LYNN NEARY, host:
This is Talk Of The Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. Last week, Congress held its first hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military since it was enacted 15 years ago. The chair of the sub-committee that convened the hearing, Representative Susan Davis, said that, "Our purpose is to begin a long overdue review of the policy, to start a conversation about the real life impact on our service members," she continued, "their families and the operational readiness of our military."
Since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was implemented, the government has spent several hundred million dollars to enforce the policy. Every year, thousands of service members leave the military because of it. Many high-ranking members of the armed forces had questioned its efficacy. Some have suggested that it's time to repeal it. So 15 years later, does "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" work? What do you think? We specially want to hear from members of the military, active or retired, this hour. Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment on our blog, it's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Later in the hour, the Talk Of The Nation Opinion Page. But first, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," 15 years later. We start with Ben McGrath, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. His article, "A Soldier's Legacy," appears in this week's issue. It's a profile of Alan Rogers, who was perhaps the first gay soldier killed in action in the war in Iraq. You can find a link to the piece on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And Ben McGrath joins us now from our bureau in New York. Good to have you with us, Ben.
Mr. BEN MCGRATH (Staff writer, The New Yorker; Author, "A Soldier's Legacy"): Good to be here. Thanks.
NEARY: Now, why did you choose to tell this particular story? What does Alan Rogers' story tell us about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy?
Mr. MCGRATH: Well, I guess, first I would go back to your statement that he was perhaps the first gay soldier killed, and offer the caveat that maybe he was the first known gay soldier killed. And that answers your question, which is, how do we know, in a policy that enforces secrecy on those members of the military who serve and are gay, how do we know who is and who isn't gay? Alan Rogers is someone who - although he was a career soldier, spent almost 20 years in the military - had, for the last few years of his life, been working with a group in Washington called American Veterans for Equal Rights, trying to overturn the policy.
NEARY: Now, he essentially led two lives, the way your story tells it, it seems.
Mr. MCGRATH: If not three or four. I mean, yes. There is the first - the most prominent component of that would be the very decorated soldier's life. He was a major. He was awarded a couple of bronze stars and he was working military intelligence. The second of those, you might say that these aren't in rank order, he was also an ordained Baptist minister. Some of his friends didn't know that component of his life. And a third component, if there are only three, would be perhaps that he was an active member of the gay community in Washington, D.C., and particularly the gay military community.
NEARY: What is known about how he was able to keep, certainly, the gay and the straight life so separate? How did he manage to do that?
Mr. MCGRATH: Well, amazingly, one of the features of the policy is that it is not just "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but don't harass and don't pursue, and although he worked in military intelligence, most of the people he worked with in the Pentagon and in the military had no idea that he was gay despite the fact that he sent emails to a Yahoo discussion group under his own name in the gay community.
He was someone who was very good at blending into - to his surroundings. He's someone - I think no one who knew him thought of him, except for maybe those who worked with him with the veteran's group, thought of him as an activist. He was someone who simply really believed in the military. He was proud of who he was in his various other endeavors and was just not determined to ruffle any feathers.
NEARY: Right. And so he followed the policy. He followed the rule because he believed so much in the military, it seems like that - it seems to be the conclusion.
Mr. MCGRATH: Definitely, he did. The question then would be if after 20 years - some of his friends have said that he was thinking of leaving the military - having spent 15 of those 20 years in the military living under the policy of secrecy, he was beginning to think that he couldn't continue and also achieve a kind of long-lasting private life.
NEARY: And one of the points you make in your article is that this would have been a tremendous loss to the military, that he was the kind of person that the military not only would need, but really want this kind of person in the military.
Mr. MCGRATH: Certainly. I mean, when the Pentagon had a memorial service for Major Rogers after he died and the number of very high-ranking people attended, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Gordon England, for whom Rogers had worked as a special assistant, was there, and a number of generals and high-ranking people spoke of him as though he were among the best soldiers they'd ever served with. You know, the top five percent of leaders on track to be a general. I don't think anyone ever really questioned the value of his service to the military.
NEARY: It's interesting because you quote one of his oldest friends, a civilian, not a member of the military, who had no idea. Somebody he worked with at the Pentagon, I think, was in a cubicle opposite him and said, I just - I never knew. And yet there are some indications that the men that he served with in Iraq did maybe know.
