The Fight's Not Over



Why would Maj. Mike Almy want to return to military life after police escorted him off Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany following his 2006 discharge under “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

His reasons, like those of many gay soldiers who have suffered similar predicaments, are a mix of the obvious and the intangible. A plainspoken Ohio native and Iraq war veteran whose private e-mails were searched, leading to 16 months of discharge proceedings, Almy served 13 years in the military. That’s seven years shy of a retirement that would have provided him an estimated $1.5 million in pension and benefits.

Less quantifiable than the benefits, Almy’s sense of purpose has been harder to find in the bottom line–driven world of the private sector as a military contractor. “The motivation is not the same,” he says. “There’s a sense of sacrifice and fulfillment when you’re working for your country in the military. I miss the people, the camaraderie. And the mission.”

At press time, repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not a done deal. And you won’t read any celebratory headlines regarding its demise in any issue of this magazine this year. Movement in Congress in recent months has repeal advocates “cautiously optimistic.” But critical steps, from the completion of a Pentagon working group study to an executive order calling for a nondiscrimination clause that firmly protects openly gay service members, have yet to be taken.

And critically, the policy is not all that matters. “You’ll still have rampant homophobia,” says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank on sexual orientation and military policy. “While it’s symbolically important to erase the stain of second-class citizenship with a nondiscrimination policy, it’s not the same as changing the culture.”

That hasn’t stopped Almy, 40, from seriously contemplating a
return to active duty. Nor has it kept Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the legal group Almy depended on during his discharge, from planning its future course in a post-repeal world. SLDN expects that 10% to 20% of soldiers discharged under DADT—a full 1,350 to 2,700 troops—will seek to reenlist when the policy is repealed.

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