1,000 gays have needed military skills

By PAMELA HESS, Pentagon correspondent  |  July 2, 2004 at 4:28 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Around 1,000 service members with special skills that are now sorely needed in Iraq have been expelled from the military in the last five years because they are gay, according to a United Press International analysis.

The military next week will recall from their civilian lives some 5,600 soldiers to fill out the ranks of 141,000 soldiers serving in Iraq. The service is calling in those former soldiers who have specific skills tailor-made for the Iraq conflict -- those experienced in food service, truck driving, auto repair and healthcare as well as paralegals, combat engineers, administration specialists and infantry. It is the largest mobilization of the Individual Ready Reserve in two decades.

The IRR is a pool of former military personnel who either volunteer to be on call for duty or who, by virtue of their initial enlistment contracts, owe up to four years in the IRR after they leave the military. An Army official this week admitted some soldiers will be "shocked" to be called up for a year's duty from their civilian lives as the IRR is so rarely tapped.

However, according to numbers provided by the Army and by the Defense Department, at least 948 gay service members with the very same specialties have been forced out of the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars homosexuals from serving. Not all of the 948 are from the Army; service by service breakdowns were not available.

The Army is seeking 790 "motor transport operators" -- truck drivers -- to pull a year's duty in Iraq. At least 113 military truck drivers were forced to leave the armed forces between 1998 and 2003, according to statistics the Defense Manpower Data Center in Seaside, Calif., provided under the Freedom of Information Act to the University of California-Santa Barbara's Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

The list continues: The Army is seeking 211 food service operators for a year's duty in Iraq. At least 153 gay food service operators were forced out of the military between 1998 and 2003. The Army is activating 531 "administration specialists." At least 234 supply administration specialists were kicked out of the military in the same five-year period. The Army is seeking 361 light-wheel mechanics and 52 tracked-vehicle mechanics. And at least 122 automotive service specialist and 28 tracked-vehicle specialists have left the military because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The Army also needs some 307 medical personnel. At least 212 general medical care treatment specialists have left the service along with dozens of other medical specialists ranging from surgery to dental care to registered nurses.

The Army is also seeking 143 combat engineers. At least 57 were forced from the military between 1998 and 2003.

The military has also expelled 163 law enforcement specialists and 15 language interrogators for homosexuality, the same specialties that have come under such scrutiny in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal -- in no small part because of the graphic, homoerotic and humiliating pictures taken of the prisoners. In some pictures, prisoners were forced to emulate fellatio on each other. In others, they were forced to masturbate with hoods on. In still others, they were piled naked on top of each other.

Due to a lack of trained Arabic linguists, the military has hired private contractors to conduct interrogations and provide translation to intelligence teams. At least three such private contractors have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. In November 2002, CSSMM reported that seven military Arabic linguists were discharged because of their homosexuality.

According to CSSMM, 6,273 service members were expelled from the U.S. military between 1998 and 2003 for sexual orientation. After peaking in 2001 with 1,227 service members kicked out for violating the policy against homosexuals serving in the military, the numbers declined for the last two years -- to 885 in 2002 and 770 in 2003. The reduction coincides with an increased need for soldiers in general, as the United States has engaged in two ground-force intensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"At a time when the military is forced to recall previously discharged service members on an involuntary basis, these data show that 'don't ask, don't tell' has undermined readiness by depriving the armed forces of mission-critical talent," said CSSMM Executive Director Aaron Belkin, in a report released last week.

"Repealing the gay ban is essential to preserving the fighting ability of our armed forces," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that advocates for homosexuals in the military.

The controversial "don't ask, don't tell" rule was crafted in 1993 by Congress and then President Clinton, softening the military's stance since 1981 that declared homosexuality incompatible with military service. Under the new policy, the military could no longer interrogate troops or recruits about their sexual orientation nor conduct investigations based on hearsay. For their part, gay troops were not to declare their orientation nor act on it while in the military.

Nevertheless, the policy still holds that homosexuality poses an unacceptable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline in the armed forces. Clinton initially promised in his presidential campaign to lift the ban on gays in the military, causing an outcry throughout the armed forces.

The policy is also a law: Even if the military wanted to keep openly gay service members, it is forbidden to do so. The policy is somewhat selectively enforced, however: retired Lt. Steve May, a member of Arizona's state legislature, declared himself to be gay in 2000 but was allowed to complete his term of service in the Army Reserve.

"The current law mandated by Congress makes it necessary that individuals who make it known publicly that they are homosexuals must be considered for separation," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Keck. "At this time there is no other option for commanders in the field."

According to the Pentagon, about 90 percent of those who leave the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" ban do so voluntarily -- that is, they declare their sexual orientation to superiors or colleagues thereby forcing their removal.

The SLDN, however, says 95 percent of the service members who contact the organization for assistance report they were harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation.

A 1999 Pentagon survey on gay harassment in the military suggests that figure is not far off: 80 percent of respondents had heard derogatory, anti-gay remarks during the past year; 37 percent had witnessed or experienced targeted incidents of anti-gay harassment; and 9 percent of respondents reported witnessing or experiencing anti-gay physical assaults.

The survey was undertaken after the 1999 beating murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell while he slept in his barracks at Fort Campbell, Ky., by Pvt. Calvin Glover, a soldier in his unit who believed Winchell was gay. Glover is serving a life sentence.

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