Too much too soon, or too little too late?

This recruit is more worried about her safety than being outed.
This recruit is more worried about her safety than being outed.
Posted: June 28, 2010

FACED WITH the possibility that disclosure of her sexual orientation could end her career, the new Air Force recruit from Philadelphia nonetheless said that that would not be the first thing on her mind when she joins the military.

"I'm a very private person, and I'm more worried about getting killed or blown up," said the 22-year-old lesbian, who asked for anonymity because she could be discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Last month, the U.S. House passed a bill that would repeal the 17-year-old policy, a 1993 compromise between then-President Bill Clinton, who campaigned on the promise to lift the ban, and Congress.

The Senate Armed Services Committee also voted to repeal the ban, and the full Senate is expected to vote on the repeal bill before the congressional recess in July.

If the Senate votes to lift the ban, repeal proponents will have to wait for the Pentagon's policy study, due Dec. 1, and President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that repeal won't adversely affect military readiness.

Kevin Kelly, founder and vice chairman for the GOP organization Philadelphia Loyal Opposition, was concerned about the recent legislative action.

"I find it a little bit alarming that they wanted to wait until the Pentagon came out with its study and that, for political purposes, Obama and Congress decided to vote on it," he said. "I thought, 'What's the hurry?' The hurry is that [Obama] feels he is losing popularity, so military be damned."

Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., who voted against the repeal, said in a news release that voting on the issue before the study's completion ignores the recommendations of military leaders who asked for time "to survey our troops on this issue and determine what impact changes to the policy would have on" military readiness and retention.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for those affected by the policy, said that there was nothing outrageous about the vote. Repeal would not be implemented until after the study is completed.

The purpose of the study, Sarvis said, is to figure out the best method of repeal without hurting military readiness.

"Unprecedented weight has been given to the Pentagon in this process," he added.

Opponents of repeal, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say that they would support a filibuster of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Bill, which includes the amendment repealing the policy.

Sarvis said that the filibuster would be tough to maintain.

"To say you're going to hold up funding for the Armed Forces because of [the repeal amendment] would be extraordinary," Sarvis said. "I don't think most Americans would agree with that."

In April, a gay and lesbian organization called Servicemembers United, reported that 428 people were released from duty by the Defense Department under the Don't Ask policy and another 15 by the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2009. The 443 discharges brought the number to 13,425 since the policy's implementation.

Michael Almy, a former Air Force major, said that he felt betrayed when he was discharged in July 2006 after a 16-month proceeding.

"On my last day of active duty, they gave me a police escort off the base, as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security," said Almy, 39, of Washington, D.C., who led a squad of more than 200 men and women responsible for operating and controlling the air space over Iraq.

While in Iraq, Almy's fourth deployment to the Middle East, service members were prohibited from using private e-mail accounts and were encouraged to use their work e-mails for personal purposes.

Six weeks after Almy finished his deployment and returned to Germany, a service member was digging through the files of Almy's unit to help the new unit with any maintenance or equipment issues, and found e-mail messages between Almy and gay friends including a man he had dated.

In March 2005, Almy's commander confronted him with the policy and asked him to explain the e-mail messages. Almy refused to respond to the commander without a lawyer.

Almy testified about the Don't Ask policy before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. He said that he kept his end of the policy by not disclosing his sexuality.

"I contend to this day that the Air Force violated [the policy], not me," Almy said.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., an Iraq war veteran who introduced the repeal amendment, supports repeal because he can relate to soldiers who are denied a capable teammate because of sexual orientation.

"My men and I desperately needed more translators, and we didn't care if they were gay or straight," he said. "We cared whether or not they could do their job so we could get our unit home alive."

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2003 that 750 mission-critical service members were discharged under the policy, including more than 350 service members with language skills in Arabic, Korean and Farsi.

The fact that qualified military personnel get fired in the first place alarms the 22-year-old lesbian recruit from Philly.

"Officers and translators are needed, yet they get sent out because of this thing that has nothing to do with their military background and how they do their job," she said. "That's sad."

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