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End military Gay ban, lawmakers told
End military Gay ban, lawmakers told
Courtesy of 365gay.com

The first American wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom told a House subcommittee Wednesday that many in his unit knew he was Gay, and it was not an issue.

It was only years after he nearly died in battle, receiving a Purple Heart for courage, that he realized he needed to speak out against Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the ban on Gays serving openly in the military.

"Three hours into the invasion, we had stopped to wait for orders. I went back to the Humvee to retrieve something - to this day I can't remember what - and, as I crossed that dusty patch of desert for the third time that day, I triggered a landmine," former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric F. Alva told the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

"I was thrown through the air, landing 10 or 15 feet away," said Alva, who served in he Marine Corps for 13 years. "The pain was unimaginable. My fellow marines were rushing to my aid, cutting away my uniform to assess the damage and treat my wounds. I remember wondering why they weren't removing my right boot - it wasn't until later that I realized it was because that leg was already gone."

Alva said that he received the Purple Heart, along with visits from the President and First Lady. "I was told I was a hero," he recalled.

"That landmine may have put an end to my military career that day, but it didn't put an end to my secret. That would come years later, when I realized that I had fought and nearly died to secure rights for others that I myself was not free to enjoy. I had proudly served a country that was not proud of me. More importantly, my experience disproved all the arguments against open service by Gays and Lesbians - I knew I had to share my story," Alva said.

The committee also heard from U.S. Army Major General Vance Coleman (Ret.) and U.S. Navy Captain Joan E. Darrah (Ret.) who also called for an end to the ban.

But Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, expressed her concern over Gay men sharing a "cramped submarine" with other officers.

The remark drew laughter from some in the packed committee room.

"Equal opportunity is important, but the needs of our military must come first," Donnelly said.

The congressional hearing was the first on the impact of DADT since it was enacted 15 years ago.

Susan Davis (D), chair of the subcommittee, has introduced legislation to repeal the ban, but it is unlikely it will come to a vote before the session ends.

Last month, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn (R), one of the principle lawmakers responsible for the passage in 1993 of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, said it is now time for Congress to revisit the law.

A study published by a University of California think tank earlier this month found that "allowing Gays and Lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion."

Americans seem to agree. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on the weekend shows that 75 percent of Americans believe LGBT people should be allowed to serve.

A similar poll taken shortly after President Bill Clinton signed the law in 1993 found that only 44 percent of Americans supported the idea of letting Gays serve openly.

Under DADT, two people every day are dropped from the military for being Gay.

In the 15 years that DADT has been in force, more than 10,000 personnel have been discharged as a result of the policy, including 800 with skills deemed "'mission critical," such as pilots, combat engineers and linguists.

The number of Gay men and Lesbians turned away by military recruiters is unknown.

A study conducted last year for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network concluded that the U.S. military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if Gays and Lesbians in the military were able to be open about their sexual orientation.

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