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Letters from Family: Father of Son Discharged Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Aug 26th, 2010 01:31 PM By

With the Pentagon’s family survey now in the field, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones. SLDN is urging supporters of repeal to call, write, and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators as the defense budget, which contains the repeal amendment, moves to the floor just weeks from now. Learn more on how you can take action >>

The following is today’s letter:

August 25, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

I am a heavy machinery truck driver; I have been all of my life.  A blue collar American who raised my son, Joseph Rocha, in a Roman Catholic home with strong Spanish values, after his mother lost custody for drug abuse. Throughout school Joseph turned out to be an awarded scholar, athlete and leader.  I did my best to provide a good home for him.  But, I wasn’t prepared for my only boy to turn out gay.

josephrochaEarly on in his senior year, at 17, he left the house on one condition: that he never return.

I learned through my wife that he was excelling quickly in the military.  He was promoted twice in his first year and was hand-picked for explosive detection school.  We had no idea that during his 28 months in the Middle East, he was being abused by his superiors because he wouldn’t tell them if he was gay or not.  He only ever called home to tell my wife he loved working with the dogs and about his aspirations of becoming an officer.

He sent gifts to his kid siblings for every single holiday and called them religiously.  He was a hero to my girls.  I struggled through our silence knowing that I was missing out on my son.  As it sank in that Joseph might be injured or killed in the service, it became clear how irrelevant who he wants to love is.  On a phone call home to congratulate me for my birthday, I told my son for the first time that I was truly proud of him and asked him to live his life for himself, not for me or anyone else.

After receiving a Naval Marine Corp Achievement Medal for his service overseas and being accepted to Naval Academy Preparatory School to go on to the United States Naval Academy and earn a commission, Joseph was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Recently, just after his mother’s death, I asked him what he would be doing this year when he becomes the first in our family to graduate from college.  I was surprised when he said that he wants to serve again.  I asked him why he would go back after all they did to him.  I asked him if he was prepared to go back to the Middle East.  He replied that he was never meant to be done serving.

Joseph contributed to my family and to the families of each of his co-workers: loyalty, respect and service.  My son had always lead by example and in coming out he has taught his siblings pride and his favorite value, integrity.

I am proud of my son and it makes me sick now to read the Navy documents detailing the abuse he stomached in order to try and save his career.  He is a brave young man and a patriot.  I know now first hand that the old ways are not always right and I ask that you encourage your superiors to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Please allow my son, Joseph C. Rocha, and countless like him, to resume their military careers.

Sincerely,
Jose J. Rocha

CC:       U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

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Letters from Family: Former Sailor and Partner of Someone Fired Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Aug 25th, 2010 01:10 PM By

With the Pentagon’s family survey now in the field, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones. SLDN is urging supporters of repeal to call, write, and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators as the defense budget, which contains the repeal amendment, moves to the floor just weeks from now. Learn more on how you can take action >>

The following is today’s letter:

August 25, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

I am a retired military sailor, living with a wonderful person who was fired because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Because of my experience with the military, I understand the life, the duty days, the underway time, the training cycles.  Even the simple events of life at sea – how wondrous or disastrous mail call can be, depending on whether or not you get a letter; the whirlwind caused by the simple announcement of liberty call; and the sounds of the Navy – the bells, the whistles, the constant hum and different noises of shipboard living.  These are just some of the various events and sometimes intense evolutions that occur around the universe called the United States Ship.  I’ve been stationed on five of the best ships in the Navy.  I speak the language, I know all the acronyms, and it’s an organization I’ve spent most of my closeted life in.

If my highly decorated and accomplished spouse had been able to stay in the Navy, her professional life would have included all of those same events mentioned previously, and more.  She would have undoubtedly been stationed on board a ship of awesome capabilities.  That ship would deploy, do training missions, visit foreign and domestic ports, and represent the world’s finest Navy.  She would stand watch, hopefully in something better than a port and starboard rotation.  If you don’t know what a port and starboard rotation is, just imagine working at your current job, six hours on, then take six hours off, then go back to work for six hours.  Repeat 24/7 for the next 180 days.

She might even be sent on an Individual Augmentation (IA) to Iraq or Afghanistan while in her current assignment.  During an Individual Augmentation, she would literally be loaned out to cover a critical needs job, however long that may be, in addition to her regularly scheduled deployment cycle.

