Three hours into the Iraq War, he was leading 11 Marines on a logistical convoy towards Basra in southern Iraq, when he stepped on an Iraqi landmine outside of his Humvee, becoming the first American wounded in the Iraq War. The explosion was so powerful it blew him to the ground ten feet away and took off part of his right leg, which had to be amputated.
Sgt. Alva was rushed to Kuwait and survived his injuries, spending months in rehabilitation where he was visited by President Bush, the First Lady, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was recognized by the military for his service and awarded a Purple Heart. He was also interviewed by several major newspapers and magazines and made numerous TV appearances, including an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Wednesday, flanked by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., he came to Congress with a plea.
"I'm an American who fought for his country. Who'd have ever guessed the first American wounded was a gay Marine," Alva said.
"To be honest, each time I was commended on my courage, I couldn’t help but remember how scared I was that I would be found out as gay and kicked out of the military. I remember the fear I felt when people around me in the military started debating the new “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy even before it became law. Still, my proudest moments during my 13 years in the military came when I would confide in one of my friends about my sexual orientation and they would still treat me with the same respect as before."
He and the lawmakers, and another 107 House members, introduced legislation that would repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay service personnel. You can support it... and should, assuming you feel that it's possible for people such as Sgt. Alva to serve their country in a professional manner.
To me, this is as clearcut as the issue of whether to allow Blacks or women in the Military. The same arguments about morale and unit cohesion were made in the past, but each time, the professionalism, courage, and sacrifices of those discriminated against won out.
The Pentagon has repeatedly refused to respond to the requests of our elected representatives as to whether there is any military reason to support the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Politicians such as John Edwards, and Congressman Martin Meehan, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, have also come out against the policy.
The discrimination inherent in "don't ask, don't tell" is unjustifiable, especially in a time of war when every soldier is needed. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that the military had discharged about 11,000 military personnel under "don't ask, don't tell," many of whom were linguists and other experts. Enforcing the policy cost the government over $190 million, but the policy did allow for many thousands of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve our country with pride, albeit under conditions that forced them to live in perpetual fear for their career, simply because they chose to serve their country.
"Don't ask, don't tell" was originally seen as a temporary state of affairs until an acceptable level of societal acceptance was reached. It *also* was seen as a way of testing whether gays could serve their country in a professional manner, under significant restrictions on their personal conduct... a stepping stone to the policy's removal. I believe the evidence now shows that gays can and do serve their country with distinction, bravery, and sacrifice in time of war. As such, now it the time for this policy to end.
When discrimination dies for some Americans, freedom expands for ALL Americans. This, again, is one of those times.
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