says he was 16 when he learned one of his relatives was
gay and that watching that person's struggle gave him a grim
introduction to discrimination against gays. He
carried those feelings to West Point and in his senior
thesis argued that the military's policy barring out
gays is not only wrong but harmful to the Army.
The Pentagon may not agree, but the U.S.
Military Academy gave him an award for the paper. "I
love the Army, and I think that this is hurting the
Army," said Raggio, now 24, in an interview this week
from his new military post at Fort Riley, Kan. "I see it as
my obligation to say, 'I don't agree with what you're
doing.' I'm not being insubordinate; I just think
we're making a mistake here."
He said it was the first time he had spoken
publicly about the paper or the award, which he
received last year when he graduated from West Point
in New York State. While the topic was controversial and the
argument contrary to the military's "don't ask, don't
tell" policy, Raggio was presented the Brigadier
General Carroll E. Adams Award for the best senior
thesis in the art, philosophy, and literature major in the
academy's English department.
"It won independent of the subject matter and
content," said thesis adviser Richard Schoonhoven, a
philosophy professor at West Point. "It was a closely
argued piece of philosophical prose. He tackled a
substantive issue, took a stand, and didn't back down from
the controversy. He presented a good case."
Initially Raggio worried about a backlash to his
paper, saying that people told him, "There's a
possibility this will come back to haunt you, that
people will use it against you." But in the end, he said,
he felt obligated to say what he thought.
"The Army often talks of doing the harder right
rather than the easier wrong, and now it is time to
put the policy where the propaganda is," he wrote in
his 24-page thesis. "Allowing the open service of gays
in the military is the right thing to do, no matter how
difficult a transition it may be."
Under the Pentagon's policy, the military is
prohibited from inquiring about the sex lives of
service members, but those who openly acknowledge
being gay must be discharged. There were 726 military
members discharged under the policy during the year
that ended last September 30.
"I have a problem where you have a military that
says you can't discriminate based on race; in all but
very minimal ways you can't discriminate based on
gender; and you can't discriminate based on religion
or lack of religion. The only people not getting a fair
shake were homosexuals," said Raggio, who is from
Muncie, Ind., and describes himself as "about the
straightest guy you can imagine."
He says he knew by the time he was in seventh
grade that he wanted to go to West Point and become a
career Army officer. Now a second lieutenant, leading
a platoon in the 97th Military Police Battalion, he talks
eagerly of going to Iraq, possibly next year.
He plans to spend at least 20 years in the
service, and he said he believes the Army he loves is
capable of integrating openly gay soldiers, much as it
brought in minorities and women. In his paper Raggio
acknowledged that changing the policy may create tension or
put openly gay soldiers at risk of violence.
But he argued that soldiers who make life and
death decisions in Iraq and handle volatile situations
with insurgents and prisoners are capable of dealing
with a gay soldier in their battalion. Advocates of gays in
the military said they are encouraged that Raggio's
paper was lauded by the school.
"I think that this award symbolizes a shift in
military culture," said Aaron Belkin, director of the
Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the
Military, a think tank at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. "Raggio was brave enough to write about it in
the first place, but the fact that West Point would
give him an award for challenging the gay ban is a
powerful indication of how far the military has come