Current Affairs

War hero comes out then speaks out

Tony Grew March 5, 2007
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The first American soldier to be wounded in the current Iraq conflict gained a sensational amount of publicity, including a visit from the President and Mrs Bush.

Now Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva is in the news again.

He has come out as a gay man, and urged Congress to change military policy towards gay personnel.

The 36-year-old spoke out against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the rule that means that gay, bisexual and lesbian people can serve in the US Armed Forces as long as they cover up their sexuality.

Alva, who had served in Somalia and Japan, re-enlisted at the start of the present conflict.

In March 2003 he was travelling in Iraq in a convoy to Basra with his battalion when he stepped on a landmine, breaking his right arm and damaging his leg so badly that it needed to be amputated.

Alva was awarded a Purple Heart award for bravery by the President.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited him in hospital.

He was feted on the Oprah Winfrey show and received a medical discharge from the military.

Now, Alva has come out, and he’s working with the Human Rights Campaign to speak out against the military policy.

Last week, he joined a Democrat politician, Marty Meehan, in calling for an end to the gay ban.

“You’re asking men and women to lie about their orientation, to keep their personal lives private, so they can defend the rights and freedoms of others in this country, and be told,

“Well, oh, yeah, if you ever decide to really meet someone of the same sex and you want the same rights, sorry, buddy, you don’t have the right.” That’s one factor,” he told the Washington Post.

“The other factor is, we’re losing probably thousands of men and women that are skilled at certain types of jobs, from air traffic controllers to linguists, because of this broken policy.”

Sgt. Alva’s intervention comes at a time when Americans are revisiting the policy of banning openly gay people from the military.

726 soldiers were dismissed in 2005 for being gay under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, according to official Pentagon figures.

It remains illegal to be a member of the US Armed Forces and be openly gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Since 1993, 11,082 members of the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force have been discharged.

Last month a poll of Americans has revealed that nearly half do not support the current US military policy.

The Harris Interactive survey found that 55% of the 2,337 people questioned felt openly gay, bisexual or lesbian personnel should be allowed to serve, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Only 18% of respondents felt that gay people should not be allowed to be in the Armed Forces at all.

46% said they opposed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, but allows those who remain in the closet to do so.

The findings follow the change of heart over the issue by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Shalikashvili

He revealed in The New York Times in January that he had changed his mind about gays in the military after speaking to gay and lesbian troops.

John Shalikashvili was chairman from 1993 – 1997, and it was during his tenure that the controversial policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was introduced.

At the time he argued that had argued that openly gay and lesbian personnel would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units.

President Bill Clinton had promised to open the military to openly gay and lesbian people during his successful 1992 campaign for President, but caved into pressure from the Army – the compromise was the current policy.

The general, who retired in 1997, said that conversations with gay service members, “showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.”

The retired general’s comments were backed by a Republican politician who was in charge of the US Armed Forces for four years.

William Cohen served as Defence Secretary from 1997 – 2001 under Democrat President Bill Clinton.

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