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August 1, 2006

Profiles in Patriotism:
Pain in the Present: One Year Later

T. M. Smith

Introduction by Jim Maloney, Executive Director of Military Equality Alliance:
"Tim Smith is a Marine who was discharged under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" law because he is gay. His sexual orientation was reported to the Marine Corps by his minister, just before he was to deploy to Iraq as a leader of his unit. He was held in high regard by his fellow Marines and would prefer to still be serving today. Tim was a regular contributor to Military Education Initiative's "Service Member Stories" - read his essays under Michael/T.M. at http://www.military-education.org/stories/index.html."

On 15 June 2005, a young Marine boarded a plane from Yuma, AZ on a trip that would eventually return him to his home base in Beaufort, SC. He boarded the plane in the same daze that had overtaken him two days earlier, when he was told that he could no longer be a Marine. Gone were his dreams of becoming a "career" Marine. Gone were the hopes of leading his unit in Iraq. The Sergeant chevrons he carried around in his breast pocket would never make their way onto his collar. His crime was not related to drug use, misappropriation, or failure in training. His crime was far more obtuse, yet just as much a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He was gay.

Though only a Corporal, the young Marine had been the supervisor for his unitís Logistics and Embarkation section. His peers and superiors all looked to him not only for the safe transportation of equipment and personnel but housing, food, and other miscellaneous day-to-day concerns that kept the unit functioning. He had been finishing the final plans for the unitís departure to Iraq in just under a month, when he was summoned by the Commanding Officer. The conversation and actions that followed would mark the beginning of the end for the promising young Corporalís career in the military.

Onto the plane, he carried with him a Discharge Package, the contents of which consisted of all the legal paperwork for his out-processing, the evidence presented against him, and letters of recommendation for an Honorable Discharge. His commanderís letter closed with the sentence, "Corporal Smith will be near impossible to replace." The words both comforted and cut him to the core.

The Moonlighters, his unitís nickname, had not wanted to see him discharged. However, their hands were forced by the dreadful determination of a former Naval Chaplain to see the young man discharged from the military. The Naval Captain had come to possess a hard copy of an online Yahoo personals ad declaring the Marineís sexuality. After confronting the young Marine and being rebuffed in his offers to "help change" the young man, the now Southern Baptist minister took the evidence to the Marine Corps.

As he was being processed from the military into "civilian life," the young man battled the mix of rage and desperation welling within him. He had a home and bills to pay. More importantly, he was losing the one thing in his life about which he truly cared. He knew the ethos that said, "Once a Marine, Always a Marine," but this brought little comfort to the widening gap of misery deep within his spirit. A little more than two months later on 16 August, the young man signed the final paperwork effectively ending his time in the United States Marine Corps.

I know the details of this young manís story so well because I am that young man. A year has not changed much. I watch a flag wave in the breeze or hear the national anthem played, and I feel the numbing cold sting of rejection and injustice creep back into the core of my being. I would love to say that my story was one-of-a-kind: a freak anomaly in the overall system of military governance. Unfortunately, mine is not a unique story.

In 2005, almost two service members per day were discharged from the United States military under the "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" policy. Even as our militaryís manpower is stretched nearly to the breaking point due to international commitments, those in charge still find it necessary to discharge fully qualified, trained, and seasoned veterans. This policy of intolerance and prejudice fostered by the Department of Defense is the only one of its kind among the various entities of our, American government, and applies only to members of the armed forces. Senators, Secret Service agents, even civilian contractors entrenched with our fighting forces are not discriminated against simply due to their sexual orientation.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act sponsored by Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan has slowly but consistently built support in the House. Though even with 119 co-sponsors, representatives are still reluctant to add their names to the list. Citing everything from lack of constituent input on the issue to a recent remark by Arizona Senator John McCain that "ÖDonít Ask, Donít Tell works," our elected officials continue to find other means for recruitment and retention of service members. Officials have even gone so far as to revamp Army training so that fewer enlistees fail out, as noted in the July 13th, USA Today article by Tom Vanden Brook.

On August 16th 2005, my career as a United States Marine ended. The country, whose freedomís I had bled and fought for to protect, had shut me out. A job anywhere else was fine. But to be an active duty soldier was above the "gay" ceiling. What must we, who want to defend our country but are blocked by antiquated and unnecessary policies, do in order to have that freedom? Being trapped inside of the proverbial closet is not acceptable. With Korea, Lebanon, and Iran at the boiling point, who will be left to answer the call when all other options have been taken?

We are not the last resort! Many of us have already passed through the fire. We know what it takes to be a war-fighter and we have proved such in our training and careers. Many more stand ready to do so. Our time has come, yet still, we are the ones waiting. One year has passed in my wait, how much longer will I have to? How much longer will you?