Darren Manzella, the Army Sergeant who appeared on 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl to tell his story of coming out of the closet to his colleagues and commanding officer, and who served openly in Kuwait without incident, has now been discharged under the absurd Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The Pentagon has decided that it was time to boot yet another decorated service member from its ranks not simply for being gay -- but for exposing the fact that the boots and the ground and most COs don't give a damn about someone's sexual orientation. (SLDN):
"The discharge of battle-tested, talented service members like Sergeant Manzella weakens our military in a time of war. National security requires that Congress lift the ban on gays in the military and allow commanders to judge troops on their qualifications, not their sexuality," said Adam Ebbin, Communications Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
SLDN reports that a growing number of service members are also serving openly without incident. The organization is aware of more than 500 troops who are 'out' to their colleagues and, in some cases, their commands.
Sergeant Manzella said, "My sexual orientation certainly didn't make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad. It shouldn't be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve."
Manzella, 30, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002 and was twice deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While under fire on the streets of Baghdad, he provided medical care to his fellow soldiers, Iraqi National Guardsmen and civilians. He was awarded the Combat Medical Badge, and also received several other awards recognizing his courage and service.
Manzella, who was the recipient of the Barry Winchell Courage Award at this year's SLDN annual dinner for telling his story, discussed DADT in his acceptance speech. It's below the fold, along with an interview I conducted with Manzella, and John McCain's "intolerable risk" letter on DADT.
So very early one morning in Kuwait City, I sat down with the crew from 60 Minutes and told my story and the story of everyone who is serving under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The response has been, quite honestly, a little overwhelming.
I have received emails from service members I have never met and messages from parents who are proud of their own lesbian or gay child serving in the military. I have heard from commanders who do not support this ban, and from veterans dismissed under it who are anxious for the day repeal will happen. Each of them, like Pat and Wally Kutteles [the parents of Barry Winchell], have been a source of irreplaceable motivation. And each of them, like all of you, are determined to see this law end.
It is their courage, and your courage that is making the real difference for our men and women in uniform. That courage is truly what deserves an award, because it is what keeps all of us in the military going each and every day knowing that someday soon we will serve under the same freedoms we seek for those we are fighting for.
I also did a short interview with Sgt. Manzella at the SLDN dinner:
NOTE: You'll recall that John McCain reiterated his support for DADT in an April 16, 2007 letter to SLDN that said, among other things, that the 1993 law, "unambiguously maintains that open homosexuality within the military services presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline."
Here are snapshots of part of the letter sent to SLDN by McCain's office. PDF is here.