Letter From Father of a Sailor Discharged by DADT

Last week, the Pentagon sent out 150,000 surveys to the heterosexual spouses of service members for their opinion on a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. With this family survey now in the field, our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones.

Today’s letter comes from Jose J. Rocha, the father of a sailor who endured harassment and was eventually discharged because of DADT:

August 26, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

CC:
U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

Dear Mr. Johnson and General Ham:

I am a heavy machinery truck driver; I have been all of my life.  A blue collar American who raised my son, Joseph Rocha, in a Roman Catholic home with strong Spanish values, after his mother lost custody for drug abuse. Throughout school Joseph turned out to be an awarded scholar, athlete and leader.  I did my best to provide a good home for him.  But, I wasn’t prepared for my only boy to turn out gay.

Early on in his senior year, at 17, he left the house on one condition: that he never return.

I learned through my wife that he was excelling quickly in the military.  He was promoted twice in his first year and was hand-picked for explosive detection school.  We had no idea that during his 28 months in the Middle East, he was being abused by his superiors because he wouldn’t tell them if he was gay or not.  He only ever called home to tell my wife he loved working with the dogs and about his aspirations of becoming an officer.

He sent gifts to his kid siblings for every single holiday and called them religiously.  He was a hero to my girls.  I struggled through our silence knowing that I was missing out on my son.  As it sank in that Joseph might be injured or killed in the service, it became clear how irrelevant who he wants to love is.  On a phone call home to congratulate me for my birthday, I told my son for the first time that I was truly proud of him and asked him to live his life for himself, not for me or anyone else.

After receiving a Naval Marine Corp Achievement Medal for his service overseas and being accepted to Naval Academy Preparatory School to go on to the United States Naval Academy and earn a commission, Joseph was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Recently, just after his mother’s death, I asked him what he would be doing this year when he becomes the first in our family to graduate from college.  I was surprised when he said that he wants to serve again.  I asked him why he would go back after all they did to him.  I asked him if he was prepared to go back to the Middle East.  He replied that he was never meant to be done serving.

Joseph contributed to my family and to the families of each of his co-workers: loyalty, respect and service.  My son had always lead by example and in coming out he has taught his siblings pride and his favorite value, integrity.

I am proud of my son and it makes me sick now to read the Navy documents detailing the abuse he stomached in order to try and save his career.  He is a brave young man and a patriot.  I know now first hand that the old ways are not always right and I ask that you encourage your superiors to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Please allow my son, Joseph C. Rocha, and countless like him, to resume their military careers.

Sincerely,
Jose J. Rocha

HRC joins with our allies in the efforts to ensure passage of repeal in the Senate, as we work to muster the critical votes needed to end this discriminatory law. We are proud to join SLDN in the call to acknowledge the sacrifice of those partners and families of service members serving in silence under this failed law.

To join in HRC and SLDN’s joint campaign to garner support for repeal, visit countdown2010.hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Letter from Retired Sailor Whose Partner Was Discharged by DADT

Last week, the Pentagon sent out 150,000 surveys to the heterosexual spouses of service members for their opinion on a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. With this family survey now in the field, our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones.

Today’s letter comes from Lee Quillian,a retired Chief Petty Officer whose partner was discharged by DADT:

August 25, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

CC:
U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

I am a retired military sailor, living with a wonderful person who was fired because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Because of my experience with the military, I understand the life, the duty days, the underway time, the training cycles.  Even the simple events of life at sea – how wondrous or disastrous mail call can be, depending on whether or not you get a letter; the whirlwind caused by the simple announcement of liberty call; and the sounds of the Navy – the bells, the whistles, the constant hum and different noises of shipboard living.  These are just some of the various events and sometimes intense evolutions that occur around the universe called the United States Ship.  I’ve been stationed on five of the best ships in the Navy.  I speak the language, I know all the acronyms, and it’s an organization I’ve spent most of my closeted life in.

If my highly decorated and accomplished spouse had been able to stay in the Navy, her professional life would have included all of those same events mentioned previously, and more.  She would have undoubtedly been stationed on board a ship of awesome capabilities.  That ship would deploy, do training missions, visit foreign and domestic ports, and represent the world’s finest Navy.  She would stand watch, hopefully in something better than a port and starboard rotation.  If you don’t know what a port and starboard rotation is, just imagine working at your current job, six hours on, then take six hours off, then go back to work for six hours.  Repeat 24/7 for the next 180 days.