Mr. MCGRATH: Well, it's true. I went down to one of his best friends, perhaps his best friend, his - the benefactor of his - and the executor of his will received all of his personal effects a couple of months after his death down in Florida. And I went down and looked through some of those effects with his friend, and one of them was a kind of bongo drum that Rogers had received as a parting gift from his troops in Korea where he served two tours. And on the drum they had decorated - they'd written on the skin of the drum as though it were a kind of interrogation form, for this was a military intelligence unit, and it had a kind of joking tone.
It joked about the, you know, the objects, the documents that would be on this person's possession, this person being Major Rogers, and they talked about, you know, searching for my perfect bride, you know, a book unsuccessfully well used, and you know, "It's Raining Men" CD. And talked about his love of men's fashion. These kind of, sort of signifiers that I think, at least in today's world, we might associate with the gay community.
NEARY: Now it's interesting that after his death, something of a controversy broke out about whether it should be revealed that he was gay or not.
Mr. MCGRATH: That's true. When - after he died, there was some press in The Washington Post and elsewhere - some of his friends in the gay community in Washington, I think rightly thought that this might be a good story to approach the policy that we're talking about right now. And I think they went to The Washington Post and other venues and said, here, we've got a great story for you. This is the first known gay casualty of the Iraq War, and we know he was gay because he was the treasurer of our organization and we are an organization that works to overturn this policy.
And they welcomed some reporters into their ceremonies - their memorial ceremonies, and were surprised to see that when the initial reports came out in the mainstream press, there were glowing accounts of his life as a soldier but no mention of him having been gay.
NEARY: Yeah. I should mention here that NPR actually did a profile of him at the time of his death. But we spoke with a producer who said that their contact had been with the family, with members of the military, and they didn't know, either, and so didn't mention it.
Mr. MCGRATH: Right. And one of the other issues, I would say, is that the family, in this case - Alan Rogers was a kind of ultimate American orphan, in some ways. He was put up for adoption when he was born in New York and lived then with his adoptive parents, who were somewhat older, both in the housing projects in the south Bronx and then in Florida. He had no siblings and both of those parents then died when he was about, I think, 30 or 32 years old. And so at the time of his death, his family - his closest family were cousins of his adoptive parents, and that made it, I think, particularly hard in the aftermath to determine who should we turn to, to find out how to remember this man.
NEARY: We're talking with Ben McGrath about his story, "A Soldier's Legacy," which is in the current issue of The New Yorker, and let's take a call now from Frank in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Hi, Frank.
FRANK (Caller): Hi.
NEARY: Go ahead.
FRANK: Hey, thanks for taking my call. I really do appreciate it. This is an important subject. I'm retired from the military. I did 20 years in the United States Navy. I was a chief (unintelligible) officer. When I get out - and during my military career, I have to say that there were a number of gay people that I knew who were openly gay. There were also some people who weren't so openly gay. I'm thinking of two people that I consider I would - at the time I considered them very close friends. And I wasn't until after I transferred them - with each of them, that I found out that they were gay. I mean, they kept it that hidden, their close friends didn't even know.
And during my military career, I never had an experience where a person who was gay made any kind of an inappropriate gesture or anything towards me. In other words, I want them to clarify I'm talking about another person in the military.
NEARY: Mm hmm. Right.
FRANK: However, throughout my life, I have, on three times, twice when I was a teenager and once when I was in the Navy as a young adult, been approached inappropriately by gay men who were civilian.
NEARY: Well, did that make you uncomfortable about the idea of there being gay men in the military?
FRANK: Not in the least bit. I am not uncomfortable with gay people in the military at all. They do a good job. I don't care what they're doing. The do good jobs. They do good work. And there were some - this homophobia thing, people think that, you know, guys think that gay guys want them. Well, most gay guys don't. So gay guys are interested in another gay guy. That's my experience.
NEARY: All right.
FRANK: And I think we've been doing, you know, those people are American and they have the same rights supposedly, theoretically, as the rest of us, and I think we've been cheating them and doing a disservice for years and years and years.
NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for your call, Frank.
FRANK: OK. Thank you.
NEARY: Appreciate your calling. And I just wanted to give you a chance to conclude, Ben - we've got a minute left - you know, what you took away from this experienced, writing this article.
Mr. MCGRATH: Well, the main thing I took away is that there are really no villains in the story of Alan Rogers. I know a lot of people among Alan Rogers' friends and family and colleagues ended up on very - taking very different positions after his death over how we should remember him. And I think all of these people were acting with the best intentions, I think, whether they were in the military or his friends or his family. But the complications are sort of inherent in this policy, which enforces a kind of secrecy on a life of someone as complicated as Alan Rogers.
NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for joining us today, Ben.
