Center for Military Readiness
The Center for Military Readiness (CMR) “takes the lead in defending elements of military culture that are essential for morale and readiness in the All-Volunteer Force.” CMR’s founding principles center around a critique of “misguided goals such as ‘diversity’” that “are eroding core values and high standards…” Those critiques apply to efforts to include women in ground combat missions and to allow gay military members to serve openly; the organization refers to placing women in combat as “anti-woman policies” and called the military’s effort to combat sexual assault “distractions.” The group has attacked the Pentagon’s “social policies” – female- and LGBT-equality – for creating a “chilling trend” of increased sexual assaults.
Think Progress calls CMR President Elaine Donnelly “The Woman Who Has Never Stopped Fighting To Keep LGBT Americans Out Of The Military” and details her long history of opposing what she calls “social experimentation” in the military. Donnelly’s opposition is based on her belief that “non-heterosexual soldiers and sailors would distract their straight colleagues” and that the military’s “quite generous” medical benefits would apply “to those who are at high risk of AIDS… We’re giving an incentive to apply what is available to heterosexuals to the homosexual population and that really is an explosive idea.”
Donnelly is CMR’s founder, leader, and most active advocate. In fact, CMR operates most of the time with Donnelly as its sole employee – the group is run out of her home. Her tenure at CMR expands a long career in “the fight against equal legal treatment for women,” starting with her work as the national media chair for Phyllis Schlafly’s campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. She was then appointed to the Reagan Administration’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services and dissented from the committee’s recommendation of an expanded role for women. In 1993, the Center for Military Readiness was founded as the Coalition for Military Readiness with “an advisory board [composed of] a who’s who of conservatives including anti-Islam activists Frank Gaffney and David Horowitz, affirmative action opponent Ward Connerly, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and National Review Institute president Kate Walsh O’Beirne.”
Donnelly was mostly successful throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations at maintaining the exclusion of LGBT Americans and women from the military and combat roles specifically. At times, this was a result of her willingness to bring down other women: “Donnelly also helped derail the career of Lt. Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy. Convinced that unqualified women were being promoted to fill gender quotas, she leaked confidential training records given to her by a chauvinist male flight instructor. Even though Lohrenz had gotten high marks as a pilot, she was grounded. Later it became clear that she and other women had been undermined and ostracized by the men in their units.”
As even her staunchest opponents admit, Donnelly is not merely a political opportunist. She and her husband operate CMR without “any other source of income.” As CMR’s revenue continually declines ($72,489 in revenue in 2013 compared to $305,204 in 2006), Donnelly pays herself less and less ($14,400 in 2013 compared to $54,035 in 2008).
The Huffington Post reports that “Donelly admits she may be out of step with the times,” which may explain the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank’s analysis of her testimony before Congress in the summer of 2008, suggesting that her “extraordinary exhibition of rage… had the effect of increasing bipartisan sympathy for the cause [of DADT repeal.]” He noted that, “At the witness table with Donnelly, retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a lesbian, rolled her eyes in disbelief. Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man who was wounded in Iraq, looked as if he would explode.” Representatives called her comments “inappropriate” and were “shocked” and “embarrassed,” and former Rep. Patrick Murphy, a veteran, “puffed his cheeks with air to calm himself.”
After the election of President Obama, CMR teamed up with Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Conservative Union, and Concerned Women for America to form the Military Culture Coalition to fight against the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Following the coalition’s failure to prevent the repeal in December 2010, Donnelly warned that Obama “will own the San Francisco military he has created.”
Donnelly has since moved on, despite CMR’s continually declining revenue, to fight against the inclusion of transgendered Americans in the military, arguing “The military is not there to be a magnet for people who have personal problems or medical problems or are sexually confused or whatever, it’s there to defend the country.”
Donnelly has also attacked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to reform the military justice system, especially regarding rape and sexual assault. Referring to legislation Gillibrand sponsored as “feminist pork,” Donnelly said that the senator “has become a fanatic on this issue.” Similarly, CMR furiously attacked an effort to include women on nuclear submarines, saying that submarine duty “involves constant exposure to recycled air with trace atmospheric elements that create unique health risks to female sailors.” The organization goes on to clarify that this refers solely to pregnant females, arguing that “it is not realistic to think that the integration of men and women at the height of their reproductive lives can be structured in a way that is conducive to good order and discipline while serving together in the forced intimacy of a submarine… sexual and romantic relationships inevitably ensure… pregnancy is incompatible with submarine duty…” Donnelly also argued that “Forcing females into combat is [the] real ‘war on women’”
The Huffington Post noted in 2011 that “watchdog groups say [CMR] has filed inaccurate and misleading reports to the IRS, lacks a credibly independent board and is operating uncomfortably close to the line that separates education from lobbying.” Nonprofit experts pointed out a variety of concerns with the organization, from its lack of oversight, to sloppy governance, and advocacy of questionable legality.