Issue of gays in military still splits ranks

/ Source: The Associated Press

Don't ask, don't tell? Ask those who've fought in Iraq or Afghanistan about the Pentagon's move to consider letting gays serve openly, and it's clear that the ranks are still split — even if polls find growing acceptance of homosexuality in American culture.

The Army's official Facebook site has been swamped with hundreds of comments, pro and con, since Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee Tuesday that it's wrong to require gays to "lie about who they are" to defend their country. It's unclear which people posting on the site are currently serving, veterans or nonmilitary.

While active-duty troops are cautious about commenting because of a ban on publicly opposing Pentagon policies, several veterans contacted by The Associated Press spoke more freely, landing on both sides of the debate.

"I've known some gay soldiers," said Zach Choate, 26, who served in a cavalry unit of the Army's 10th Mountain Division until 2008, when he was wounded in Iraq. "They want to be in the fight just as well and they should."

Choate, of Cartersville, Ga., said he either knew or suspected some soldiers he served with were gay, but it was never an issue for him or other members of his unit. Still, he anticipates a "big fuss" among the ranks of a military "full of so much testosterone."

So does Scott Fair, a former Army helicopter flight engineer, who posted a strong objection to repealing "don't ask, don't tell" on the Army's Facebook page, saying straight service members shouldn't be forced to share sleeping quarters and showers with those who are openly gay.

In a phone interview, 30-year-old Fair said he had a troubling experience as a young private when a higher-ranking male soldier propositioned him in a California barracks room. Fair, of San Antonio, Texas, said he reported the incident to their commanders. No action was taken, he said.

"I wouldn't, as a soldier, feel comfortable knowing people around me were openly gay," said Fair, who left the Army in 2001. "It's more of a keep-it-to-yourself atmosphere in the Army. For somebody to go around flaunting their sexuality is going to make a lot of people more uncomfortable."

Leo Dunson of Las Vegas, a former Army infantry sergeant and Iraq vet, said allowing gays to serve openly would undermine the close bond soldiers need to fight effectively as a unit.

"I can definitely speak for the infantry and say they're not going to be cool with it," said Dunson, 24, who left the Army in 2008. "These are grunts, ground-pounding guys. They're not gonna be thinking, I want to have a homosexual."

Do they mind?
But Warren Arbury of Savannah, Ga., says he knows from experience most service members don't mind. During his seven years and three combat deployments in the Army, the former sergeant insists most of his Army colleagues knew he was gay.

"Was I flagrant about my sexuality at work? No," said Arbury, 27, who now works as handyman while attending college on the GI Bill. "But I wasn't in the closet either. Everybody knew."

"Don't ask, don't tell" finally caught up with Arbury in 2008, and cost him his military career. He says a male soldier he'd dated fell into legal trouble, and responded by naming gay soldiers with whom he'd had relationships. That included Arbury, who was pulled out of Iraq and swiftly given an honorable discharge.

Arbury said he'd love to re-enlist if the ban is lifted.

"In an instant, I would go back at the lowest ranking, I would go back as a private," he said. "That's what I was born to do."