She might even be sent on an Individual Augmentation (IA) to Iraq or Afghanistan while in her current assignment.  During an Individual Augmentation, she would literally be loaned out to cover a critical needs job, however long that may be, in addition to her regularly scheduled deployment cycle.

I, however, would have to adhere to a strict set of rules when dealing with a deployment, whether it be an IA or ship deployment.  Here are just some to think about – they reflect what life is like for military families under DADT:

  • Set up an alternative e-mail account that wouldn’t show the gender of my name;
  • Establish a very generic, genderless form of communications over e-mail;
  • Never write “I love you” – or nothing that could indicate anything at all about the nature of our relationship;
  • No access to the Ship’s Ombudsman – a point person for military families for all things very, very important relating to the ship and her crew;
  • Create a plan for dropping her off at ship – making sure our goodbye or welcome is in secret;
  • Never spending the remaining few hours on the ship like with the rest of families before a deployment;
  • Worrying about how close to the pier I could be without raising suspicion;
  • Before leaving home, be sure to say final goodbyes – no hugs and certainly no kisses allowed on or near the base;
  • Not being able to participate in any family video postcards to the ship;
  • Still trying to figure out how to deal with those pesky customs forms required when mailing anything to a “Fleet Post Office” – they require a name, so maybe use her parent’s name or the dog’s name;
  • Don’t put anything too personal in care packages – those might arrive via barge, waterlogged and falling apart – therefore, they might be opened;
  • As a result of the rough handling from a helicopter mail drop, any other boxes I send could be opened if damaged;
  • Don’t get sick, seriously sick, and don’t get hurt while spouse is gone;
  • Hope she doesn’t get hurt as no one would tell me – I can’t be listed as her next of kin in her service record without raising eyebrows;
  • Remember to have her pack her personal cell phone and the charger for use six to nine months later – can’t use any of the ship’s communications, so the cell is the only way to coordinate a pickup upon return home;
  • Knowing that when the other families are waiting at the pier, I wouldn’t be able to stand among them anxiously awaiting my sailor’s return.

This isn’t everything.  It’s just a glimpse.

Sincerely,
Chief Petty Officer Lee Quillian, USN (Ret.)

HRC joins with our allies in the efforts to ensure passage of repeal in the Senate, as we work to muster the critical votes needed to end this discriminatory law. We are proud to join SLDN in the call to acknowledge the sacrifice of those partners and families of service members serving in silence under this failed law.

To join in HRC and SLDN’s joint campaign to garner support for repeal, visit countdown2010.hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Letter From Mother of an Army Medic Discharged under DADT

Last week, the Pentagon sent out 150,000 surveys to the heterosexual spouses of service members for their opinion on a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. With this family survey now in the field, our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones.

Today’s letter comes from Nancy S. Manzella, the mother of an Army medic who was discharged by DADT after serving openly during a combat tour:

August 24, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham
Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe
Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

CC:
U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

My name is Nancy Manzella and I have been a mother for 34 years.  My husband and I live in rural Western New York where we have made our home at a grape vineyard and have raised three wonderful sons.  We now have beautiful daughters-in-law and grandchildren.  We are proud to say that we are the all American family.

I also was a military mom for six years.  Our son, Darren Manzella, served two tours in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Soldier in the United States Army.  He was promoted to sergeant, was a team leader of a medical squad, and conducted more than 100 12-hour patrols in the streets of Baghdad, treating wounds and evacuating casualties of sniper fire and roadside bombs.

Darren was awarded the Combat Medical Badge, honoring him for treating American and Iraqi troops while under fire.  He saved lives while putting his own in precarious situations by treating gunshot wounds to blast injuries and more.  He was “out there” and our family knew he was in constant danger.

As anyone who is familiar with our military knows, service takes tremendous sacrifices, not only for those who serve, but for their loved ones they leave behind.  Our family was always concerned for Darren’s safety, as all military families are for their sons and daughters in uniform.  We were also concerned for him because he was openly gay while he served his second tour.  We knew that anyone in a war zone was at risk of being harmed at any time, but we also understood that because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Darren was especially vulnerable.  He could be fired, forced out of the Army, and potentially face harassment and abuse.  The stress was incredible.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” not only affects the gay and lesbian service members’ lives, but also throws their loved ones, friends, and all family members’ lives into a stressful nightmare.  We cannot get to them if they need us for support, as they are thousands of miles away.  The ban impacts so many lives adversely.  It causes unbearable stress on everyone concerned, especially with the constant fear that we may slip up, we might inadvertently “out” them even in a simple letter from home.  The “All American Families” who have gay or lesbian service members serving are living with this stress every day.

