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Feb-02-2010 22:19printcommentsVideo

Veterans Demand End of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Policy for Gays

"Right now we need every man on deck, we can't be picking and choosing unless we're going to bring the draft back" -Mario Benfield, American Legion Post 448

Courtesy: Mario Benfield

(SAN FRANCISCO) - "We're the largest gay and lesbian war veteran post in the country. I'm former Marine Corps, I got out of the Marine Corps as an E-5, a sergeant, and my primary was 0341 which was mortars, I had a fantastic tour in the Marine Corps."

Mario Benfield is the past commander of the only American Legion post whose membership is predominantly gay and lesbian, American Legion Post 448 in San Francisco.

Benfield says he and other veterans are sick of President Bill Clinton's 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy that bans gays from military service if they are honest about their private lives. It has led to more than 50,000 individuals receiving less than honorable discharges.

He says there was plenty of discipline in the Corps, but there was also privacy when he was in, which vanished in the years since Benfield served. Benfield says under the old system, as a Marine, it was all business, but when liberty began it was a different story.

"But then at liberty, when you were on your own, then you were free to exercise your recreational situation. We are elated that the President has finally come out and addressed the Joint Chiefs of Staff and said, 'It's the right thing to do', and for us we really have looked forward to this time when we don't have to be ostracized and this witch hunt."

He believes that the right thing to do is to, "Ask those servicemembers if they would like to come back in after they were discharged, and that their record be cleaned of an other than honorable discharge because they are gay or lesbian."

Benfield and other veterans are becoming more brazen, they say they won't stop until changes are in place. He says this is in fact the worst possible time for the military to exercise homophobia.

"Right now we need every man on deck, we can't be picking and choosing unless we're going to bring the draft back."

It is interesting that Pres. G.W. Bush lowered standards for military entrance, allowing the inclusion of criminals and very low intelligence individuals in the military, but that no changes have been made regarding the service of gays and lesbians.

The last time the general entrance standards were lowered, was at the height of the Vietnam War, shortly before the infamous war crimes that claimed the lives of several hundred Vietnamese civilians in a single day.

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

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sheryll February 16, 2010 2:45 pm (Pacific time)

and no, if you joined the military and you were gay....you knew the rules and you intentionally decieved and defrauded the government. Why? you ask... because you signed a legal and binding contract that you agreed to NOT tell you were gay. I think you should have to pay back every penny you got from the military and be charged with fraud.

sheryll February 16, 2010 2:39 pm (Pacific time)

I don't care if your gay. I care if you can shoot straight! But bottom line is...if ur lesbian...I don't want to know....why? because ur showering with me in the open showers. There is a reason that males and females do not shower together in the military. Where will you shower? What bathroom will you use? Next you'll want ur own damn everything. I give a crap that you serve....just don't tell me ur gay and expect me to run around naked in front of you in the barracks. Its commune living...hello!~ DAMN....don't I have any frickin rights anymore??? The MEN and WOMAN in the military should be the ONLY ones that have a VOTE in this debate....but so far noboby has has the decency or the courtesy to ask the ONES IN THE WORLD that have to frickin LIVE (I SAID LIVE) with it! Blacknight 4 OUT!!

Mac February 3, 2010 12:44 pm (Pacific time)

I understand some arguments for gays to serve in the military, but not in combat roles, and normally noncombat positions like translators can be and are deployed with combat units, as are medical personnel. This is a tough question, and I’m torn on it. I hate the fact that there truly are gays whose only agenda is to serve their country. For that I say good on them. But as a retired Marine I know the culture of the military will not allow this to be a smooth transition. Like it or not gays are not welcome in the ranks, and there are very good reasons for this. A supremely important aspect of the military is unit cohesion. Allowing gays to serve openly will destroy that cohesion.