Mr. MCGRATH: Thank you.
NEARY: Ben McGrath is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His article, "A Soldier's Legacy," appears in the newest issue. We'll continue our discussion when we return from a short break. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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LYNN NEARY, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Fifteen years ago, the Clinton administration instituted its policy on gays in the military, summed up as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A poll last week showed that some 75 percent of the American public said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. That's up from 62 percent in 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.
We are talking about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this hour. Fifteen years later, does it work? We especially want to hear from members of the military. Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, and our email address is email@example.com. You can also comment on our blog, it's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
And we had hoped to have a guest from the Department of Defense on this program for their perspective on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but they declined our invitation. Instead, Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, provided this statement: "Section 654 of Title 10 United States code requires the Department of Defense to separate from the armed forces members who engage in, attempt to engage in, or solicit another person to engage in homosexual acts, state that they are homosexual or bisexual, or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex."
The statement continues: "There is no ban on gay and lesbian service members. A service member's sexual orientation is viewed as a personal matter and is not a bar to continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The law establishes the basis for separation from the armed services as conduct, not sexual orientation. DOD policy reflects that law, and DOD actions, of course, are determined by whatever statutory direction Congress provides. But DOD does not advocate for change in section 654 at this time."
That statement from Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense.
Jamie Barnett is a retired rear admiral. He was the deputy commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. And last week, The Washington Post published an op-ed hero, called "Defending Our Values." You can find a link to it on our blog, at npr.org/blogofthenation. Jamie Barnett joins us here in studio 3A now. So good to have you with us.
Rear Admiral JAMIE BARNETT (Navy; Former Deputy Commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command; Author, "Defending Our Values"): Lynn, thank you for having me.
NEARY: So in your piece, you call for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Why is that?
Adm. BARNETT: I called for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and not only that, but also for senior military officers to start speaking about what the effects are on our military. There are two ways that we can approach this and one - what you just heard from Ben McGrath, is how it affects individual members, and the fact that just shows that it's just wrong. But we are lucky in this country to have a non-political military, and that's some of the response that you're getting from the Pentagon right now. We don't need to get into the political-partisan side of it.
But military is responsible for telling our Congress in our present how policies affect military readiness, and that's the point of this piece. I mean, the fact of the matter is that we have 65,000 gays and lesbians in the service right now. We couldn't do without them. These are people that are in Iraq, in Afghanistan, occupying positions of great importance. At the same time, if they reveal that to anybody, we would have to throw them out. So each year we loose Arabic linguists, intelligence officers, pilots, masters sergeants that it could take us 15 to 20 years to grow. And we just can't do that from the military readiness standpoint. That's what we need to tell Congress.
NEARY: You know, we just heard from Ben McGrath and the profile that he wrote that it is possible, I guess, to keep it a secret that you are gay when you are in the military. But when I read your piece and I saw that figure, I think you said, again, 6,500...
Adm. BARNETT: Sixty-five thousand.
NEARY: Sixty-five thousand, I'm sorry. I thought, truly people know. I mean, surely, when you're serving with someone who's gay, maybe not all the time but some of the time, others around you must know that you are gay, even if you don't say it.
Adm. BARNETT: I think that probably is true in some regards and - but I think the large majority live in fear. And one is - and you mentioned at the top of your story Captain Joan Darrah, who is a friend of mine. You know, she covered it beautifully. I don't believe that anybody realized that she was a lesbian. And what is the effect on the individual to keep that kind of secret and everyday, you know - and she's told me, pick up the phone and then the Admiral is calling you in his office. Oh, well, it's probably to talk about such and such an issue, but this may be the day when I'm being fired and my career is down to drain. We just shouldn't be putting people under that type of pressures and strain. It's unfair.
NEARY: You make a link between this issue and integration. You mentioned that you grew up in the south, and explain how you see - how that has affected the way you may see this issue, as well?
Adm. BARNETT: I grew up in the south in 1960s, attended segregated schools until I was a sophomore in high school. But when an integration occurred, all of the fear that attended that really evaporated when we saw, oh, we're really a lot alike, and that era opened up opportunities not just for African-Americans, but also whites through a greater understanding. So I think it's a tempest and a teapot to say that this is going to be some problem. I mean, the fact of the matter is that gays and lesbians have already integrated into our service. It's just that we don't know who they are. They are afraid to let that go.
And I think, moving away from the military readiness standpoint, just to look at what it does. My old command, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, has 9,000 sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been, I mean, very concerned - there's a lot of senior Tom that goes into what's happening to these people, how do we deal with them when they come back, how do we support them, how do we support their families? That's not available to any of them that are gays and lesbians. We can't offer something to their partners. We can't really provide that support, even the training that goes into recognizing the PTSD. So it's just unfair from that standpoint, even if we're saying we're concerned about our servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
NEARY: What's your own sense of having the - what the feeling in the military is right now about this policy?
Adm. BARNETT: Lynn, that's one of the interesting things to me. I've spoken offline to senior officers, senior enlisted, and the fact of the matter - so guys about my age, right? Most of them say, well, you know, I've talked to my son, I talked to my daughter, and they just don't see any problem with this. And I think that's the thing that we're seeing. This current generation has grown up knowing - having gay and lesbians friends, having it discussed more openly, and they don't see - as a matter of fact, that's one of the things I would say is it may be hurting us in the military recruiting heterosexual members, because they say, well, I don't want to work in some place where there's this type of inborn, inbred discrimination.
I don't know that it's that - now you're going to be able to find, obviously, people who are against it and dead set against it. But I think I would say, maybe even the percentages that you mentioned of the poll, there are great number of people that in the military that they think it's inevitable and would welcome "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" going away.
NEARY: And just before we go to the phones, the number of people who would be dead set against it, I mean, even if it is a small number, could that opposition be so fierce that it does pose a problem for the military, that there would be people who are so concerned about other gay people in the military that there might even be violence between the two sides, that that might be one thing that the military might be worried about?
Adm. BARNETT: You know, I would encourage us to plan ahead for a transition. But for instance, right now, I used to be in charge of a thing in the Navy that would teach people about diversity, teach people about race relations. There's nothing in there right now about the diversity of sexual orientation. So I think we need to plan ahead and incorporate that in education.
But I have to say this. The military is all about meeting fierce opposition. We can be brave about that, and it didn't stop Harry Truman six years ago this month from integrating the military, even though there were great threats of violence back then. And the fact of the matter, also, we have women coming into the military and playing different roles. You know, there were all kinds of dire predictions about that, none of which have panned out. This will be - this will be the nature.
NEARY: OK. We're talking about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy with retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett. We're going to take some calls now. Let's go to Sheena(ph) and Sheena is calling from Michigan. Hi, Sheena.
SHEENA (Caller): Hi. How are you?
NEARY: Good. Go ahead.
SHEENA: Last year, my girlfriend was injured pretty severely in Iraq, and she went down to the army hospital in Texas and it was a very hard for us to stay in contact. I was not the first person notified when she was injured. I heard it through the grapevine of the family. And though I did go to see her, we always had to be very careful about what we said, about who we were around. I was not allowed to be her non-medical attendant, which is someone who is allowed to stay down there with them while they're getting better. ..TEXT: And I know that there are tons of outings for families, you know, husband and wife outings, to try to keep the morale up of the injured soldiers, none of which we, of course, could participate in. And I just found the whole experience very frustrating. As someone mentioned earlier, no training for post-traumatic stress or how to deal with it, you know, integration of your family when you get home, because according to them, you're not a family.
NEARY: Mm hmm.
SHEENA: So I just - that's a very - and we weren't the only ones. We ran into some other people and it's very hard for them to keep their morale up and get better when their partners are not even allowed to be near them. So I was kind hoping, maybe, with the staff of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it would really help the injured soldiers who are not getting the help they need just because of their orientation.
NEARY: Admiral Barnett, what's your reaction to that story?
Adm. BARNETT: She's hit the nail on the head, and how unfair. I mean, this is somebody who is injured serving our country, just as others are injured serving our country. When they come home, we depend on the family to give them one thing that the military cannot provide, and that's the healing of family love. And it's absolutely essential. It's actually part of our readiness. We recognize that the support of families is an important part of the service members' psyche and preparedness. And it's unfair to the service member not to be able to allow that. And it's unfair to their - that person's loved ones. So that's one of the things, just as a manner of rightness. But once again, there's a military preparedness aspect to that, as well.
NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Sheena.
SHEENA: Thank you.
NEARY: And good luck. Let's go now to Sergeant Adams who is calling from Fort Bragg. Hi, Sergeant Adams.
Sergeant ADAMS (Caller): Thanks for taking my call. My main concern is, you know, we hear about all this unfairness and everything. Well, you know, the fact of the matter is, these people join the military knowing full well that they would not be able to disclose their sexual orientation. And what about the feeling of people that, you know, don't believe in that type of lifestyle? What about all those people in the military, you know? That would be my main question.
