Today is Veteran's Lobby Day. On this day of activism sponsored by Human Rights Campaign, hundreds of Veterans are gathering in Washington DC to tell lawmakers, "Not Another Year." Repeal efforts for the 2010 legislative session hang by the barest of threads.
Today's Letter to the President is by linguist and former Petty Officer Jason Daniel Knight, who has an unusual story to tell, one JPMassar also relays in another diary. He was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" not once, but twice. Seems a paperwork error made during his initial discharge placed him back into the active reserve pool, not the discharged database. A year later, he received a letter calling him back, and he was overjoyed to have the opportunity to serve again. He returned to his unit in Kuwait for a year. He says:
"My immediate commanders and colleagues were aware that I had been discharged once under DADT and knew that I was gay, yet they supported me because I was a great sailor."
Today's Letter: "With a military stretched thin between two wars, now is the time to stop discharging men and women."
May 11, 2010
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
It was five months before the September 11th attacks when I found myself outside a military recruiters office signing up for the U.S. Navy. I could no longer afford college. And things in my personal life weren’t going according to plan. I wanted to experience life outside of southeastern Pennsylvania. I enlisted on a random Friday in April of 2001 and left for boot camp the following Monday. I was a recruiter's dream candidate.
My first tour of duty was the prestigious Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C., where I represented our country at official White House ceremonies and during state and military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In my two-year period, I was present at more than 1500 military funerals as part of the Firing Party rendering the 21-gun salute. It was here that I learned what truly serving our great nation really meant, and the ultimate price we all swore to pay, if fate was so. Standing on the berm, across the river from a burning Pentagon on September 11th only solidified my desire to serve.
My desire to serve my country continued while I completed my training as a Hebrew Linguist and began working in the field at Fort Gordon, Georgia. But I was also struggling with my own self discoveries.
In 2004, I filed paperwork annulling my marriage because I realized that I was gay. Keeping with the Navy's core values of honesty and integrity, and very much naive to the severity of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” I provided the military with copies along with a written statement to my commander, which subsequently resulted in my discharge under the law.
I was ousted from the service I loved, facing a recoupment of $13,000 sign-on bonus I received, and ushered to the gate. I felt shunned, broken and confused.
After a year of recovery, I received a letter recalling me back to service. While I didn't understand why, I had an overwhelming sense of joy to return to the service I so loved.
I was sent to Kuwait for a year with the U.S. Navy Customs Battalion Romeo in 2006 where I continued to garner accolades for my service and even upped in rank, all while serving completely open. My immediate commanders and colleagues were aware that I had been discharged once under DADT and knew that I was gay, yet they supported me because I was a great sailor.
After the March 2007 comments by General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he expressed his personal views of homosexuality as "immoral," I decided to express my own personal feelings in a letter to the editor. This resulted in my second discharge under DADT, but I was willing to accept it.
Mr. President, “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” must be repealed. This law forces good people to lie, evade and mislead their fellow comrades and commanders and goes against the very core values of the military service in which we serve. It forces undue stress in the lives of those that must hide.
With a military stretched thin between two wars, now is the time to stop discharging men and women who valiantly serve our nation, many who are in mission critical jobs. Repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” now.
Jason Daniel Knight
Former Petty Officer 2nd Class, U. S. Navy
This leads me to reflect on all the "concerns" about what effect repealing DADT might have on retention and recruitment. My thesis is, it will help. LGBT service members as yesterday's letter writer said, even if they're able to avoid expulsion, frequently just can't deal indefinitely with the stress of maintaining a lie, and fail to re-enlist. Many get out as soon as they're able to fulfill their enlistment obligations and are eligible for their GI benefits. They may not even want to, but they know the clock is ticking, and it's just a matter of time until they too become targets and lose everything.
And the discharge numbers themselves are not small, at least 443 discharges in 2009 is not negligible. And a closer look at the military's creative accounting techniques suggest the actual number of discharges is probably much higher.
Moreover, as we learned from lead repeal bill sponsor Patrick Murphy in his Kos Live Blog, the proposed repeal legislation includes the provision that servicemembers discharged only for DADT "violations" will be immediately eligible to return if they choose.
(e) Re-Accession of Otherwise Qualified Persons Permitted- Any person separated from the Armed Forces for homosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexual conduct in accordance with laws and regulations in effect before the date of the enactment of this section, if otherwise qualified for re-accession into the Armed Forces, shall not be prohibited from re-accession into the Armed Forces on the sole basis of such separation.
Decorated Air Force officer and 13 year combat Veteran, Mike Almy, the author of the first letter in the campaign said he'd return in a minute. Many, many other service men and women feel the same. It's a fact I find rather surprising and touching, considering how they have been treated by their former employer. The process of a DADT investigation is quite a traumatic intrusion into a solider's personal life, from what I've read.
Think of the pool of talent that could be welcomed back, trained and job-ready in just a short time. We can end this policy, we can end it this year. But the LGBT community cannot do it alone, we, at 10%-ish of the population cannot do the heavy lifting of moving Congress by ourselves. Please help. Lend your voice to the call of today's national lobbying action. Tell Congress and the White House "Not Another Year."
Wow can't believe what I just heard. Major major progress in #Ohio on #dadt. @hrcbackstory major R Sen. is tentive yes!
Presumably this refers to Senator George Voinovich who isn't on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but Republican support could certainly help. (Rather begging the question from Democrats, what are you waiting for?)
