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Vets Speak Out on 'Don't ask Don't Tell' at Faneuil Hall

May 19, 2010

BOSTON - Faneuil Hall will be bustling with more than tourists and shoppers tonight, as military veterans and advocacy groups gather there to make their case for repealing the controversial 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.

Among them will be Boston resident Travis Hengen, an Army veteran of 12 years who was serving in Kuwait on the Iraq border when he was discharged from the military for disclosing the truth to his commander about his sexuality. In Hengen's opinion, with two wars still in progress and many soldiers on their third and fourth tours, repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' this year is critical.

"It's a huge readiness issue. There's so many people who are willing to join the military but are afraid to because they are afraid of getting discharged under this policy; and a lot of people don't re-enlist because they're afraid of getting discharged under this policy."

According to Hengen, about 14,000 U.S. soldiers have been discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' since its enactment in 1993. He says many, like himself, had received years of special military training.

"They've discharged so many critical people, such as interrogators, human intelligence collectors - and each one of those, I can't imagine the costs that it would take to replace them."

Some opponents of repealing the policy say that it could be disruptive to other soldiers and that changing the policy would be unwise during wartime. Hengen disagrees.

"To think that soldiers are not disciplined enough to deal with that - it's an insult to all of us."

Military leaders, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they support repealing the policy, but the Pentagon has said it needs more time to study the effects of a repeal.

Tonight's panel, made up of local and national veterans, both gay and straight, begins its discussion at 7 p.m. at Faneuil Hall, 1 Faneuil Hall Square, Boston. The event was organized by MassEquality and Human Rights Campaign.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA