Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

THE RIGHT TO SERVE




On May 27, 2010 at 10:08 PM ET, history was made. 

The US House voted 234-194 in favor of the Murphy Amendment, which outlines a process to being overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). This amendment was added to H.R. 5136, a defense bill (and yes, I READ THE BILL!!) 

Breakdown of the vote for the amendment
US HOUSE
AYES
NAYES
NV
DEM
229
26
6
GOP
5
168
4
TOTAL
234
194
10


How Texas voted
TEXAS
AYES
NAYES
NV
DEM
9
3
0
GOP
19
0
TOTAL
10
22
0

If you want to read my statements about why I support overturning DADT here are my previous entries. (Putting on the Veteran’s Hat, Letter to Texas Congressional Delegation) 

How did I become an advocate in favor of overturning DADT? Here is how it happened…

It was the waning days of my naval service. I had checked out on terminal leave on July 18, 2008. All that was left to do was to pack my stuff up and arrange for the government to come move my furniture from Virginia to Texas.
My strategy was that if it was not furniture, it was going into the car. I must have had the TV on while I was packing my clothes in a couple of suitcases. I had it on Comedy Central during the early run of the previous day’s The Daily Show.

I saw this specific clip.
Jon Stewart had ridiculed the arguments in favor of keeping DADT in place. I laughed because it was ridiculous what some of the people were saying and the irony of the choice of clothing of one of the speakers.
I did a little digging to find the hearing again so I could comment on the videos. Then I found this:
A Marine (and Texan), SSgt Eric Fidelis Alva, testified during the hearing about his service in Somalia back in 1993 and his experience during the first days on the ground in Iraq. He was the first person wounded in The Iraq War. He described his injury and what had happened. That experience led him to out himself to the Marines because as he put it: “I fought and nearly died to secure the rights of others that I myself were not free to enjoy. I had proudly served a country that was not proud of me.”

Here is another clip featuring CAPT Joan Darrah, USN (Ret.) describing her experience at the Pentagon on the fateful day of September 11, 2001.
If she had perished on that day, her partner would not have been able to take charge of her affairs. Her partner would have been left out in having to deal with the death of a family member.

If you have two hours of spare time, here is the entire hearing.

But I want you want to watch this particular clip between Elaine Donnelly (Her entire statement that was based on The Daily Show clip. Once again, note her clothing choice), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D PA-8), and SSgt Alva (By the way, Rep. Murphy was a JAG CPT that served with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. He jumped out of planes with a law book in hand). In my opinion, Ms. Donnelly got owned by the Congressman and the Marine.
And Rep. Nancy Boyda (D KS-2, 2007-09) made an interesting comparison.
In March 2009, 1LT Daniel Choi, a West Point Grad and an Army Linguist that served in Iraq, made a stunning announcement on The Rachel Maddow Show. He said THREE simple words that sadly and effectively ended his distinguished Army career but began his new career as one of the more vocal advocates for overturning DADT.
Another highly decorated officer was also facing discharge under this policy. Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an EIGHTEEN YEAR Air Force veteran, a pilot that the US Military invested countless hours and money into training to fly F-15s. Colonel Fehrenbach was one of the first pilots to patrol US skies immediately after 9/11. He had received decorations for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why was this career Air Force officer about to be discharged BEFORE being eligible for his pension. I’ll tell you if you come here…
Colonel Fehrenbach was about to be discharged because (psst…)
Such scandal. (NOTE: Lots of sarcasm)
I mean, it is not like the either of these guys were involved in a Tailhook like incident; or accepting bribes from military contractors; or torpedoing a Carnival cruise ship, or the most grievous offense: impersonating the First Lady.
Ahem… Sorry to get off track there for a while but I think a couple of clips from The Simpsons highlight my point on LGBT Rights.
Colonel Fehrenbach went as far to attend a White House dinner commemorating the Fortieth Anniversary of Stonewall to plead his case to suspend DADT discharges from the armed forces.
Now if you did click on the link to the video for the White House dinner, you will understand why the longest published LGBT Magazine in the United States, The Advocate, published this as their September 2009 cover.

A MINI-RANT
Even though I do agree with the criticism and holding our leaders accountable, I do not agree with the quickness to judge. And I am willing to bet that I will catch some grief from my LGBT connections. You know what? I am willing to take an unpopular stance. I do realize I am speaking from the outside. I do not know what it is like to be judged on ones (insert your own classification) gender, skin color, sexual orientation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera but I bet it sucks. However, I am willing to defend the administration and their perceived non-movement on LGBT Rights at the time.
President Obama had campaigned in favor of being a strong LGBT Rights Advocate. By the time the Human Rights Campaign dinner came around in October 2009, it looked like there was little to no progress on the subject. I for one think it comes from the 24-7 Media we are subjected to these days. We expect government to keep up with the pace that media runs at, but it doesn’t. Take the health care debate: from the time it was introduced to the House to the President signing the bill, it took about a year.
While on the topic of health care, this was a very, very contentious debate that the administration was in the middle of that included some very confrontational town halls, such as this famous one between Rep. Barney Frank (D MA-4) and one of his constituents. I am certain that there were some behind the scenes discussions about LGBT Rights along with the many other issues facing this country while the health care debate was going on (in no particular order: energy, education, financial reform, immigration, nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) and which items will the administration tackle next. I am certain those discussions made the back pages of various LGBT publications and news outlets BUT there was hardly any reporting on the subject by the national news outlets. Exception to the rule: The Rachel Maddow Show. I think Dr. Maddow did a good job keeping the topic in the spotlight when it could have easily been pushed aside.
Do not get me wrong, I feel very strongly about LGBT Rights as I have people very close to me that proudly proclaim they are LGBT and refuse to let their rights be trampled on. I do agree it is always as good time to talk about equal rights. I also believe that we have to take care of the matters that are facing this country. So I come to this conclusion: I am in favor that we can face the serious issues such as jobs, health care, education, and infrastructure (I group environment and energy into one word) AND tackle LGBT Rights, since that too is a serious issue to some people.
Do not give up the fight that quickly. It is way too soon. Maybe it is because I have not been involved in LGBT Rights that long like some people I know (a very good friend has been involved in LGBT Rights years BEFORE Stonewall). Believe me, it is easy to give up but I do not recall the LGBT community giving up when California Prop 8 was passed, President George W. Bush calling for a constitutional amendment defining marriage, the passage of DADT, the ignoring of AIDS, or the assassination of Harvey Milk. Hell, Stonewall: They pushed back. Despite the faults of our government, I still STRONGLY believe in working within the system. Conan O'Brien summed it up best on his last Tonight Show.
 

I do ask the LGBT community this question: would you rather have this going on or the alternative?


BACK TO THE RANT… 
Lt. Dan Choi spoke at the National Equality march in October 2009 to continue the push to end DADT. It is a very moving speech. You can see the Baptist upbringing coming out when he speaks. Here is a post from the blog Pam’s House Blend about Lt. Choi when he spoke at Texas A&M about his life and his decision to finally speak out about ending DADT in April 2010.
On January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first State of The Union Address (my favorite part). He made this statement that made me stand up and cheer (Note: An understatement).
A week later the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings about overturning DADT. SECDEF Robert Gates and ADM Mike Mullen USN (opening statement), Chairman to The Joint Chiefs, testified to the committee. Some observers noted that this was lot different than the 1993 hearings about gays serving openly that led to the creation of DADT.
One of the Senate panel members, a retired Navy Captain, had this to say:
Wait a minute… what did this retired naval aviator say four years earlier about listening to the Pentagon?
There is one key moment of ADM Mullen’s opening statement and it deserves its own clip.
However, it was revealed at the end of April that SECDEF Gates and ADM Mullen wrote a letter asking to allow the Pentagon to conduct a year-long study on how to handle overturning DADT. I was disappointed in them. In mid-May 2010 a deal was announced between the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon. DADT would be overturned IF it passed through Congress, had the support of the White House, AND the Pentagon completed their year-long study. Some of the more vocal supporters of overturning DADT were not pleased with this compromise and still demanded full repeal.




It did provide a very ridiculous debate on the topic by some members of the US House. “We want to make sure we get the troops opinions on the topic.”
When I was on the Vinson when it was on the West Coast, I do not recall there being a Captain’s Call when the CO asked us when would be a good time to go on deployment and where we wanted to go to. I must have been given special liberty that day.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R TX-1), your statement of “The military is NOT a social experiment” is highly contradictory. Here is a list of items that can be classified as “social experiments:”
 
1. Public education systems
2. Texas A&M Corps of Cadets (he was a member)
3. The workplace
4. Families
5. Political organizations
6. The internet (a bit of a stretch)
7. And probably the greatest social experiment in the known history of the world: The United States of America

Allow me to use a Navy analogy about how easy this should be to overturn DADT: When you are in port, the first 29 days of the month at work could be half-work days, Beat the Flag Fridays (out of work by 0800 before morning colors), Guaranteed Weekends in a five-section duty rotation (If you have duty on Saturday, you get the following Monday off. If you have duty on Sunday, then you get the Friday before that weekend off.) and any other perks the chain-of-command uses to maximize liberty. Then on the 30th day, Chief comes down to morning quarters. “All right, listen up! Today, we will start on a piece of equipment that requires maintenance and testing that needs to get done over the next two weeks. No going to the smoke pit before cleaning stations. No one is leaving the plant unless they ask me first. The work day will not be secured until we meet daily goals with this maintenance. Expect at a MINIMUM full work days Monday through Friday. Starting tomorrow, we’re collapsing to three-section duty to support testing. Check the muster sheet to see which section you are in. Any questions? Muster in the plant after quarters.”
No complex lengthy study on how to implement the new work policy. I can already tell you the sailors’ opinion to this new work policy in four words: “Man! Fuck this shit!” Does the Chief care about their opinions? No, he just implemented the new work policy and was done with it. That is how quickly things can change in the military. THAT is how overturning DADT should be done: Repeal it, issue an order that all service members will play nice or face disciplinary action by the chain-of-command via the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and for the love of God move on to the next issue.
And do not get me started on these Republican House members and their comments… It is disgusting and insulting to me as a Veteran and an American! It is like we went back in time to the 1930s and 1940s hearing the arguments to keep the armed forces segregated.
Right now H.R. 5136 is in the Senate. It will probably be debated and face the threat of filibuster by the Republicans. Here is a list of items that caught my eye that the GOP is obstructing because they do not like overturning DADT:

1. Bonuses in mission essential areas (Navy Nuke officers, Special Forces, health care sector).
2. Improvement by the Dept. of Defense in responding to sexual assault.
3. Collaboration between the Dept. of Energy and Dept. of Defense in exploring alternative energy sources.
4. Redefining who is eligible for the Bronze Star and even awarding posthumous awards under the new definition.
5. Waiver of the maximum age (23) to enter the service academies for those that have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
6. Improvements to the health care of our service members (breast cancer screening for women, PTSD, head trauma) and their families. Well… we know what the Republican stance on health care is.
7. For the animal lovers, programs to allow military dogs whose owners were gravely wounded or deceased to be adopted by a designated family member.

I guess “Support the Troops” is only used when it is convenient to them.
Anyways…
DADT is still on the books. Only a Flag Officer (O-7 and/or higher. Civilian speak: officer with stars on his/her shoulders) can hear the case AND third party outings are dismissed. It is DADT (Light), but sadly, in the 10 days since the passage of the Murphy Amendment, a projected 20 service members have been discharged because they committed the great crime of being gay.
I cite The Daily Show clip in July 2008 as a moment in my involvement in overturning DADT, but it was not that. Three months earlier, PBS aired a documentary called Carrier. I was fortunate to be on day shift so that I could watch the entire series. It profiled the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) on its 2005 deployment to the Persian Gulf. I laughed because it was VERY airdale heavy, and they only showed what I did in the Navy for a total of 10 minutes. Not surprised, it’s an aircraft carrier: No love for Reactor, ever. There would be an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) and the Captain (he's a pilot) would still praise the air wing. Sir, I think maintaining propulsion and electrical power is VERY important during such a complex evolution.
There was a scene that still resonates with me to this day. From what I can tell, they are interviewing enlisted sailors like I was. However, it is very difficult to tell who they are because… well, here is the clip.
Breaks your heart, does it not?
Back to the title of this entry, I have a book in my possession called Patton’s Panthers. It is about the African-American 761st Tank Battalion in WWII. They were one of the most decorated units in the European Theater during the war. However, they were fighting under a flag that did not see them as full citizens in some parts of the country. It is a good book. I recommend it, and I use it regularly in citing how WWII made the push towards the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
I have one thing in common with our LGBT Service Members. I know Colonel Fehrenbach has one. So do Lieutenants Dan Choi and Jenny Kopfstein and Marine Corps Sergeant Eric Fidelis Alva.
Given up what we have in common? It is on the top row, the ribbon on the right of my uniform.


