The U.S. Army has discharged six linguists studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., for being gay, even as the military is struggling with a critical shortage of fluent speakers of Middle Eastern languages. Three other linguists--two were studying Korean, and one was learning Mandarin Chinese--were also discharged for the same reason.
Seven of the specialists had acknowledged their sexual orientation, while two others were caught together after curfew, said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gays in the military.
"We face a drastic shortage of linguists, and the direct impact of Arabic speakers is a particular problem," said Donald R. Hamilton, who documented the need for more linguists in a report to Congress as part of the National Commission on Terrorism. The federal government has aggressively recruited Arabic speakers since September 11, 2001, when security agencies found themselves unable to quickly translate and analyze the huge volume of terrorist communications intercepted before and after the attacks.
Two of the linguists, Alastair "Jack" Gamble and Robert Hicks of Beltsville, Md., were discovered in Gamble's room during a surprise inspection in April. Because Hicks was breaking curfew, a routine search followed, turning up incriminating letters and other evidence of the men's sexual orientation, Gamble said. "My personal situation was upturned, and the rest of world doesn't have to care about that," Gamble said. "What they should care about is that they as taxpayers paid a lot of money to train me, and I wanted to use those skills for the good of the country, and the country said, 'No, thank you.'"