First Lieutenant Eli White (kneeling right ) and General Peter Pace (third from left)
On January 1, 2006, I was deployed at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, serving as the Operations Officer to the Provost Marshal’s Office. On that day, Gen. Peter Pace, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led a USO tour to the base to entertain the troops and thank us for our service. My troops, military working-dog teams, and I were detailed to augment his security team, providing protection both at the event and serving as mobile security escorts. Throughout the day, Gen. Pace repeatedly thanked us for our exceptional service, and personally gave each of us his coin. I distinctly remember my excitement in being assigned the mission, and felt a bit of butterflies in my stomach as we met and shook hands. He surprised me with his approachability, eagerness to listen to our stories and concerns, and genuine care for us and our loved ones. My personal interaction with Gen. Pace left me with an even greater respect for him than that which came with his distinguished title.
A year after my return from Iraq, I opened up my hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, and was appalled by Gen. Pace’s comments degrading gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. In over three years on active duty, I served alongside gay, lesbian, and bisexual Airmen, Soldiers, and Sailors, both stateside and in Iraq. I saw firsthand how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” silences these dedicated troops from sharing their lives with some of their best friends – their fellow service members. Despite risking their lives daily, they could not talk about their loved ones, and routinely were force to hide their true selves.
Today, I no longer wear the uniform of the U.S. Air Force, yet I continue to serve my country and my fellow military brethren as a member of the SLDN team. As I left the military to enter law school, the ban on openly gay service members weighed heavily on my heart, and led me to SLDN, where I currently serve as a summer law fellow, supporting our legal services, litigation, and policy programs. I am grateful for this opportunity to help those affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and hope that our efforts soon materialize into the repeal of this discriminatory law. I wish Gen. Pace was part of the solution, rather than the problem.
As Gen. Pace traveled throughout Iraq, thanking the troops for our service and dedication, he shook the hands of many gay and lesbian service members silenced by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; troops who, in his eyes, are “immoral.” He recognized their bravery, courage, and selflessness in the Global War on Terror, yet he failed to provide them with the leadership and respect they deserve. Our gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members are anything but “immoral”, they are brave men and women, dedicated to protecting our country and serving honorably.
SLDN Legal Fellow
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