Former Major On Military Gay Ban

A former Air Force major, who was discharged from the Air Force in 2006 for violating the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, says there is no merit to the argument that repealing the policy would hurt cohesiveness. Mike Almy says the military needs every capable person it can get.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, General Colin Powell expressed his support for the Obama administration's plans to review and repeal the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. In a statement, General Powell writes that attitudes and circumstances have changed.

Back in 1993, when Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he opposed allowing gays to serve openly, and he was instrumental in getting the policy put in place.

Well, this week, we are hearing various views on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and whether it should be repealed. Yesterday, we spoke with California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Republican, a former Marine, who advocates keeping the policy in place.

Joining us today is Mike Almy who served 13 years in the Air Force, attained the rank of major and was discharged against his wishes under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

And Mike Almy, welcome to the program.

Major MIKE ALMY (Former U.S. Air Force): Thank you. Good to be here.

SIEGEL: You were honorably discharged back in 2006.

Maj. ALMY: Correct.

SIEGEL: What happened?

Maj. ALMY: I think the whole situation arose innocently enough, initially. The unit that replaced my unit in Iraq was searching through historical records, emails, files, et cetera for continuity purposes. So it was purely legitimate. Somehow or another, someone in a leadership position stumbled upon my private emails, electronically. I guess they became very curious, started reading some emails, found something that they either disagreed with, disliked - I'm not sure. Instead of just deleting them, throwing them away, which they should have done, they raised it to their leadership. Their leadership said, go check it out, go search these emails.

And never once did they stop to involve a lawyer in this process. So they conducted a search of over 500 private emails that I had written to family and friends and pulled out a dozen or so that were damaging to myself and used those against me.

SIEGEL: Damaging because one could infer from those emails or one could read literally from those emails that you were gay.

Maj. ALMY: Correct.

SIEGEL: My understanding of Secretary of Defense Gates' proposed interim rules would be that in that instance where you had not made a statement, someone in the service does not tell, that that can't be construed as telling. It wouldn't be actionable under the policy as it exists now.

Maj. ALMY: That's my understanding of the statement that Secretary Gates made yesterday. That would have had a direct impact upon my case. And in all likelihood, I would still be on active duty.

SIEGEL: Did anyone you served with know of your sexual orientation?

Maj. ALMY: No, I was not out at all in the military.

SIEGEL: So, I mean, from your point of view, is that an application of a bad policy, Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Or is that a misapplication since you didn't tell - is that a misapplication of the policy that exists?

Maj. ALMY: I think it's both. I think it's a misapplication of the policy the way it exists today. I also think it's an example of incorrect policy, something that should be changed.

SIEGEL: When Representative Duncan Hunter was on the program yesterday, when he and others say that allowing gays to serve openly would make many service members uncomfortable. You'd need separate hygiene facilities, bunks. What do you think of that?

Maj. ALMY: I don't think there's a lot of merit to that. Everyone in the military today serves with someone that they are uncomfortable with for one reason or another. And the fact of the matter is they all have to be professionals. They all have to do their job and perform the mission and that's what makes them a professional military force, the greatest military in the world today. They get beyond those uncomfortable situations.

SIEGEL: Here's an argument in defense of keeping the policy that I heard from Representative Hunter; heard it from Senator Mitch McConnell the other day on television. This particular moment it said: The armed forces are engaged in two wars. It's a highly stressful period, not to mention all the domestic economic problems that we have.

Maj. ALMY: Sure, yes.

SIEGEL: We don't need this issue right now is the argument. It's just one more problem to deal with. What do you make of that?

Maj. ALMY: My thoughts on that are - well, first off, obviously the military is stretched very thin. No one would disagree with that. My answer to that is we need every capable person in the military today. We continue to kick out mission-critical people just because of this policy, just because of who they are.

We've lost dozens of Arabic language translators, doctors, lawyers, pilots, people with valuable skills that we need today. And we can't afford to lose one person.

SIEGEL: If the policy were changed, would you want to rejoin the Air Force?

Maj. ALMY: Absolutely. I loved serving in the military. I loved being an officer. I loved the camaraderie, the mission, the people. And I miss it a great deal.

SIEGEL: Mike Almy, thank you very much for talking with us.

Maj. ALMY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mike Almy was a major in the Air Force until 2006, when he was honorably discharged under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy.

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