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Stories from the Frontlines: A Military Chaplain

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.  The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.  By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes!  We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.

April 29, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As an active-duty military chaplain who just returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, this is my appeal for justice:

Over the years some of us have buried our closest friends -- officers and enlisted, African American, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, Whites, rich, poor, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Jews. They had the courage to make the supreme sacrifice in order for us to reap the bounties of freedom. We owe them a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.

What is remarkable about these Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen is they understood the personal risk when they answered the highest calling of our nation. What could be a nobler act then to give one’s life to one’s country, knowing that in their lives many freedoms would be denied them?

And when their story is told a significant piece of their life would be missing.

As they sleep under the crosses, the stars of David and the crescents there is no bigotry. There is no prejudice. There is no hatred. And within the sacred confines of their resting place there is no law of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” There is only purest democracy.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, will it only be then that we as a nation acknowledge our gay brothers and sisters who took the risks of life and truth to answer their nation’s highest calling? How many of these brave men and women lie in military graves and still hide in death?

They are among the unknown soldiers.

There are only a few who know the truth of those who lie in these graves. There are only a few who know the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn them in silence and fear. The nation remains silent and owes no allegiance to who they truly were nor does it honor their loved ones. What does that say of our sacred values?

If one gay person was killed in defense of America, issues such as the destruction of unit morale or the fear of people not wanting to join the military devalue their sacrifice. This is not about appeasing the uncomfortable feelings of a minority; this is a universal and transcendent matter of justice. America was built on the common Jewish and Christian heritage of justice when the Bible commands: “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

It is easy for those who do not live in fear of being ‘outed’ to say: ‘We must wait and examine this law further.’ But when you have to watch what you say, where you go, and who you talk to, this erodes the human person. When you live in fear that the wrong pronoun slips through your lips, or a co-worker see you in public with your life long partner and you respond ‘this is just a friend’, this degrades your human self worth.

Gays and lesbians wait not for justice, for them justice is denied, but they wait for the ‘knock on the door.’ They are haunted daily waiting ‘to be found out.’

We went to foreign lands to wage war to liberate people so they would not have to live in the fear of waiting. But citizens of our own land who served nobly, who died to secure freedoms which they would never profit from, must live in fear waiting for justice.

"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is an unjust law. It degrades the human soul because it forces those who willingly serve to live in shameful humiliation because of deceit and fear. It undermines the very principles and values of what it means to be an American. Living the façade of a life goes against the Core Values of every Armed Service. How much longer is justice going to be denied? There comes a time when despair and fear must end.

Mr. President, we depend on your sense of justice and fairness to help end this gross injustice so we, as a nation, do not have to wait for the final marker to be placed in the last cemetery.

We ask you to lead the way in repealing this unjust law and replace it with a policy of non-discrimination that advances open and honest service. A law that is consistent with true American values and honors the sacrifices of so many who have served – and died -- in silence.

With deepest respect,
A military chaplain
(The writer is currently serving and unable to identify himself publicly.)

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Johnson in USAF on May 02, 2010 at 11.48 pm

These are words that I’ve been searching for for a long time, especially the part about going to other countries to liberate people.  Just another point to throw in to my argument when the DADT discussion comes up in the work place.

Navy Chaplain in Afghanistan on May 02, 2010 at 10.58 am

Horse####!  If this is even a legitimate letter, it represents an exceptionally small number of chaplains.  Every chaplain I’ve met—Army, Navy, and Air Force—who has expressed an opinion over DADT has been uniformly negative.  I can imagine that there would be a small number of mainline chaplains (even though the ones I know are also in favor of DADT) in favor of repeal.  Maybe also a few closeted priests.  But their combined numbers is MINISCULE to the vast majority of chaplains.

Monkeyman8 on May 01, 2010 at 10.37 pm

While I do appreciate that religion is finally coming around in the states and some groups are pushing for equal rights, We are once again conspicuously left out of such correspondence. Not surprising though, as people love to claim, “there are no atheists in fox holes.”

Lance in Air Force on April 29, 2010 at 09.35 pm

Two things:

This letter sums up everything perfectly. After bring in for two enlistments now, you really start to grow numb to everything. Can’t even date because you’ll get kicked out. It’s hard enough meeting someone that you want to spend your life with, let alone someone willing to lie about who they are to other people. Coming home at the end of a long day to an empty house and even worse when you come back from deployments to noone you can really share your feelings with. I love my job more than anything, but this policy makes everyone feel so alone. I hate the fact that I cant wait until my enlistment is up so I can get out. It just gets to the point that you have to lie so much that you just stop talking to people and go into auto pilot to just pass the days.

Secondly, I tried going to this website at one of the bases I was at and it was blocked. Couple weeks later, it was open. Kinda weird but figured Id throw it out there. Some people do know abot me, hell, someone even told one of my commanders who disregarded it last year. Probably didn’t believe the person that said something since I know how to play the dumb game. Just sucks that no matter how we play, we are the ones that lose.

Michael @ on April 29, 2010 at 03.34 pm

Sorry, Garrett, here is the link I meant to include above which has additional advice re Net social networks.

Michael @ on April 29, 2010 at 09.43 am

@ Garrett: Thank you for your service.

PLEASE be extra careful using the Internet. Your indication that you are reading this site/writing from your ship is of great concern. Many have been discharged after wrongly presuming such communications and Internet visits are legally protected when using a government-owned computer, an e-mail account with a .mil address, OR even using their personally owned PC on base, in barracks, or, in your case, on ship. Any of these can be searched without a warrant or your permission.

Calm seas and safe journeys…in every way.

If you are unclear, please read the advise from SLDN at the link below

Garrett in On a Carrier Out At Sea on April 29, 2010 at 09.19 am

Dear sir,

  Your words touched me in a way few articles or statements ever have.  I was nearly moved to tears, but had to quickly compose myself before my shipmates arrived to begin another day guarding the sea lanes.  Thank you so very much for your eloquence.  It has renewed my determination to serve to the best of my ability.  Thank you.

Laura MacAllister in Here there and everywhere on April 29, 2010 at 08.45 am

This letter echoes how I felt when I was serving to a T.  It is also why I made the choice to step back and see what other options I had.  As a qualified and competent Army Officer, there were many opportunities awaiting me.  If only the military could have changed this policy years ago, I may not have left after 10 years.  This change is long awaited.  The longer this change takes the more other qualified, competent and seasoned individuals you will use.  Please make this change now.