Tim King: Mac, I have certainly changed my thoughts on this matter since when I was in during the 1980's.  The same thinking patterns basically exist today, but based on what I have seen while covering the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, people are a lot more open minded today, unless you are talking about Marines from the deep south or something along those lines.  I don't agree that having gay people in the ranks would necessarily destroy cohesion, maybe in some cases it would, but there are already a lot of competing factors in that area, like the toxic water at Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps's refusal to accept responsibility for killing its own.  There are huge Marine Corps issues like that on our radar.  Thanks for your comment.  

Madison February 3, 2010 8:22 am (Pacific time)

Has anyone seen any polls that provides opinions of current active-military and veterans on this issue? It would also be interesting to see a poll breakdown on those with current and past combat specialties like infantry and artillery. I've looked around but have not found any. I know when I was in we had gays, but there was no "acting out" by them. If that "acting out" became a behavior out in the field of combat, that's a lot different than in a stateside or non-combat post. I'm sure there would be policies for behavioral standards, but how effective would they be? This is a volunteer military and it has no connection to civilian life, nor should it. There could be some unintended consequences anytime something goes from status quo to change, regardless of what that change is from my observations. I wonder how many who want this change have not served in the military, nor in actual combat specialties? I have talked to people who have come down on both sides of the issue, but a scientific poll would best reflect the mood of those this change would actually impact. I fear this is about politics not what is best for the military. As far as some jobs, like interpreters or some other non-combatant positions, these could become federal civilian positions.

Jeff Kaye~ February 3, 2010 8:18 am (Pacific time)

Tim and Bonnie, I applaud your unbiased, tolerant and yes, humane treatment of all likewise tolerant, deserving people with newsworthy issues and much at stake. LGBT seems a cold, if casual description for what make up a sizeable group; I don't know the figures, but I'm sure it's a significant number of soldiers, past and present, whithout which our armed forces would be depleted to the point we'd have to reinstitute the draft. Or stop these stupid wars, but no, that makes too much sense. These people with "alternative" lifestyles and sexual preferences are no less human for their "choice". It's really not a choice; they're born with these propensities, not taught or otherwise subverted into their identity as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual or any other (some people are completely Asexual, for instance) description. I've known people who just weren't attracted to anybody. Happy by their lonesome. Oxymoronic though that may sound. The point is, who you are and what you do in your free time should in no way affect your treatment in the workplace, school, or any other institution. I applaud President Obama's recent (finally!) pledge to overturn Bill Clinton's miserable failure in "Don't ask, don't tell" policy resulting in many thousands of tainted military discharges. Hopefully he does a full-court press on this to include retroactive reinstatement of those prematurely discharged under less-than-honorable conditions and transformation of all those discharge papers resulting from this heinous miscarriage of the UCMJ to "Honorable". These people served our country no less bravely than their heterosexual counterparts, no less honorably than those who stayed "in the closet", who didn't "tell". It's a long time coming, and will be a huge landmark victory for human rights of all peoples in all nations to celebrate. The world looks up to us as a superpower (somehow, still), especially now that we have a humanitarian president (compared to the retarded white chimp we most recently "elected"). Now if the newly compassionate President Obama could just apply a little consistency in his human rights, specifically regarding the atrocious mistreatment of a captive people in Gaza. Palestinians are not less deserving of dignity, fairness and the right to pursue life and happiness than their oppressive Jewish neighbors (not all of them agree with their government's racist policy). Perhaps a little sit-down with the leaders of Israel and Hamas could be arranged. If we don't insist, they won't desist. We must demand: leave them their land. When that's instilled, they can rebuild - and coexist in peace. Inshallah

angie February 2, 2010 11:53 pm (Pacific time)

oh I get it now after reading a couple of articles from your newpaper. It's a rag, worthy of being utilized for wrapping fish. One word to all your staff and I'll break it down for you all. Duhhhh...

Editor: Well aren't you observant, we are the nation's oldest online news agency and we don't print a newspaper.  But wait, you are unhappy in your fish wrapping life because we ran an article that treats human beings like they are somehow... what, how do you say, 'human' - yeah that's it, and there are nine former U.S. Marines writing here including myself, aren't you disappointed, things aren't quite the way they describe them on the Rush Limbaugh show.   

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