Thursday, July 09, 2009

Voices of Honor


Rep. Patrick Murphy has two pieces of advice for his fellow congressmen: Do what's right, not just what's political. Oh, and don't cross him. The Pennsylvania Democrat is currently trying to whip up support for
H.R. 1283, which would repeal "don't ask, don't tell," and he's working hard on getting the 218 votes it'll need to pass the House. One of the problems he might run into is the backlash back home. "I'm a congressman, but I have some criticisms about Congress. And I think some folks in Congress are afraid of keeping their own seats, and that's affecting the change that we all know needs to happen in our country," says Murphy. He ought to know. Murphy won his seat by just 1,521 votes in 2006. "This is something I don't take lightly, neither," he said, but he's going ahead with pushing for an end to "don't ask" because "we need congressmen and congresswomen and legislators to stand by the courage of their conviction and not worry about the political cycle or when the election is."

That's the opening to Amanda Ruggeri's "'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Foe Patrick Murphy Turns Up the Heat" (US News & World Reports) and that's from the press conference yesterday, noted in the snapshot. What's interesting is that press conference had a huge number of reporters attending. Many such events at the National Press Club aren't attended unless food is served. But there was a huge turnout and where are the reports. (Kat covers it at her site and the other NPC event we attended yesterday -- Mullen's speech). We'll note this from Bob Roehr's "Murphy to Lead Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; National Tour Launched for Repeal" (Windy City Times):

The baby-faced Murphy, seemingly not long removed from his altar boy past, served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division and taught constitutional law at West Point. He aggressively took on supporters of DADT at a congressional hearing last year and showed a firm determination to repeal the policy as soon as possible.
[. . .]
Murphy said Congress passed DADT and it is their responsibility to repeal it. He was encouraged by the fact that House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton ( D-Missouri ) recently committed to holding a full committee hearing on repeal later this year. The earlier hearing had been in a subcommittee.
He said when many of his colleagues come to realize that it costs about $60,000 to recruit and put a single soldier through basic training, then they start to see the policy in a different light. Many have told him that while they will not join as one of the current 151 cosponsors, they will vote for repeal.

We'll drop back to the snapshot yesterday to note Murphy's remarks in full:

US House Rep Patrick Murphy: My name is Patrick Murphy, I'm a Democrat from the eighth district of Pennsylvania which is Bucks County and far north east Philadelphia. I am now a United States Congressman in my second term but prior to that I was in the military since 1993. I rose up to through the ranks to become a professor at West Point. And then when 9-11 happened, I served on two deployments. My first one with General [David] Petraeus and my second one as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004. That's why every day I wear the 82nd Airborne pin on my lapel, I don't wear the Congressional pin because 19 of my fellow paratroopers never made it home. I am proud to be the lead sponsor today of the Military Enhancement Readiness Act -- a bill that will finally repeal the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are stretched dangerously thin. These men and women in our military understand what it takes to serve our country and the values that our military and our nation hold dear. They take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, yet the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy when it took effect in 1993 has discharged over 13,000 troops -- honorable men and women. That is the equivalent of three and a half combat brigades. They have been discharged not for any type of sexual misconduct but because of their sexual orientation. The policy is not working for armed services and it hurts national security. Attitudes on Don't Ask, Don't Tell have changed -- have changed in our military and have changed in the public at large. Up to 75% of Americans support repeal and the number is even higher in the age bracket of those we are recruiting from 18 years of age to 29. Former senior military leaders agree that it is time to re-evaluate and to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Opponents of lifting the ban arguing that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will be detremental to unit cohesion and morale. As a former Army officers and West Point professor, that is an insult to me and to all the troops serving in uniform. In Iraq, my men did not care what race, color, creed or sexual orientation their fellow paratroopers were. They cared, whether they could get the job done. We cared about serving with honor and coming home alive. Over 20 nations, include our two strongest allies, Great Britain and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly without any determental impact on unit cohesion or morale. Believe me, our heroes serving in the US military are the best fighting forces in the entire world. We are second to none. And we are just as good as those who serve in Great Britain and Israel. Our president, President Barack Obama, has stated that if Congress will get a bill to his desk repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he will sign it into law. It is now our job, and my job specifically, to quarterback this through the Congress of the United States to do just that. I cannot tell you today how long it is going to take. All I can tell you is that paratroopers don't quit and paratroopers get the job done. To remove honorable, talented and committed Americans from serving in our military is contrary to the values that our military life holds dear. My time in Iraq and at West Point teaching the next generation of military leaders taught me that our military deserves and expects the best and the brightest that are willing to serve. I stand here today with these honorable and noble veterans. Together we will continue the fight to make our nation and our military stronger.

We linked to "Rep. Patrick Murphy, Veterans Announce Efforts to Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" from Murphy's office yesterday and we'll note it in full this morning:

