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Letter to the Editor

an equal opportunity killer

by Robert Stout
Combat Engineer

“Landmines, an equal opportunity killer.”  The first time I heard that phrase was in October of 2000 while I was attending Combat Engineer Advanced Individual Training.  During the entire course the fact that military ordnance does not care who you are was drilled into our minds.  Sadly, the policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is not as accommodating as a steel case containing explosives.

According to a news article by the Associated Press, the need for the military’s explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) techs is at an all-time high. Sadly, I saw this issue first hand over three years ago while I was serving in Iraq.  The lack of EOD techs to destroy every type of munitions and explosive imaginable has led to combat engineers being tasked to perform that duty as part of their normal mission.  As the only other Army specialists who work with explosives on a regular basis we were picked to fill in the gaps for EOD work.

 Explosives removal was a completely different task for Combat Engineers.  The training we had received from Basic Training and the continued education had to be reworked.  For the entire duration of my military career I was trained to emplace landmines, use explosives to blow holes in roads and cut down trees, and build barbed-wire obstacles.  The closest we came to the EOD techs was our use of explosives to destroy enemy obstacles or landmines.  But we pulled it off.

Soon into my  tour in Iraq. we received news that we would now have two EOD techs working with us.  A collective sigh of relief was felt throughout the platoon.  Our use of and training with explosives had given us a starting point but the experience of the techs in removing all manner of ordnance could not be matched.  With their help we successfully identified and destroyed over 120 improvised explosive devises during our year-long tour, without a single person lost.

And yet, some of us where not good enough in another respect.  We could risk our lives placing a blasting cap in a block of C4 under the threat of ambush but could not talk about whom we left back home.  I can say that those people driving the routes in Iraq and Afghanistan are grateful for the work we did.  I find it very hard to imagine that any private, sergeant, lieutenant or colonel who has driven those routes has ever sat awake at night worrying if one person in a IED clearing team was a homosexual.  And yet, the Pentagon does worry.

In the past couple years I have read numerous stories like the one citing a shortage of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) techs .  It seems that every couple months there is a new military job title that is understaffed.  Even after lowering admission standards, our military is unable to keep the needed numbers.  And still we force people out of the military through archaic laws.  We keep hearing about the number of personnel discharged under DADT, but what is the real number?  We forget about those that left voluntarily because of it.  Just sitting here I can think of at least five people in my battalion alone that left the Army at the end of their contracts.  They are not included in the DADT numbers and they are forgotten and uncounted because of that.

The real cost of the military’s DADT policy can never be known.  How many people could have been saved by having more EOD techs?  We are willing to jeopardize our mission and even our soldiers' lives for this policy.  That is too high a cost.  Our brave men and women who are out fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are not concerned about DADT, they are concerned about making it home.  The only people in the military who are concerned are those of whom I have never heard about being understaffed and those who never have to worry about coming home.  The only convoy they have to worry about is the rush hour traffic at the Pentagon.

©  2008  Gay Military Signal