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Open Letter to Petty Officer Rhonda Davis

Recently one of my best friends from the military was discharged for participating in a march and speaking out on gay marriage .  Petty Officer first class Rhonda Davis and I graduated DINFOS *(Defense Information School, Ft. Meade, Maryland) back in 2002 and she graduated the top of our class.  She helped me a great deal while I was there, and I owe her a great deal of gratitude for all she's done for me. 

Rhonda's crime was that she loved someone very deeply, and just like anyone of us who's been away from their loved one's for a long time, you can imagine what Rhonda was feeling after 5 months of being apart from her partner.  Now the Navy will tell you she broke the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, but of course they seem to leave out the portion of that policy that means, 'if you're gay.'  Go to any Naval detachment around the world, and you'll find any heterosexual guy in uniform talking about the woman he got done sleeping with the other night.  That somehow does NOT break the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, despite the fact it's rather offensive to some. 

While I was stationed in Japan for nearly four years, I've seen some of the most horrific individuals STAY in the Navy.  *(not that they should, but the Navy seems to look the other way on some offenses).  One individual was found passed out on the curb and had a huge drinking problem while being addicted to over the counter drugs.  He's been through drug rehab twice already, and is still in the Navy.  I remember one guy killing a Japanese national while being legally intoxicated and he was walking around on base a free man for the longest time.  Underage drinking, drug use, you name it, I've seen it.  I even had to rescue some sailors on more than one occasion from being drunk out in town, and one of them was underage.  But NOT ONE OF THEM were kicked out of the Navy.  So far, the only person I know who's been kicked out, was Rhonda Davis.  Rhonda never got drunk out in town, she didn't drink and drive, do drugs, or even be a public nuisance.  She was a great ambassador of our nation while stationed in the country of Japan. 

For those of you who've never had the honor of meeting Rhonda, allow me to tell you a little bit about this incredible woman.  She's a fun loving, caring individual.  She jokes around all the time, probably one of the funniest people I've ever come in contact with and not to mention one of the smartest individuals I've come to know.  She's a very proud individual who is very patriotic and loves our country.  *(evident by her ten years of service); Rhonda wasn't just another body in the Navy though, she was someone with a background as an English teacher, who worked hard in every job she was given and won many awards for her efforts.  This isn't just Jane Doe who put a couple years of service in, and took off without a trace.  This was Petty Officer First Class Rhonda Davis, who's done more for other sailors than she would ever care to admit too.  During my stint in the Navy, I won two Thomas Jefferson Awards *(the highest award we can achieve),  4 Chinfo Awards, and countless others including an Air Force Achievement medal.  I would have NEVER have won any of them without the guidance and help Rhonda gave me early in my Naval Career.  But now she can't share her wealth of knowledge to young sailors anymore thanks to the obsolete policy the Armed Forces currently regulates under.  Instead the Navy will take their chances with out of shape individuals, drunk drivers, and drug users because they happen to be heterosexuals.  

How ignorant our we going to be as a people to allow others to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?  It's the year 2006, and gays can still be talked about in a discriminating manner even by our own politicians?  Have you ever heard anything out of Senator Rick Santorum's (Pa) mouth?   He says gays and lesbians in consensual, monogamous and loving relationships "undermine the basic tenets of our society, and "(If) the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, and you have the right to adultery".  This is coming out of a Senator's mouth mind you, one of our own law makers in this country.   He can somehow cast dispersions on an entire group of people that he's never really been around.  He's nothing more than a bigot and yet he's a lawmaker, and that's what scares me most. 

Rhonda did nothing wrong in the Navy.  She did her job, and did it well.  She told America she loved someone, and she happened to be another woman.  Rhonda had to deal with inappropriate comments all the time, and even someone who ordered a bride from another country.  Yet these people will still be the ones in uniform tomorrow, while Rhonda has to step away.  How fair is that exactly?  The Navy has dismissed over 10,000 members thanks to the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, and some of those members were in specialty fields like linguists in the Arabic language, which I don't have to explain are in high demand.  Instead our Armed Services are willing to give up those positions despite the interest of National Security and uphold their precious 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy instead.  Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

 What Rhonda did, was nothing short of brave and courageous.  She wore her dress white uniform, strolled over across the street to where the march was being organized and in no time, had cameras in her face.  She told the truth, something the Navy encourages.  “Honor, Courage, and Commitment” are the Navy's Core Values and Rhonda upheld those core values her entire career. 

I spent five years in the Navy, and the hypocrisy was even enough for me to get out.  I got out honorably, and was happy with the job I did.  But I've seen way too many good people who wanted to stay in the Armed Services and defend our great nation get taken out for nothing more than being gay.  It's really easy for people to say "support the Military".  But how does one support the military if they discriminate among Military Members?  Make no mistake,  The Navy didn't just lose here… America lost.  And if we continue to judge people on their sexual orientation, and dismiss inexcusable behavior by others, America will continue to lose very valuable individuals.  It's amazing how much the tax payers of our nation have wasted on getting well educated, honorable members of the military out of the service just because their homosexual.  Sometimes I wonder, do people watch 'Queer as Folk' or News channels of the 'Gay Pride' parades and think that's how all gay people are?  True to form, some gays are like this, but most happen to be your accountants, your store clerks, your mailman, your lawn guy, your barber, your secretary, and so forth.  The fact of the matter is, they live their life the same way anyone else does.  The only problem is, they can't see their loved ones when their sick in the hospital or get job benefits to their partner. 

The military pays out huge amounts of money to members who get married and have kids.  They offer great benefit packages to their wives or husbands and give more money for each child the couple has.  For some reason though, Joe Navy can get married with someone he just met at a club and get her on his benefits package in no time, But Rhonda who's been in a committed relationship for four years now, can't do the same.  Joe Navy can have many write-ups, get demoted, go to Captain's mast and so forth, yet his benefits for his wife is fine.  Rhonda, a 10-year first class award winning petty officer however can't get so much as a mint for her significant other.  How is this not bigotry?  How can we as Americans feel good about ourselves when we allow people to be hurt like this?

 John Brown was a abolitionist who freed slaves.  He was white but that didn't stop him from trying to show America that having slaves was wrong.  Women in American weren't able to do anything outside of staying home until Susan B. Anthony came along.  Now women can vote and be elected to high office.  It wasn't but 50 years ago when Rosa Parks sat in the front seat of the bus when that was taboo.  Now anyone can sit anywhere on a bus no matter who they are.  I at least have hope for America, that we will come to do the right thing.  We can stop putting labels on people, and allow them to fulfill their dreams.  I encourage groups like Soul Search and GLBT to continue their efforts on helping gays in our society.  I seriously hope the Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans can put pressure on our law makers to get rid of this foolish 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, and allow people like Rhonda who has served this country honorably, to continue serving our nation. 

Rhonda, I thank you, not for just being my friend, but for serving our country.  Especially when our country didn't serve you as well back. 

Darrin Russ
St. Petersburg, Florida

Mr. Russ was a Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class with 5 years service, Honorably discharged