I, however, would have to adhere to a strict set of rules when dealing with a deployment, whether it be an IA or ship deployment.  Here are just some to think about – they reflect what life is like for military families under DADT:

  • Set up an alternative e-mail account that wouldn’t show the gender of my name;
  • Establish a very generic, genderless form of communications over e-mail;
  • Never write “I love you” – or nothing that could indicate anything at all about the nature of our relationship;
  • No access to the Ship’s Ombudsman – a point person for military families for all things very, very important relating to the ship and her crew;
  • Create a plan for dropping her off at ship – making sure our goodbye or welcome is in secret;
  • Never spending the remaining few hours on the ship like with the rest of families before a deployment;
  • Worrying about how close to the pier I could be without raising suspicion;
  • Before leaving home, be sure to say final goodbyes – no hugs and certainly no kisses allowed on or near the base;
  • Not being able to participate in any family video postcards to the ship;
  • Still trying to figure out how to deal with those pesky customs forms required when mailing anything to a “Fleet Post Office” – they require a name, so maybe use her parent’s name or the dog’s name;
  • Don’t put anything too personal in care packages – those might arrive via barge, waterlogged and falling apart – therefore, they might be opened;
  • As a result of the rough handling from a helicopter mail drop, any other boxes I send could be opened if damaged;Don’t get sick, seriously sick, and don’t get hurt while spouse is gone;
  • Hope she doesn’t get hurt as no one would tell me – I can’t be listed as her next of kin in her service record without raising eyebrows;
  • Remember to have her pack her personal cell phone and the charger for use six to nine months later – can’t use any of the ship’s communications, so the cell is the only way to coordinate a pickup upon return home;
  • Knowing that when the other families are waiting at the pier, I wouldn’t be able to stand among them anxiously awaiting my sailor’s return.

This isn’t everything.  It’s just a glimpse.

Sincerely,
Chief Petty Officer Lee Quillian, USN (Ret.)

CC:       U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

GET INFORMED, GET INVOLVED

Letters from Family: Mother of a Former Army Medic

Aug 24th, 2010 01:49 PM By

With the Pentagon’s family survey now in the field, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones. SLDN is urging supporters of repeal to call, write, and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators as the defense budget, which contains the repeal amendment, moves to the floor just weeks from now. Learn more on how you can take action >>

The following is today’s letter:

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

My name is Nancy Manzella and I have been a mother for 34 years. My husband and I live in rural Western New York where we have made our home at a grape vineyard and have raised three wonderful sons. We now have beautiful daughters-in-law and grandchildren. We are proud to say that we are the all American family.

DarrenMomI also was a military mom for six years. Our son, Darren Manzella, served two tours in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Soldier in the United States Army. He was promoted to sergeant, was a team leader of a medical squad, and conducted more than 100 12-hour patrols in the streets of Baghdad, treating wounds and evacuating casualties of sniper fire and roadside bombs.

Darren was awarded the Combat Medical Badge, honoring him for treating American and Iraqi troops while under fire. He saved lives while putting his own in precarious situations by treating gunshot wounds to blast injuries and more. He was “out there” and our family knew he was in constant danger.

As anyone who is familiar with our military knows, service takes tremendous sacrifices, not only for those who serve, but for their loved ones they leave behind. Our family was always concerned for Darren’s safety, as all military families are for their sons and daughters in uniform. We were also concerned for him because he was openly gay while he served his second tour. We knew that anyone in a war zone was at risk of being harmed at any time, but we also understood that because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Darren was especially vulnerable. He could be fired, forced out of the Army, and potentially face harassment and abuse. The stress was incredible.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” not only affects the gay and lesbian service members’ lives, but also throws their loved ones, friends, and all family members’ lives into a stressful nightmare. We cannot get to them if they need us for support, as they are thousands of miles away. The ban impacts so many lives adversely. It causes unbearable stress on everyone concerned, especially with the constant fear that we may slip up, we might inadvertently “out” them even in a simple letter from home. The “All American Families” who have gay or lesbian service members serving are living with this stress every day.

As parents, this law offends us deeply. It tells us that our gay and lesbian children who are in uniform and putting their lives on the line every day, saving lives, are not good enough to serve their country. The law discriminates against family members, forcing fear and anguish into their lives. Our sons and daughters should be judged on their performance, loyalty to country and bravery, not their sexual orientation.

We need to support all American military families – straight or gay.

Our son was fired under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and I still believe to this day he would willingly serve his country again if this law ended. I can tell this discharge not only affected his military career, but caused him to question his self-worth. Under the law it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are at your job; how many lives you save or people you support; or how patriotic and dedicated you might be. If you happen to be gay or lesbian, this law says you are somehow “less than.”

The Army teaches honor and integrity and holds those values dear. Despite these values, the Army still isn’t allowed to let our gay and lesbian troops live up to that potential because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under this law, troops are forced to be dishonest, to put integrity to the side, and to live in the closet – with their families closeted beside them – denying who they are.

They need the opportunity to “Be All That They Can Be.”

I am urging you to support the repeal of this unjust law. The values that we gave our kids, and the values the Army told Darren they believe, are really the values we should strive for. But until this law is gone, those values are undermined by unfairness, discrimination and prejudice. I realize that our country is in the midst of great change having to make many crucial decisions. I also understand that the Administration has “a lot on their plate” right now. I’m an American, too, and have many concerns about our country. But, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal cannot and should not be pushed down the road.

Sincerely,

Nancy S. Manzella

CC: U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

GET INFORMED, GET INVOLVED

Letters from Family: A Former Navy Officer’s Partner

Aug 23rd, 2010 12:28 PM By

With the Pentagon’s family survey now in the field, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones. SLDN is urging supporters of repeal to call, write, and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators as the defense budget, which contains the repeal amendment, moves to the floor just weeks from now. Learn more on how you can take action >>

The following is today’s letter:

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

CC: U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

In 1990 – while working as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress — I met Joan Darrah, an active duty Naval Officer. I already knew about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but I soon woke up to the harsh reality that loved ones of gay and lesbian family members are forced to serve in silence, too.

LynneJoanOver the years, Joan had adjusted to living two lives — in the closet at work and out after hours. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment as I had been fortunate to work for an employer who valued my skills and expertise and realized that my being a lesbian in no way detracted from my ability to do a great job.

I knew that Joan could be deployed at any moment. She may be away from home for two or three years. I realized that being with an active duty military officer was even more constricting than I could have possibly imagined and I worried constantly about Joan’s well being. Yet, through it all, I knew our relationship was worth the compromises. I knew we had to make it work for Joan to continue to serve our Country.

There were so many things that we had to be careful about. For example, Joan had asked that I not call her at work unless it was truly an emergency. When we were out in public if Joan saw someone from work, I learned to “disappear,” until Joan’s co-worker moved on. We didn’t dare go to nice restaurants on Valentine’s Day or even Saturday nights. We could not show any familiarity while out in public. I went to parties at colleagues’ homes alone lest a guest I didn’t know learn that Joan was in the Navy.

The events of September 11, 2001, caused us both to appreciate more fully the true impact of DADT on our lives and the reality of our mutual sacrifices. At 8:30 a.m. that morning, Joan went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30 a.m., she left that meeting. At 9:37 a.m., the plane flew into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space that Joan had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of her colleagues.

In the days and weeks that followed, Joan went to several funerals and memorial services for her co-workers who had been killed. Most people attended these services with their spouses whose support was critical at this difficult time, yet Joan was forced to go alone, even though I really wanted to be with her to provide support.

As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the “military family,” which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn’t exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed, because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Whenever I hear Joan recount the events of that day, I relive it and realize all over again how devastated I would have been had she been killed. I also think of the partners of service members injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unable to get any support from the military and they must be careful about the amount of support they offer to their closeted service member loved ones.

The events of September 11th caused us to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process, we realized that this discriminatory law was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Eight months later, in June 2002, Joan retired from the U.S. Navy, and I retired from the Library of Congress. If it wasn’t for DADT, we might both still be serving in our respective positions.

Lynne Kennedy

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UPDATE: Air Force and Lt. Col. Reach Agreement to Prevent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Discharge

Aug 17th, 2010 05:19 PM By

The following is an excerpt from a story by The Associated Press via MSNBC.com:

“A military pilot reached an agreement Monday with the U.S. Air Force to prevent his discharge under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

fehrenbach-offical“The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) said Lt. Col. Fehrenbach, a 19-year military member who has been decorated for his combat valor in Iraq, cannot be discharged until the Air Force brings the request to oust him from the military to a court hearing.