Congressman Takes Lead on H.R. 1283, Military Readiness Enhancement Act, to Overturn Policy
(Washington, DC) -- Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA, 8th District) today joined veterans and policy advocates to announce taking the lead on H.R. 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, the Congressional effort to overturn the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at a National Press Club "Newsmakers" event. The law, passed by Congress in 1993, prohibits gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. The MREA would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which compromises national security and military readiness at a time when the U.S. is engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. Murphy was joined at the event by gay, lesbian and straight veterans, including Eric Alva, the first veteran wounded in the Iraq War, Genevieve Chase, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and the founder and executive director of American Women Veterans, Jarrod Chlapowski, a former U.S. Army Korean linguist who opted to not re-enlist because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", Joan Darrah, a Navy captain and intelligence officer, and Alex Nicholson, a U.S. Army veteran fluent in Arabic discharged under DADT. Congressman Murphy was also joined at the event by advocates from the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and Servicemembers United. This week, HRC and Servicemembers United will begin a national tour to highlight how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromises national security and hurts military readiness.
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' clearly isn't working for our military, and it hinders national security and military readiness at a time when America is fighting in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Congressman Patrick Murphy. "My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs and deserves the best and the brightest who are willing to serve- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented servicemembers from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear."
"We are very fortunate to have Rep. Murphy as the new lead on H.R. 1283," said Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "He brings his unique expertise as an Iraq veteran, his commitment to ending discrimination, and a passion for ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' This change in leadership should be a catalyst to re-dedicate our efforts to get 218 cosponsors so we can pass the bill."
"We applaud Rep. Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq war, for his leadership on repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and his willingness to take on the fight for the LGBT community and our country’s national security," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Rep. Murphy's background as a war veteran makes him uniquely qualified to help lead this effort and work with the Administration to repeal this law. We look forward to ensuring that our military can recruit and retain the best and the brightest troops regardless of their sexual orientation. As this tour will highlight, poll after poll continues to show the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of active service members, support the right of gay and lesbian service members to serve openly and honestly."
Enacted in 1993, over 13,000 men and women in uniform have been discharged from the military under the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", including 800 mission critical servicemembers such as medics, fighter pilots, and nearly 60 Arabic linguists. H.R. 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, would repeal the policy and allow Americans to serve their country openly, regardless of sexual orientation.

Yesterday's press conference also featured Voices of Honor which is a partnership between the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers United. And the Voices of Honor website has posted videos from the press conference. Those who are better served by or prefer audio can refer to Free Speech Radio News yesterday (click here for the segment reported by Matt Pearson).

The photo at the top is from Voices of Honor and we'll note two more speakers from yesterday using photos to put a face to the speaker. This is from my notes during the press conference and the video for at least one, Joan Darrah, should be longer than the comments below. I started taking notes with Darrah when she was speaking about her own involvement (we just summarized her words of praise for US House Rep Murphy).

joan darrah

Joan Darrah: When I first joined the Navy, I didn't realize I was gay. By the time I figured it out, I had about 10-plus years of service. Based on my promotion record and fitness reports it was clear to me that the Navy felt that I was making a difference so I opted to stay. Now that I am retired and out from under Don't Ask, Don't Tell I realize how incredibly stressful and frankfully just plain wrong it is to have to serve in silence. Each day I went to work wondering if that would be the day of my last service. Whenever the admiral would call me to his office 99.9% of me would be certain it was to discuss an operational issue but there was always a small part of me that feared the admiral was calling me into his office to tell me that I had been outed, that I was fired and that my career was over. On September 11th, I was at the Pentagon attending the weekly intelligence briefing when American flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, I was at the Pentagon bus stop. The office I had been in seven minutes earlier was completely destroyed and seven of my co-workers were killed. The reality is if I had been killed, my partner would have been the last to know because her name was nowhere in my records and I certainly hadn't dared to list her in my emergency contact information. It was the events of September 11th that made me realize that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was taking a much bigger toll than I had ever admitted. On 1 June, 2002, a year earlier than originally planned, I retired. I am incredibly proud of our military and our country. And I know that we will be stronger once Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed. More than 26 countries have already figured this out and now allow gay people to serve openly. What we need now is for Congress to act and they must act now. Every day the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is delayed, more highly qualified, motivated, valuable service members are discharged simply for being gay. Our great country can do better than this.

eric alva

Eric Alva: Six years ago on March 21, 2003 I was part of a logistical convoy with 3rd Batallion 7th Marines. My unit was part of the first wave of ground troops that entered the country of Iraq from Kuwait to start the ground invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I had been in Iraq no more than three hours when I stepped on a landmine near the city of Basra wuffering life threatening injuries. I had a broken left leg, a broken right arm with severe nerve damage and a badly injured right leg that doctors had to ampute it in order to save my life. I had become the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was not until February 28, 2007 that I announced not only to the people of the United States but to the rest of the world that the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom was a gay marine. I decided to be true to myself and my country by coming forward and announcing who I am. My coming forward was to tell the people of this country that as a patriotic American when I went to fight the war on terrorism it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in this country not just selected individuals. That means every single individual regardless of who they are. I stand here today on two good legs again with my fellow service members and a courageous Congress member Patrick Murphy to show my support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. It is time to let people be judged for their merit, professionalism and their leadership. This is a time when we should not be firing anyone from their job in the United States Armed Forces for being gay.

Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports, "The event was a kickoff to the 'Voices Of Honor' national tour sponsored by gay rights groups the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United that features members of the military who oppose the Clinton-era compromise that allows gays to serve only if they keep their sexuality a secret. Murphy's office also helped set up a Web site called" Elida S. Perez (Scripps Howard News Service) notes several speakers at the event and we'll excerpt this section:

Alex Nicholson, a former U.S. Army human intelligence collector and founder of Servicemembers United was discharged from the military six months after Sept. 11, 2001 when his commanders found out he was gay.
"This is the cost of maintaining Don't Ask, Don't Tell: a multilingual human intelligence collector who speaks Arabic and has an advanced degree," Nicholson said, adding that despite everything, he would go back into the military if the law was repealed.

Josh Drobnyk covers the conference here for The Morning Call.

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