Many key military specialists discharged under "don't ask, don't tell"
June 21 2004 11:00 PM ET
Even with concerns growing about military troop strength, 770 people were discharged for homosexuality last year under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a new study shows. The figure, however, is significantly lower than the record 1,227 discharges in 2001--just before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Since "don't ask, don't tell" was adopted in 1994, nearly 10,000 military personnel have been discharged--including linguists, nuclear warfare experts, and other key
specialists. The statistics, obtained from the Defense Manpower Data Center and analyzed by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers a detailed profile of those discharged, including job specialty, rank, and years spent in the service. "The justification for the policy is that allowing gays and lesbians to serve would undermine military readiness," said Aaron Belkin, author of the study, released Monday. "For the first time, we can see how it has impacted every corner of the military and goes to the heart of the military readiness argument." The "don't ask, don't tell" policy allows gays to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts.
The study, which analyzed discharges between 1998 and 2003, found the majority of those let go under "don't ask, don't tell" were active-duty enlisted personnel in the early stages of their careers. Of the nearly 6,300 people discharged during that six-year period, only 75 were officers. Seventy-one percent of those discharged were men. The study found that the Army, the largest of the services, was responsible for about 41% of all discharges. The Army has invoked its "stop-loss" authority to keep soldiers from retiring or otherwise leaving if they are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Lawmakers' votes to increase troop strength reflected the concerns voiced by families of military personnel whose tours in Iraq keep getting extended. About 27% of the discharges came from the Navy, 22% from the Air Force, and 9% from the Marines.
Hundreds of those discharged held high-level job specialties that required years of training and expertise, including 90 nuclear power engineers, 150 rocket and missile specialists, and 49 nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare specialists. Eighty-eight linguists were discharged, including at least seven Arab language specialists. Brian Muller, an Army bomb squad team leader who had advanced training on weapons of mass destruction and served on a security detail for President Bush, said he was dismissed from duty after deciding to tell his commander that he's gay. "I didn't do it to get out of a war; I already served in a war," Muller, 25, said in an interview. "After putting my life on the line in the war, the idea that I was fighting for the freedoms of so many other people that I couldn't myself enjoy was almost unbearable."
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, a conservative advocacy group that opposes gays serving in the military, said the loss of gays and lesbians serving in specialized areas is irrelevant because they never should have been in those jobs in the first place. "We need to defend the law, and the law says that homosexuality is incompatible with military service," Donnelly said. "There is no shortage of people in the military, and we do not need people who identify themselves as homosexual." There are currently about 1.5 million people serving in active duty in the military and another 1 million in the reserves.