NEARY: So you would be concerned if you - you would not like to see this policy overturned. You think it's a good policy.
Sergeant ADAMS: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, you know, most of the type A personalities, you know, in your combat arms, you don't see homosexuals in those military occupational specialties, for the most part. And if they are there, I mean, you have no idea. And the number, 65,000 homosexuals in the U.S. military, how did he come up with that number, you know? I believe that that number is totally off.
NEARY: Admiral Barnett? Let's have Admiral Barnett respond to that.
Adm. BARNETT: The number 65,000 came from research done by the Williams Institute. And so, they did the numerical regression and statistical analysis on that, if Sergeant Adams would like to look at that. With regard to - I have to address the thing that homosexuals don't go into combat arms. I mean, even the indication from your writer is that...
Sergeant ADAMS: I didn't say they didn't go on the combat arms. What I said was, if they were in combat arms, they have it so deeply hidden that you wouldn't know, which, you know, when they signed up in the military, they knew full well that they would not be able to be allowed to display any kind of homosexual preferences or anything like that. They knew that when they signed up, you know. And I think it - I think integrity comes into call, into question, too, when you have these people that - especially before the law was passed, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," you know, what about these people that came in anyway and lied about their sexual orientation? You know, I think it calls into question their integrity, also.
NEARY: All right. Sergeant Adams, I'm going to say, thanks so much for calling and maybe you can listen offline. We're going to ask our guest to respond to some of the comments that you've made. And thanks so much for bringing in your point of view. And I want to remind our listeners that you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
Adm. BARNETT: You know, it's interesting. He says that they lied to come into the military and the kind of the stop-allow(ph) argument that well, they came in knowing this. The fact of the matter is that these people want to serve. These gays and lesbians want to serve just like anyone else. And they followed the law. They didn't tell in order to do that. So the question is not really about their integrity, it's the integrity of the law that forces them to hide that in a way that is destructive to themselves and I think ultimately to the military preparedness.
Now with regard to his other comments, we have gays and lesbians serving throughout the service in all sorts of jobs. The fact that they hide it is not - is very understandable. I mean, we force them to hide it because they can be thrown out and not allowed to serve anymore, even maybe if they've been serving 18, 20 years, getting close to retirement. I believe that the large majority will accept these people that are already serving side by side with them.
NEARY: Let's see if we can get another call in here from Anton(ph), and Anton in calling from Monterey, California. Hi, Anton.
ANTON (Caller): Hi, how are you? Thanks for taking my call.
NEARY: Go ahead.
ANTON: I'd like to share my story. And I recently got discharged from the United States Air Force. I was a Korean linguist. I did my training at DLI. I received my security clearance, graduated top from my class and on my way to my first duty station. It was got, got wind that I was gay and I was discharged. And I would just like to point out that in and of itself, spending all those resources and all that time, goes kind of with the fraud, waste and abuse policy of the military. And I also would like ask a question of the rear admiral.
NEARY: Go ahead.
ANTON: If this policy get repealed, is there a chance for all of these gay people who got discharged to get back in the military?
Adm. BARNETT: Anton, thank you for your question and for your service, and I'm sorry that that happened to you. House Resolution 1246 currently says that anyone who is discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would be eligible to at least reapply. I don't know if it guarantees you'd come back in, I think you have to qualify under all other requirements. But that's the one that's currently before Congress. It has about, I think, 140 some odd sponsors right now on the House side.
But you know, this points out what's happening to it is the rating has peaked(ph). Linguists are hard to come by. It takes a special aptitude, a lot of training. We probably spent thousands and thousands of dollars on Anton's skills, just to fritter it away, you know. We've spent about 363 million dollars since 1993 with the expense of kicking people out. We have had to spend another 200 million to replace them. And so it's just unfortunate that we would do that to our own readiness.
NEARY: All right. Anton, thanks so much for your call.
ANTON: Thank you.
NEARY: Appreciate your calling in. We're going to our discussion about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military after a short break. We're talking with retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, a former deputy commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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NEARY: Today, we're talking about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. My guest is retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, and we're discussing his piece in The Washington Post called "Defending Our Values."
We want to hear from members of the military, especially, today, both active and retired. What's your experience with the policy? Do you think it works? Give us a number at - give us a call at the number 800-989-8255. You can also send us an email. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
So Admiral Barnett, we were talking about - with a guest, with a caller just before, who said he wanted to know if he could go back in the military. He was kicked out of the military because he's gay. And I was interested in that, that he wants to go back in, even though this policy obviously had damaged his life in some way.
Adm. BARNETT: Many of the members who either are forced to leave or leave because they feel like they cannot stay under, you know, kind of the weight of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," do want to serve. Joan Darrah, who testified before Congress, decided to leave early. She had a brilliant career and could have stayed longer. Many of the others, as well, would like to, and we need them to. We don't need our most senior, most skilled people to leave.
NEARY: All right. We're going to take a call now from Joe. He's calling from Pennsylvania. Hey, Joe.
JOE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. My question is for the admiral, how would this policy apply in the event that they reenacted the draft? And I'll take my answer offline.
NEARY: OK. Thanks for your call.
Adm. BARNETT: Joe, first, I don't know that there will ever be a draft. I personally wouldn't be in favor of that. But if there were, I guess we'd have to hark back to Vietnam era when being classified as a homosexual was a way to get out of the draft. And perhaps there would be some of that even then, you'd have, you know, heterosexuals claiming to be homosexual in that particular case. But I don't believe that that's going to happen.
You know, right now we have about 3,000 a year who very quietly leave the service because they don't feel like they can stay under the weight of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I would say that if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" went away, those people would want to stay. And so I don't know that, you know, a draft really will have much effect on it but I hope that we don't have a draft anyway.
NEARY: All right, let's take a call now from James and he is calling from Alabama. Hi, James.
JAMES (Caller): How are you doing, Lynn?
JAMES: My story is, I was enlisted. It was suspected that I was for a number of years, did two combat tours in the first Persian Gulf. And then I went into the Special Forces, the United States Army Green Berets. I was an engineer and demolition sergeant. It came down to a duty assignment between me and one other colleague. And he used my sexual orientation so that I was pulled from that school assignment and I was investigated. I was told that I was one of the first investigated under Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But because I was pulled, I broke my back on a parachute jump. I have two steel rods in my spine. And my unit went to our president, got my partner and brought him to the hospital. So many people in the military, no gays and lesbians. We are professional, we are - we have our military bearing, we're smart, we're intelligent. I have Masters degree in theology, I was proficient, you know, all the awards in academics and everything. And my colleagues, you know, didn't have a problem with that, and I think it's time that our military adjusts to our society and our culture.
Look at the other nations of the world, how many of them, of the developed nations, currently have policies that are tolerant and accepting of gays and lesbians. America failed to accept women for a period of time. They had a problem with African-Americans. And now it's a gay and lesbian issue. And I think we're on the right track. I think it's time for change, and I think the consensus of the American population reflects that and so does the military, enlisted and officers.
NEARY: Let me just ask you, James, when you say were outed, I mean, what was the evidence? Or did they have to present some evidence, or...
JAMES: Well, it was made known, or it was alleged that I was gay. So because it was alleged, they had to investigate that allegation.
NEARY: I see.
Adm. BARNETT: While I was investigated, I was pulled from the opportunity to participate in training, the opportunity to go to school. It was during that period of time when I was not an active, you know, jumping out of airplanes, going on training missions, that I was hurt. And like I said, my unit responded supportively. And it was one of those things - I was surprised. I was amazed. But they were there for me, and you know, that's - the camaraderie in the service, I mean, it goes beyond sexual orientation.
I mean, people in the - if you're not in the military, sometimes you don't realized that, but, I mean, if you're - if you're a combat veteran, I mean, if you're willing to die in the fight for those beside you, you don't care if they're white or black or Buddhist or monk(ph) or Islamic or Christian or Catholic or rich or poor. You don't care if they're a Harvard graduate or if they didn't go to high school at all. You're one army. One uniform. And I just think it's time for the sexual organization and discrimination against gays and lesbians, too.
NEARY: All right. Thanks you so much for your call, James.
Adm. BARNETT: Thanks for taking it, Lynn.
NEARY: And I think James reflects a lot of what you think, also, Admiral.
Adm. BARNETT: He is an eloquent spokesman, and James, thank you for your service. But it indicates the unfairness of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," where that was used against him. And it also demonstrates the resilience of our armed forces. He's absolutely right. I mean, the fact of the matter is that our service members can overcome anything, including prejudice from others.
NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Adm. BARNETT: Thank you, Lynn.
NEARY: Retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, the former deputy commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command joined us here in studio 3A. And you can find a link to the op-ed piece he wrote for The Washington Post called "Defending our Values" on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Thanks again for being with us.
Adm. BARNETT: Thank you.
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