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Sgt. Denny's Journal

On a Day Without DADT
Dan Choi enlists, almost

by Denny Meyer

Thursday, October 21, 2010
In a van taking disabled vets to the VA early this morning, the chatter was about DADT.  The old straight men were confused about the latest developments.  Could openly gay people now enlist or not?  Tuesday, the news was full of the fact that they could.  For those who didn't go to bed early on Wednesday, the new news was that they might, again, not be allowed to enlist.  I was amazed that folks not directly concerned  were even aware or interested in the whole business.  Perhaps it was because all the old straight vets in this van know that I'm gay; we ride together to the VA several times per week and have been sharing this ride for years.  They accept me as just another cranky old Vietnam Era disabled vet.  The Sgt First Class insignia on my vets cap may help.  There was a pause while they waited for me to speak up and explain what the hell was going on.  "Guys," I sighed, "It's six thirty AM, I'm still trying to sleep and I've got gas this morning."  The men on either side of me grumbled and scootched away a few inches; ah camaraderie, I love it even after all these years!

In fact, I'd been up and on-line at 5 AM checking the latest DADT news alerts.  Two days ago, on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 19th, a week after Judge Phillips imposed an injunction against further enforcement of DADT, the Pentagon issued orders to all recruiting centers to allow openly gay people to enlist.  That afternoon, at 3:15 PM, here in New York City, I got a phone call from Dan Choi.  He told me, "I'm going to the Times Square Recruiting Station to enlist; I want YOU there at 4 PM!"  "B b but, I'm an old disabled man, way out an hour away by bus and train..."  "Just BE there," he shouted, "I want YOU there; take a taxi!"  This is what I get for being friends with a former officer.

I grabbed my veterans cap and cane and rushed out the door, jumped in a taxi  and urged the driver to 'race.'  He drove like a madman, saying, "You're a veteran, I'll do it for you, no worries!"   We got to the heart of the universe, Times Square, at 4:01 PM.  There was a crush of TV reporters in the small outdoor entry ramp to the Recruiting station, with a ring of curious tourists around that, and a ring of riot police armed with machine guns and black metal helmets beyond them.  Yes, Machine Guns! - These were special NYC terrorist attack response units, or something like that, pulled off from guarding train stations to react to 'Dan Choi at the Recruiting Station.'  You have to imagine the wild scene.

Dan was giving an inspirational speech while knocking on the locked door of the recruiting station, with TV cameras  zoomed in on the poignant symbolism of him "knocking on the door."  Finally, he was allowed inside and the door was shut and locked to keep the crush of reporters out.  No matter, Dan twittered a constant report, from within, on his progress.

Finally, after an hour, Dan emerged into a crush of TV cameras and reporters holding microphone booms, shouting questions.  Everyone was jostling for position to get good camera angles.  Amazingly, all these folks sort of knew each other and were being very careful and polite with each other while competing for the best camera angle.  Except, that is, for one female reporter; she violently shoved me out of her way, nearly knocking me over, - a clearly Disabled Vet!

Dan announced that he had first tried to join the Marines, but was a year too old.  He then sat down to enlist in the Army.  He was treated politely and professionally and they began to process through the paperwork.  He'd been properly advised, as the Pentagon had instructed, that the suspension of DADT could be reversed, which would affect his enlistment.  A snag arose with his previous discharge paperwork.  They had to check on an unfamiliar discharge code; he'd have to return on Wednesday morning.

Reporters shouted questions.  Then, the police moved in, in response to a complaint from within the recruiting station that to door was blocked by the crowd.  Everyone had to "MOVE NOW!"  Cops were shouting.  While that was happening, ABC News asked me, off to the side of the riot,  "How would Dan Choi, a former LT, be treated as a Spec 4?"  I pointed to the SFC insignia on my cap.  "Any professional NCO leading any unit in today's military would see to it that he is treated with the utmost respect, no problem." I said.

Then Dan, a reporter friend, another activist, and I, jumped into a taxi and headed to CNN  where Dan was scheduled to be interviewed.  While waiting, we sat down for drinks and a snack. Dan was relaxing, cracking everyone up with wild jokes.  I'm in constant awe of his courage and commitment to serve.  He's already served for eleven years, was an infantry platoon leader, is an Iraq combat veteran, and an Arabic linguist.  And now he's determined to sign up as an enlisted man and likely be deployed to Afghanistan.

Then they headed for the studio and I bailed out and went home.

That was Tuesday afternoon and evening.

On Wednesday morning, Dan reported back to the recruiting station for aptitude testing, more paperwork, and he was scheduled for a physical the following week.  So, still not actually enlisted but being processed.

Then, late Wednesday, a three judge panel granted a brief stay, requested by the Dept. of Justice, reversing the suspension of DADT.  As of this afternoon, Thursday Oct. 21, the Pentagon revised its advisory saying openly gay people could apply, but for the time being they could not actually enlist. 

While a stay was almost inevitable with the administration appealing Judge Phillip's decisions; the fact is that there was a week without DADT, and a Day of open enlistments.  What that means is that: "The Cork is out of the bottle and no matter what reversals and delays will occur, it cannot be put back in."

It was obvious, during the week without DADT, that no one on active duty should come out yet.  But, Dan Choi made it clear, during the Day of open enlistments, that anyone gay who wants to join with "integrity" should only sign up openly.

What became clear, during the past week, is that the Pentagon was prepared to proceed with a new non discriminatory policy which was disseminated down the chain of command.  They demonstrated that it can be done, rapidly and calmly, with clear orders.

When Dan Choi entered the recruiting office, a Marine sergeant recruiter shook his hand, welcomed him, and smiled.  When Dan emerged an hour later, he reported that he was treated with professionalism and respect.  All this was in accordance with the Pentagon orders issued earlier in the day.  While his enlistment may not go forward in the coming days, due to the stay of the injunction; what matters is that the episode demonstrated that a very openly gay recruit can be and was treated properly without fuss nor "disruption to the good order of the armed forces."

  2010 Gay Military Signal
All photos 2010 Denny Meyer