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In Other Words: Stand up, let all military members serve openly

Many of us have read the Barry Goldwater quote: "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight," but I can vouch for the reality of this statement.

Prior to March of this year, I served for nine years in the South Dakota Army National Guard, deployed in 2003 and 2004 to Iraq as an E-4 Bridge Engineer, and served with people I knew who were openly gay and lesbian. Their sexual orientation had no impact on their ability to defend their country -- or to watch my back. I wasn't sitting on guard duty thinking about who they love; I sat on duty thinking about protecting the lives I was entrusted to guard.

But under the government's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, the service members I served with are devalued and their sacrifice disrespected. As long as service members are discharged from the military just for being honest about who they are, we will not have a fighting force that fairly reflects the very population it protects.

I support repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" because this law makes it impossible for gay and lesbian patriots to serve honestly. The psychological effects of living in the closet are staggering. These individuals live in fear of discharge and loss of benefits every day they serve.

This should be a non-issue considering other pressing issues this country is facing. As a nation at war, we need all able and willing volunteers to stand up and defend our country. Sexual orientation does not determine the fate of the mission. Asking service members to hide their sexuality degrades the integrity of the military. These patriots have stepped up to defend the rights and freedoms most Americans choose not to defend. Only 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in our military. With numerous deployments, growing rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and suicides, our military needs gay service members to help complete the missions in the Middle East.

As a country we asked for support from Great Britain's and Australia's militaries. Both of these countries allow lesbians and gays to serve in their armed forces. We work side-by-side with these service members in the Middle East and it has not hindered the mission in the last 10 years.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen agree with the repeal of DADT. Because top military leaders are on board with overturning this bad law I trust that the Senate will put our national security above all else. As a resident of South Dakota and a veteran, I call on our senators to support repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

As Admiral Mullen testified in the Senate, service members should not have to lie about who they are. As South Dakotans, we can ensure that they have this opportunity by urging our two senators to vote for repeal of this law when the bill comes to the Senate floor this summer. The Senate Armed Services Committee and the House already passed the Defense Authorization Act on May 27, with a repeal provision included. Now, it is up to the full Senate to pass this bill.

Senators Thune and Johnson have not yet pledged their support for repeal, and we must encourage them to do so.

I am telling my story here, but you can make your voice heard by calling the senators' offices, writing them letters, submitting letters to the editor, or scheduling an office visit. Don't let opposing voices be louder than those for equality.

Stand up for the American values of integrity and honesty, and help all service members live openly.

Leighann Dunn, of Vermillion, served nine years in the National Guard.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to: Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.