Conflict & Justice

To ask or tell or not, the troops weigh in

Tuesday’s California federal judge ruling ordering a halt to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military has once again stoked the debate on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Troops opinions are just as varied as those of the U.S. public. Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony Antonich, an infantryman, weighed in on the issue in Marjah over the summer.

“I don’t have a problem with [gays serving openly in the military] as long as they’re professional about it,” he said. “If they try coming onto me I’m not going to be happy about it at all. I have gay friends back home. But if they’re professional they’ll know where to draw the line.”

Another Marine, Cpl. Matthew Scott said he also supported gays serving openly in the military. Scott lived at a tiny combat outpost in Marjah with 20 other Marines and a platoon of Afghan Army soldiers. The base came under attack nearly every day, and there were no showers. The heat forced Marines to wear only their boxer shorts around the camp for much of the scorching summer day. Because Marines have to live in such close quarters, Scott said many of his peers might not be so accepting of gays serving openly.

“If they didn’t know that their best friend, roommate or rack mate was gay they’re going to flip out,” he said. “I can only imagine hundreds of really, really ticked off marines coming over here.”

A colleague of Scott’s in Marjah said he didn’t think gays should serve openly in the military, ever.

“I’m a total homophobe,” he said. “Just imagine having a gay guy on patrol with you and you’re not gay. You’d be worried about, is that guy staring at my ass rather than is that guy gonna shoot me. It’s just too much to think about.”

Today, at a small U.S. military base in Kandahar City, the opinions were just as varied. 1st Lt. Adrienne Lahtela, a military policewoman, said she thought “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional.

“I have a lot of people I know in the military who serve as closeted soldiers, and I as an officer would never want to kick someone out for being gay,” she said.

Lahtela is deployed to a base with Canadian soldiers. She says in Canada, women serve in infantry positions, and gays serve openly in the military.

“I’m around Canadians all the time and I don’t see them having any issues,” she said. “I think they’re more concerned with accomplishing our mission here, and I’m pretty sure that once America jumps on the same bandwagon, they’ll feel the same.”

Another military policeman didn’t agree.

“If you [allow gays to serve openly in the military], it’s going to create a bigger issue and you’re going to be ripping the military apart from the inside out, and I just think we don’t need that right now,” said Sergeant Toby Lee Hicks. “Let’s handle one problem at a time. Once … we’re out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we can bring those kinds of issues up. Right now, it’s the wrong time wrong place for it.”