Finally: A movement in Congress we can all get behind.
A growing number of veterans in Congress are joining the fight to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that excludes openly lesbian, gay and bisexual service members from the armed forces. A total of 17 Members who once served in the U.S. military are now co-sponsors of The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher's bill to lift the ban. They include a Republican Vietnam War vet; a veteran of the war in Iraq; and the highest-ranking military retiree in Congress.
Who, after all, knows the best interests of our fighting forces better than the men and women who have worn the uniform?
The list of veterans now supporting repeal reads like a who's who of respected voices on military affairs.
Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), a retired Admiral who holds the distinction of being the highest-ranking veteran in Congress, spent 31 years in the United States Navy. During his distinguished career there, Sestak led a series of operational commands, culminating in the command of the George Washington aircraft carrier battle group, which consisted of 30 U.S. and allied ships, 15,000 sailors, and close to 100 aircraft. Under Sestak's watch, the George Washington battle group conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and precursor operations to the war in Iraq. He also served in President Clinton's White House as the Director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council. After 9/11, he was selected to serve as the first Director of "Deep Blue," the Navy's anti-terrorism unit where he worked to establish new strategies for the Navy to fight the Global War on Terror.
And now, he's working to lift the ban.
Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) is a Vietnam War veteran. After graduating high school in 1964, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His tour of duty saw action during the invasion of the Dominican Republic, and ultimately the Vietnam War. He earned the rank of Sergeant in Vietnam, where as a platoon leader, he was wounded in the chest. Wayne was decorated with the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Navy Commendation Medal. Today he is a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Gilchrest told WBAL television, when he first signed on to co-sponsor repeal legislation, that "When this issue comes up, members who believe that gays shouldn't be in the military are now more hesitant to voice their opinion. Many of us who feel the other way have come out of the closet, so to speak."
The Congressman joined the repeal effort following the lead of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who told him how her husband (former U.S. attorney Dexter Lehtinen) had been cared for by a military nurse in Vietnam who was lesbian.
And just this week, Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA), a freshman Democrat and Iraq war veteran, also signed on as a co-sponsor. Murphy has also served as a West Point professor, airborne and air assault qualified, a JAG Corps attorney, and served two deployments after 9/11 - the first to Bosnia in 2002 and the second to Baghdad, Iraq in 2003-2004 as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Murphy earned the Bronze Star for service and his unit earned the Presidential Unit Citation.
The five new co-sponsors announced this week bring the total number of Congressional Representatives supporting repeal to 136.
And with their voices - including the voices of 17 Members who have served and defended our country in the armed forces - Congress is, indeed, marching toward repeal.
Now, you can do your part, too: Check to see if your Representative is a co-sponsor. If they are not, visit Servicemembers Legal Defense Network online and ask them to sign up.
Step by step, you can help SLDN and Congresswoman Tauscher to build a winning coalition and topple the ban.
The 17 co-sponsors who are also veterans are:
Peter DeFazio, Bill Delahunt, John Dingell, Wayne Gilchrest, Phil Hare, Doc Hastings, Maurice Hinchey, Ed Markey, Jim McDermott, Patrick Murphy, Bill Pascrell, Charles Rangel, Jose E. Serrano, Joe Sestak, Pete Stark, Mike Thompson, and Edolphus Towns.