As parents, this law offends us deeply.  It tells us that our gay and lesbian children who are in uniform and putting their lives on the line every day, saving lives, are not good enough to serve their country.  The law discriminates against family members, forcing fear and anguish into their lives.  Our sons and daughters should be judged on their performance, loyalty to country and bravery, not their sexual orientation.

We need to support all American military families – straight or gay.

Our son was fired under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and I still believe to this day he would willingly serve his country again if this law ended.  I can tell this discharge not only affected his military career, but caused him to question his self-worth.   Under the law it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are at your job; how many lives you save or people you support; or how patriotic and dedicated you might be.  If you happen to be gay or lesbian, this law says you are somehow “less than.”

The Army teaches honor and integrity and holds those values dear.  Despite these values, the Army still isn’t allowed to let our gay and lesbian troops live up to that potential because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Under this law, troops are forced to be dishonest, to put integrity to the side, and to live in the closet – with their families closeted beside them – denying who they are.

They need the opportunity to “Be All That They Can Be.”

I am urging you to support the repeal of this unjust law.  The values that we gave our kids, and the values the Army told Darren they believe, are really the values we should strive for.  But until this law is gone, those values are undermined by unfairness, discrimination and prejudice.  I realize that our country is in the midst of great change having to make many crucial decisions.  I also understand that the Administration has “a lot on their plate” right now.  I’m an American, too, and have many concerns about our country.  But, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal cannot and should not be pushed down the road.

Sincerely,

- Nancy S. Manzella

HRC joins with our allies in the efforts to ensure passage of repeal in the Senate, as we work to muster the critical votes needed to end this discriminatory law. We are proud to join SLDN in the call to acknowledge the sacrifice of those partners and families of service members serving in silence under this failed law.

To join in HRC and SLDN’s joint campaign to garner support for repeal, visit countdown2010.hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

DADT Study: Mission-critical specialists continue to be discharged, hurting military effectiveness

Again – these discharges will continue long into 2011 even if DADT manages to be repealed this year.

Our Congress and Commander in Chief are weakening our national security over nothing more than bigotry and soap dropping in the shower. (The Palm Center):

The military continued to fire mission-critical specialists for being gay in fiscal year 2009, according to new data released today. The data show that gay discharges included 8 linguists, 20 infantrymen, 16 medical aides, 7 combat engineers, 6 missile artillery operating crew members, and one member of the Special Forces, among others.

According to Aaron Belkin, “These data show, yet again, that “don?t ask, don?t tell” undermines national security. Why are we firing linguists and infantrymen in the middle of two wars?” Belkin is Director of the Palm Center, the research institute at the University of California that released the data today.

The data confirm a long-term trend, and a 2005 Government Accountability Report found that the military fired 757 mission-critical specialists, including 322 linguists, in the first decade of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” JD Smith, co-Director of OutServe, said that today’s news shows how “don’t ask, don’t tell” jeopardizes the safety of the troops. “These discharges put our lives at risk,” Smith said. “As leadership continues to fire gay service members in critical career fields, it is the troops on the ground who will pay with their personal safety.” OutServe is the first-ever organization made up exclusively of currently-serving gay and lesbian troops. It now includes more than 500 members.

The new data were collected by the Defense Manpower Data Center and made available by the House Armed Services Committee. They were submitted to the Committee in compliance with current law which requires each of the services to disclose on an annual basis the number of service members who have left the service, why they left and what jobs they performed.

“The next few weeks will determine the future of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’” stated Christopher Neff, Palm Center Deputy Director. “After 13,500 discharges, hundreds of millions of dollars and 17 years, it all comes down to the Senate.” The Senate is expected to address the policy shortly after it reconvenes from the August recess on September 13.

The Palm Center also noted that the data showed disproportionate discharges on the basis of race and gender. In the Navy, two officers were discharged in FY 2009 and both were Asian. In the Army, of the five Officers discharged, two were African American, one was Asian and two were white.

Although women comprise only 14% of the Army, lesbians received 48% of the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges in FYI 2009. In the Marines, women comprise just 6% of the force, but received 23% of discharges under the policy. The numbers represent a dramatic shift from last year, when women received 36% of Army discharges and 18% of Marine Corps discharges. In the Air Force, women comprise 20% of the service but received 51% of “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges in FY 2009. Women comprise 14% of the Navy but received 27% of the discharges last year.

You can read the full report here.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright