Retired Army general John Shalikashvili, the first chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff to condemn the military's ban on openly gay,
lesbian, and bisexual service members, died Saturday morning due to
complications from a stroke he suffered in 2004. He was 75.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Shalikashvili served from 1993 to 1997, and during his tenure, he oversaw the early enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell," the Associated Press reports. Early on, he said that allowing gay troops to serve openly would hurt troop morale, but in 2007 he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times declaring that he changed his position. As late as May 2010, Shalikashvili called on Congress to lift the ban in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
Shalikashvili was the 13th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first to be born outside of the United States.
Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which studies gender, sexuality, and the military, said Shalikashvili's condemnation of "don't ask, don't tell" was only one of his enduring actions.
"General Shalikashvili served in uniform for four decades, and he continued to lead even after he retired," Belkin said. "He exercised outstanding leadership on a wide range of issues including conflict resolution, civil-military relations, arms control, and force modernization. On the issue of 'don't ask, don't tell,' General Shalikashvili was the first former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to call for the end of discrimination. His courageous statement paved the way for repeal and will go down in history as one of the breakthrough moments in the nation's long march toward equality. He was a truly great American and he will be sorely missed."
Alexander Nicholson, the executive director of Servicemembers United, called the general a "remarkable man."
"General Shalikashvili was an American hero of enormous accomplishment, stature, and wisdom. His courage to step forward at a critical early time and call for the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' law is unmatched among his peers, and for that as well as for everything else he gave to this country, we will be forever grateful. Our hearts go out to his family as they mourn the loss of such a remarkable man."
Shalikashvili is survived by his wife, Joan; son, Brant; and other family members.