Criminal waivers prove lunacy of Army policy on gays

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Aug 9 13:43:42 UTC 2007,0,3467578.story
Criminal waivers prove lunacy of Army policy on gays

Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat representing the North Shore in Queens
and Nassau County, is co-sponsoring a bill to end the "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" policy.

August 7, 2007

That sound you hear in Washington is the federal government shooting
itself in the foot.

A recent investigation by CBS News found that the U.S. Army is so
desperate for new people to fill the ranks and staff the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan that it recently issued 8,000 criminal waivers to
potential recruits. At least 100 of those were waivers for convicted
felons whose records included everything from burglary to drug

"We've always been an Army that's been known to give patriotic
citizens second and third chances," Col. Sheila Hickman told CBS. And
that may be true ... as long as those patriotic Americans don't happen
to be gay or lesbian.

Since 1993, our armed forces have fired more than 11,000 gays and
lesbians under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Of those sent
packing because of the law, nearly 800 had skills deemed
"mission-critical" by the Department of Defense, including at least
322 language specialists, 58 of whom spoke Arabic.

The list of good people ejected from military service because of their
sexual orientation also includes doctors, combat engineers, pilots and
military police officers. They didn't have criminal pasts (now
acceptable), didn't need a waiver to enlist, and there was no good
reason to send them away.

Just to make this clear: In the middle of a war in which we are losing
people every day, we are removing from the armed forces volunteers who
have absolutely vital, lifesaving skills because they happen to be gay
or lesbian.

Consider the case of former Army Sgt. Bleu Copas, an Arabic linguist
stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. Copas had a stellar service record and
the respect of his fellow troops. His command became suspicious about
his sexuality after someone sent an anonymous e-mail to a Bragg
official. When they learned that Copas had regularly participated in
community theater, the curtain came down. Seeing no reason to retain a
highly skilled, highly regarded Arabic speaker, who had done nothing
wrong but happened to be gay, the U.S. Army fired Sgt. Copas.

The stupidity of this policy goes further still. Copas - and countless
other gay service members dismissed under this law - can and often do
continue to serve our country as civilian government employees or
through government contractors.

How do they qualify to get these jobs, which require high-level
security clearances and often pay double the wages received by those
in uniform? It's thanks to the extensive background check and costly
training provided by the taxpayer. We get to pay for the security
clearance process, pay for the specialized training and then buy - at
a 100 percent markup - the services of the very same people who were

This absurdity can't continue. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is
not only wasteful and inefficient, it's unfair and un-American. In the
middle of a war we are throwing out good people who have volunteered
to put their lives on the line for their country. Every day, another
two service members are fired because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and
unlike the crooks we're now reduced to recruiting, gays aren't granted
second chances.

It used to be argued that service by openly gay and lesbian patriots
would undermine the efficacy of our armed forces. I find it hard to
believe that our soldiers and Marines - who go on daily combat patrols
carrying 60 pounds of gear and ammo in 120-degree heat with the real
prospect of death or dismemberment - are going to lose their nerve if
the gays and lesbians who are already serving in uniform are allowed
to do so openly.

If they're tough enough to tackle al-Qaida, I think they'll manage to
serve with "Will and Grace." Canada, Australia, Israel and every
country in Europe allows open service by gays and lesbians. I haven't
heard that any of these countries' armed forces are seriously
overstretched (like ours) or have been reduced to recruiting ex-cons
to fill their ranks (like ours).

Until this regressive policy is consigned to the trash heap with other
indefensible forms of bias, more messages will go untranslated, more
wounded service members will go untreated and more recruitment slots
will go unfilled. If we're serious about winning the war on terror, we
need to roll out the welcome mat for every patriot, gay or straight,
who wants to serve. When Congress reconvenes in September, we need to
do the right thing and lift this ban.

Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat representing the North Shore in Queens
and Nassau County, is co-sponsoring a bill to end the "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" policy.

Copyright (c) 2007, Newsday Inc.

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