Soldiers trained on policy change

'Don't ask, don't tell' policy will go away Sept. 20

COLUMBIA — Later this month, openly gay men and women will be able to serve in the U.S. military.

At Fort Jackson, it’s Capt. Guy Allsup’s job to ensure recruits in Charlie Company realize a soldier is a soldier: gay or straight.

Last week, he walked 231 nervous basic training recruits through scenarios.

Soldiers won’t be asked their sexual orientation. After Sept. 20, they won’t be kicked out of the armed services simply for acknowledging they are gay.

“Does anybody think that this is going to be a drastic change for deployed soldiers?” Allsup called out to the group.

“No, sir,” they yelled.

“Someone give me a reason why not,” Allsup said.

Pvt. Umberto Werner, 18, of Fayetteville, Ga., looked straight ahead, clutching his M-16.

“Sexual orientation has nothing to do with our mission, sir,” he said.

“I’ll buy that,” replied Allsup.

Similar sessions are happening at military bases across the Carolinas, the U.S., and in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon says it has already trained more than 2 million men and women in uniform.

Pvt. Brandon Eleby, 19, of Durham, N.C., was raised by his godmother, who is gay. He echoed other recruits, who said the change is less dramatic for their generation, which has grown
up with a more high-profile gay community.

“I never saw it as a big deal,” said Eleby.

Allsup and 1st Sgt. Joseph Mulready, who helped conduct the training session, acknowledged some of their recruits might be uncomfortable around gay soldiers. Recruits were told they are free to believe what they want, but they cannot let their beliefs infringe on their duties.

There were a few chuckles during the nearly two-hour class. A couple of recruits were ordered to the back of the room for calisthenics after falling asleep. But most listened attentively and stood at attention when answering Allsup’s questions about religious differences, discrimination and sexual harassment.

Pfc. Jessica Reyes, 22, asked whether the change in policy would be grounds to be released after Sept. 20, because she and others signed their Army contracts when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was in effect. After the session, she said some recruits discussed whether they could leave the Army because the repeal violated their religious beliefs.

Allsup told the recruits that when they joined the Army they “gave up the ability to be different from the crowd” – a civilian. They signed up to be soldiers, he said. They signed up to accept the ethical and moral foundation that governs the Army.

“Did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘I swear I will only serve under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell?’ ”

“No, sir,” they yelled.

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