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Both sides to testify at gay ban hearing

Mar. 17, 2010 - 11:57AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 17, 2010 - 11:57AM  |  
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Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars open service by gays the second in six weeks will feature three outside witnesses who are all former commissioned officers.

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Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars open service by gays the second in six weeks will feature three outside witnesses who are all former commissioned officers.

Two were booted out for being gay, and a retired Marine Corps four-star general will testify in favor of keeping the law that bans openly gay service members.

At the first hearing, on Feb. 2, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told the committee that they back President Obama's call for repeal of the current law.

Their testimony opened the door for congressional Democrats to begin holding hearings on the effect of repeal.

Meanwhile, two Gates-directed studies one due in December, another due to Gates at the end of this week will look at the effect of change across the military and, separately, how the Pentagon can "enforce this law in a fairer manner," in Gates' words, while the longer-term review plays out.

Thursday's hearing will give those who attend a chance to hear the view from both sides of the fence.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. John "Jack" Sheehan, appearing at the invitation of the committee's Republican staff, has never publicly addressed the issue of gays in the military; by expressing opposition to repeal of the ban, he will join forces with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, who told the committee Feb. 25 hearing that he wants to "keep the law such that it is."

The other service chiefs have not expressed outright opposition to repeal, but the top Army and Air Force generals agreed with Conway that making a change during wartime would be disruptive.

Scheduled to testify

Former Air Force Maj. Mike Almy and former Navy Lt. j.g. Jenny Kopfstein both lost their careers over the ban on gays and will testify in favor of repeal.

Almy's story is particularly compelling because he says he was "outed" by an improper search of his belongings after rotating out of Iraq.

"The search was conducted without ever once consulting with a lawyer," Almy told MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow on March 3. "My private e-mails were forwarded to my commander, who called me into his office and demanded that I give him an explanation. I refused.

" ‘Don't ask, don't tell' failed me despite the fact that I lived up to the premises of this law and never disclosed my private life," Almy said. "Never once in my 13-year career did I make a statement to the military that violated ‘don't ask, don't tell.' "

Almy earlier appeared on Capitol Hill on March 3 at the invitation of Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and four other senators who have introduced a bill to repeal the ban.

Kopfstein, in contrast, was openly gay yet deployed twice on a Navy cruiser before her discharge, according to a biography supplied by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C., legal group representing both of the gay veterans and devoted to repeal of the law.

Kopfstein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999 and, during her first deployment as a surface warfare officer aboard the Japan-based cruiser Shiloh, told her commanding officer that she was a lesbian. It was not an effort to get out of the military; as she told the Washington Post in 2005, "I didn't want to have to lie about myself."

Her commanding officer requested an investigation but nothing happened for a year, and Kopfstein underwent a second six-month deployment on Shiloh in support of the war in Afghanistan.

According to SLDN, Kopfstein's discharge board was convened 19 months after her initial admission. Both her former and current commanding officers testified on her behalf, but she lost her commission.

Sheehan reached the top rungs of the military during his 35 years of service. Commissioned in 1962, he is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and 1991's Desert Storm and a recipient of the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He capped his career as Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and commander of U.S. Atlantic Command now U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Following his 1997 retirement, Sheehan joined Bechtel International, an international engineering, construction and project management company, as a senior vice president.

He served as special adviser for central Asia for two U.S. defense secretaries, and also sat on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumfeld's Defense Policy Board from 2001 to 2003.

Sheehan is affiliated with an international leadership group, Global Zero, which is dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons over the next quarter-century.

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