We served our country. We each wore a recognizable uniform of service to the United States. Every working uniform has a patch on the left pocket that says "U.S." followed their branch they serve in.



Who is to say that our LGBT citizens cannot defend this country? In order to do so, they have had to lie about it. That is a direct violation of the core values that the military instills in a new recruit on day one (Navy and Marines, Army, Air Force, Marines slogan of Semper Fidelis, hence Sgt. Alva’s middle name. And then there is the issue of the Honor Code from the service academies). I still remember what the command (recruit training, nuke school, CVN-70) leadership told me on day one when I arrived: Be honest to maintain your integrity.
We are asking people to sacrifice their integrity to maintain a policy that clearly does not work. I agree that you sacrifice some personal liberties when you enter the military, but what we are talking about is PRIVATE CONSENSUAL ADULT behavior among CONSENTING ADULTS. The only thing I was told about engaging in consensual sexual behavior while I was in the Navy were "NO means NO" and a very graphic presentation by the corpsman to "Wrap it up" (I still cannot eat cauliflower to this day). Is there a policy in place permitting heterosexual behaviors? How many straight people have been discharged because they told their command they engaged in a consensual intimate relationship with someone of the opposite sex?
Simply put, it is time to end DADT and let it fade away from society like Jim Crow and Separate, but Equal. The only time I want to hear about these policies is when we are discussing discrimination in American history. 
To those that still think that repealing DADT will result in the downfall of the military and people openly declaring their sexuality, I have two words for you in the following order: GROW, and, UP! 
When DADT is overturned, it will remove the fear of being fired for being gay in the military. No longer will LGBT service members have to hide and use code words to talk to their partners while serving in a combat zone over electronic means. For goodness sakes, as long as they are not giving away classified materials and troop positions, stop wasting your time investigating personal matters. I cannot imagine what that is like of being alone in a combat zone AND someone not knowing what is going on.
Why do you think I list the names of the people who were discharged and spoke out against DADT? It makes the policy human because it has affected people. Not just the 14,000 people discharged, but the commands affected by the discharge having to replace skilled people. In Lt. Choi’s speech at the National Equality March, if you noticed, he spoke very fluent Arabic. Can someone replace his skills? Shoot, I speak very Gringo Spanish. Did Lt. Kopfstein’s sexuality keep her from manning the watch (once again, I use the term loosely) and issuing orders as Officer Of the Deck (OOD) during underway exercises? Did it hinder her in earning her Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) pin (which her CO took his SWO pin off and pinned his pin on her)? I believe her CO wrote in her fitness report: “sexual orientation has not disrupted good order and discipline onboard USS Shiloh. If it wasn’t for this policy, she’d probably be on her way to her department head tour as a senior lieutenant/newly promoted Lt. Commander. I am certain there were two things that went through the minds of Sgt. Alva and his fellow Marines on the day he got wounded in Iraq back in 2003:

1. I hope I do not get hurt.
2. And if I do get hurt, I can count on my fellow MARINES to save my life.

Finally, Colonel Fehrenbach: there is the money and the amount of time lost to the military having to train a replacement to pilot an F-15, but what about the hours lost of him instructing and bestowing his fellow pilots with the experiences he has in combat about how to handle that type of plane? His sharing of knowledge on how to operate an F-15 in combat most likely ended up saving lives of future pilots.
I think I have pretty much made my point. The Veteran side of me has spoken loudly on this topic. We have had people of all walks throughout our history serve this country and at first questioned their patriotism and devotion to duty: the 761st, Nisei, Latinos have been bestowed our country’s highest award, WASP pilots, and countless others. Those trail blazers have set the foundation for the diverseness of our military and proven that patriotism is not based on what is on the outside but what is on the inside. History is repeating itself when we hear statements like “Gay people will upset unit cohesion” and “They will undermine good order and discipline.” Once again, the same arguments against integrating the armed forces back during World War II. Not only am I thinking about when LGBT persons look to their history to find role models, but I am also thinking about when kids learn about history. They should hear the names that I have listed. They are a part of our nation's history.
Ask yourself this, can you discriminate against someone who has worn the uniform of their country and served the flag honorably?
I close with this quote:
“I do not care what team someone plays for as long it is for the United States of America.”

 
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