is ouzo, there'll always be work.

The Bear has every confidence the Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily's Naval Legal Service Office detachment is now a highly professional unit exemplifying the best traditions of naval service and legal professionalism. It probably was the instant the Bear left, the last of the old crew.

The last military case he did was fairly late in his career, as individual civilian counsel in a drug court-martial at Scott Air Force base. He very much enjoyed the military's defense privilege of having the last word in a case.

He lost, anyway.

SNL Navy Recruitment Parody

"Boys Beware" - a 1961 educational film.


  1. Great videos! I didn't think you'd actually have the 'boys beware' clip, and maybe added as a joke, but it was very good!

  2. Oh wow, those educational videos, no kid grew up in America without seeing them, and they bring a lot of nostalgia with them. If ONLY we had these types of videos to play for kids today. I work with children, and I can tell you that LGBT lies are causing havoc with children and young people. Girls act like boys and boys act like girls, and I have 11 year old's proudly proclaiming "I'm transgender queer" in front of peers and 15 year old's who meet me and say "I'm fighting for gay rights". All of these kids are completely vulnerable to the sexual advances of older, experienced students and adults at "Gay Straight Alliance Clubs", which are proven to be opportunities for older perverts to prey on children and young people.
    Of the sexual assaults reported in the military a few years back, it was said that many of them were male on male sexual assaults, and that there were actually far more male on male sexual assaults than male on female.
    When you put together on a ship or in close quarters either men and women, or homosexuals with their same sex, the end result should be predictable.
    It is a tragedy that our military has been disrupted by Obama's actions of removing old guard military men and inserting LGBT social engineers who have done what they could to cause this unnecessary issue to become so problematic in our military. When the APA took homosexuality out of the category of mental illness, it unleashed a demon.


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