“‘The agreement recognizes the immediate harm to Lt. Col. Fehrenbach and insures that he will eventually get to make his case at a full blown hearing without losing his job,’ SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in a statement.

“Fehrenbach, represented by SLDN, an advocacy group seeking equality for gay men and women serving in the military, filed a federal lawsuit in Idaho last week. They argued that the government cannot establish that Fehrenbach’s continued service on active duty hinders “morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion.”

Read the full The Associated Press story >>

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Air Force Lt. Col. Sues to Block “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Aug 16th, 2010 03:23 PM By

The following is an excerpt from a story by The Washington Post:

“A gay rights group wants a federal court in Idaho to block the U.S. Air Force from discharging an aviator under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law that bars openly gay and lesbian military members from service.

SLDN LOGO W/ BORDERServicemembers Legal Defense Network filed its lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Boise, asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the Air Force from discharging Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach until a full hearing can be scheduled. It also wants the law declared unconstitutional.

“Fehrenbach, a 19-year military member who has been decorated for his combat valor in Iraq, disclosed he was gay in 2008 as he defended himself against allegations investigated by the Boise Police Department that he raped another man. Fehrenbach said he had sex with the man, but it was consensual.

“He was cleared of the rape allegations, including by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which found them to be without merit, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

“But he still faces ouster from the military.

“Servicemembers Legal Defense Network indicated it filed its lawsuit because it believes Fehrenbach’s discharge is imminent, following the recent review of his case by officials on the Air Force Personnel Board.

e1928f5dd9b888fa09_rdm6bxese“‘Lt. Col. Fehrenbach could be discharged within days,’ the Washington, D.C.-based group said.

“For two years now, Fehrenbach said he has been stuck at a desk, rather than being allowed to deploy as a weapons systems officer in an F-15E jet to combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“‘I have been waiting more than two years for the Air Force to do the right thing by letting me continue to proudly serve my country,’ Fehrenbach said in a statement. ‘To say that I’m disappointed with where things stand would be a monumental understatement. I’m ready, willing, and able to deploy tomorrow, but I’m barred from deployment, because of this unjust, discriminatory law.’

“The policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but requires discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

0256da6b1c02c91015_bwm6bxwti“The U.S. House of Representatives voted May 27 for repeal, and the Senate is expected to take up the issue this summer.

“…Fehrenbach fears he’ll be discharged before any changes.

“‘If discharged, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach will lose his job, income, right to pension (since he is being discharged approximately one year short of the twenty year mark), health and life insurance, and all other benefits associated with being an Air Force officer,’ according to court documents filed Wednesday.

“He ‘will be terminated from a career which is central to his life and identity, and has been for nearly nineteen years,’ the documents said.”

Read the full The Washington Post story >>

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Top 10 West Point Cadet Resigns Over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Aug 10th, 2010 12:39 PM By

The following is a press release from our friends at Knights Out:

Ranked # 9 in her class overall, she routinely “super-maxes” her physical fitness tests. One of her blogs was featured in the Sunday print edition of the Washington Post as part of “The Gray Zone: West Point on Leadership.” However, today Cadet Katherine Miller tendered her resignation, coming out as gay to her superior officers at West Point.

In her resignation letter, she cites the kinds of experiences she is unwilling to continue to endure:

… I have created a heterosexual dating history to recite to fellow cadets when they inquire. I have endured unwanted approaches by male cadets for fear of being accused as a lesbian by rejecting or reporting these events. I have been coerced into ignoring derogatory comments towards homosexuals for fear of being alienated for my viewpoint. In short, I have lied to my classmates and compromised my integrity and my identity by adhering to existing military policy.

Katherine MillerWhile at the academy, I have made a deliberate effort to develop myself academically, physically, and militarily, but in terms of holistic personal growth I have reached a plateau. I am unwilling to suppress an entire portion of my identity any longer because it has taken a significant personal, mental, and social toll on me and detrimentally affected my professional development. I have experienced a relentless cognitive dissonance by attempting to adhere to §654 [colloquially known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”] and retain my integrity, and I am retrospectively convinced that I am unable to live up to the Army Values as long as the policy remains in place.

Miller will be transferring to Yale University this fall on a Point Foundation Scholarship. She has indicated her desire to become an Army Officer should the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy be removed, and gay and lesbian people allowed to serve freely.

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