Update 2: This is a huge deal. Again off Twitter from Brain Fricke, a Veteran discharged via DADT, working with HRC and the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network. He met with Bill Nelson from Florida:
FL Senator Bill Nelson's office is "Likely" to vote for repeal If a vote goes b4 the study is complete
Floridians and others, to the phones, tell him he's on the right track! 1-888-671-4091 305-536-5999 813-225-7040 850-942-8415
Update 3: From HRC Backstory, stand with these Veterans today, stand up for them:
Hundreds of veterans are on Capitol Hill right now lobbying their members of Congress for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. There’s still time to call your own elected leaders and help amplify their voices.
Call Congress at 202-224-3121 NOW
Update 4: Don't miss this comment from bukdogg:
I served with Jason
as a fellow sailor in Navy Customs and I personally know him to be an outstanding sailor. His sexual orientation was known to many in the unit and guess what? Nobody cared. He was able to perform his duties and serve honorably just like every other sailor. Romeo Rough Riders forever!
Thanks for your service, bukdogg, and your support. If you or any Vets would consider contributing to this campaign, by writing a letter a of support, the person to contact is here. Tell them Clark sent ya.
Levin just dismissed Sec Gates call 4 congress 2 wait on DADT for military review. Said decision 2 move depends on if votes are there
Excellent news, Chairman Levin, move forward. 202-224-6221
more levin on gates DADT: "He has favored the repeal and reached that conclusion prior 2 receiving the report...no reason why we cant..."
Talking Points Memo is also reporting Levin To Defy Gates On DADT (Well, Sort Of)
Unfortunately, President Obama's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been the biggest hurdle of late. The Advocate called response to his letter last Friday as a "potentially game-changing" (in a bad way).
“Clearly the world changed dramatically with the Gates letter,” said one Hill veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Multiple sources worried that moderate Democrats such as Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia would now be nearly impossible to sway.
“When people are asked to vote against the recommendations of the Defense Secretary, that makes it a very heavy lift,” said the source.
More here on the devastating effect of Gates' opposition. I applaud news that Congress is considering acting independently.
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To raise awareness to the need for Presidential leadership, DADT repeal activists have launched “Stories from the Frontlines:Letters to President Barack Obama.”The new media campaign launched in partnership with Servicemember's Legal Defense Network,is intended to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).
Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law. We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal. The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk. It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993. By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes! We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.
Participating blogs: 365 Gay, The Advocate, AfterElton, AmericaBlog , Ameriqueer, AKAWilliam, The Bilerico Project, BoxTurtleBulletin, BrandFabulousness, The Daily Kos, David In Manhattan, David Mixner, Fired Up Missouri, GoodAsYou, HRCBackStory, Kenneth In The 212, Lez Get Real, LGBTPOV, Michael in Norfolk, Mike Gets Real, Mile High Gay Guy, Open Left, Page One Q, Pam's House Blend, RepealNow, SayenCroWolf, Seattle PI Stepforward, Signorile's The Gist, The New Civil Rights Movement, The Queer Times, Towleroad, We Give A Damn.
WHY THIS IS A CRITICAL TIME:
• SLDN and other coalition voices are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.
• The House and Senate Armed Services Committees will markup the Defense Authorization bill in a few short weeks.
• The Defense Authorization bill represents our best legislative vehicle to bringing repeal to the president’s desk. It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.
LAYOUT FOR REPEAL / HOUSE AND SENATE TRACKS:
• Sen. Mark Udall told the Denver Post the committee was “within a vote or two” of including repeal in the Defense Authorization bill. Udall is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
• Rep. Jared Polis, who holds a key position on the House Rules Committee, told the Denver Post he is willing to help insert a similar provision in the House version of the Defense Authorization bill with the help of Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is the lead sponsor of the House repeal bill.
THE NEXT 30 DAYS ARE CRITICAL:
• The House Armed Services Committee markup of the Defense Authorization bill is expected May 19.
• The Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the Defense Authorization bill is expected the week of May 24.
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CALL TO ACTION!
Fate of repeal will be decided in the next 30 days. As time grows short, repeal advocates have multiple strategies are in place. One thing they all share is a need to hear from the public the time is now. Now is the time for LGBT allies to get off the fence and call for equality for their fellow Americans.
New Call to Action: Howard Dean and Democracy for America have joined the effort to End Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2010. Sign the petition here. This is the first major, non-LGBT group that I have been made aware of. Where are our straight allies in this fight?
• Contact the White House: The Servicemember's Legal Defnese Network has put out an action item: Not Another Year. They are asking people to call the White House and tell our Commander in Chief to call for repeal in 2010, repeal can't wait until 2011. The moment is now. They say: "Our Congressional allies are not giving up. SLDN isn't giving up. Tell President Obama not to give up either. Call the White House today. (202) 456-1414"
• Contact your Senators: Tell them to support adding repeal to the Senate Defense Spending Budget: these Senators are most key: Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Jim Webb, Robert Byrd and Scott Brown. But call them all. Show them there's a grassroots movement to vote now. SLDN contact tool here.
• Contact Nancy Pelosi: Tell her to use her authority as Speaker of the House to bring DADT repeal up for a vote in the House. (202) 225-0100
• Contact Senate Armed Services Committee Chairmain Carl Levin (D-MI) and tell him Military Budget Attachment is the way to go. His office in Washington can be reached at: (202) 224-6221
• Become a citizen co-sponsor of repeal at Senator Udall's site.