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Gay Soldier Invited Back To National Guard

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Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate, Arabic-speaker and Iraq War veteran, was recommended for discharge under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy after declaring that he is gay. But now, he's been asked to return to training with his National Guard unit. The invitation comes as the Defense Department reviews the possible effects of repealing the military policy, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving. Host Scott Simon speaks with Choi.


Lieutenant Dan Choi is back in training. Lieutenant Choi is a 28-year-old West Point graduate, Arabic-speaker and Iraq War veteran who was recommended for discharge under the Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy after declaring that he is gay. But now, hes been asked - ordered might be a better word - to return to training with his National Guard unit. The invitation comes as the Defense Department reviews the possible effects of repealing military policy, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving.

Lieutenant Dan Choi joins us from our studios in New York. Lieutenant, thanks for being with us.

LIEUTENANT DAN CHOI (Iraq War Veteran): Great to be with you, Scott. Reporting for duty, sir

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. CHOI: or should I say sergeant? I dont know which one youre going by today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Scott will be just fine, OK?

Lt. CHOI: Yes, Scott.

SIMON: So, how were you invited back to duty? Can you explain this to us?

Lt. CHOI: Well, the main reason why my commander called me in and talked to me and told me that its best for me to come back to training is because theres a deployment coming up.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Lt. CHOI: Our unit is slated to go - anywhere within the next few months to maybe even two years - to go to Afghanistan. And he pointed out, we need every soldier thats capable and willing, to go.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Lt. CHOI: We all need to train on critical skills. So this past weekend, in particular, was important. We got out there in the snow, and we qualified on our rifles. We shot, and I shot straight - was one of the things that I did straight, I suppose. And it was great to come back.

SIMON: Tell us a bit about your service. Youve been able to use your Arabic much?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Lt. CHOI: Well, in Iraq, I was deployed in south Baghdad for an extended tour, in 2006 through 2007. And I was an infantry officer who would patrol around south Baghdad, an area called (foreign language spoken) in Arabic; it's the Triangle of Death. And knowing the language that people spoke certainly made it easier to ask questions, and to get to know not only where the terrorists might be, where the insurgents might be, but also who your friends are and what we can do to help and fully partner.

SIMON: So whats the status of your so-called discharge now?

Lt. CHOI: Its actually still looming over my head. Right after I walk off the set here today, I might get a call that says, Lieutenant Choi, you are discharged. And it could be an honorable discharge, or an other-than-honorable discharge. You know, back in May of 2009, I got a letter that said, there's sufficient basis and were going to fire you. I fought it and I appealed and said, I want to have a trial. I collected - now - 500,000 signatures and character statements and presented to the board, who ultimately recommended discharge for me. And that paperwork - that whole file is now floating somewhere up in the Pentagon. And one thing thats interesting about the status of my particular case, there was no jilted lover or third-party outing. I just refused to tell a lie. And thats what I stood trial for.

SIMON: Well, you learned that at West Point, right? An officer doesnt lie or quibble even, right - not even to shade the truth.

Lt. CHOI: Thats right. Theres a concept called equivocation and - essentially saying youre giving equal weight to one version or the other, saying its not one or the other. And it really is encapsulated by what we recited every Sunday in the cadet prayer, that we should never be content with the half-truth when the whole can be won. So half-truth is just as immoral. For me, I was living a half-truth but it was a whole lie.

SIMON: And Im sorry if this touches on the areas that really are personal, but when you became a West Point cadet, you knew about this policy, Dont Ask, Dont Tell?

Lt. CHOI: Sure.

SIMON: And did you also, then, know that you were gay?

Lt. CHOI: Yes. Scott, being in the closet - my dad, he is a Southern Baptist minister, and my mom is a nurse in a maternity ward. Bottom-line, they really wanted me to get married to a Korean girl and have a lot of grandchildren for them. And I never wanted to come out. I never wanted to tell the truth about who I am. So for me, for 10 years living under this as a single person, I thought it was a great thing. It was a way for me to hide. And it wasnt until I started a relationship, where I understood love and intimacy and shared growth and maturity - thats when I realized I cant lie about this anymore. And why would I insult my partner to the point where they cant exist?

SIMON: Lieutenant Choi, very nice talking to you.

Lt. CHOI: Nice talking to you.

SIMON: Good luck to you and your unit, if and when youre deployed.

Lt. CHOI: Thank you.

SIMON: And always, thank you. Lieutenant Dan Choi, speaking with us from New York.

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