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thedrifter
08-07-09, 09:30 AM
Group calls for repeal of military policy at Norfolk town hall
NORFOLK

Megan Scanlon felt as if her soul was leaking out of her, a little bit every day.

Julianne Sohn described a subtle code her fellow officers used to let her know they knew - and it was OK with them.

Four former military members shared their stories at a forum Thursday on the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that governs gays' military service.

Jarrod Chlaplowski, a public policy advocate with Human Rights Campaign, told of watching helplessly as seven of his eight Army buddies were investigated on suspicion of being gay. Six were forced out.

The final speaker at Nauticus was Steve Vossler, trained as a military intelligence specialist, who described himself as a religious kid from a tiny Nebraska town. He told the audience of about 20 that he didn't expect to end up rooming with a gay soldier at the Defense Language Institute.

Vossler, who is straight, certainly didn't expect to end up being friends with the guy. But he did. Slowly, Vossler said, he came to see that sexual orientation had nothing to do with being a good soldier.

Sohn, now a Los Angeles police officer, said some of her fellow Marines figured out the truth and weren't bothered by it. "They didn't care who I was dating, just that I was doing a good job," she said. "They know the policy is unjust, and they're good Marines."

After a stint in Iraq, Sohn left active duty and told her story as part of the "Call to Duty" tour, where others also told of the difficulty of concealing their identities.

Though she was part of the inactive ready reserve, the publicity caught up with her.

A Marine Reserve colonel phoned her from Atlanta. "He started to read me my rights," Sohn said. "That made me really angry. My only crime was telling the truth, and wanting to serve my country."

After 16 years, and the dismissal of 13,000 military members, opponents of the policy were heartened to see Barack Obama elected president. He said in his campaign he would sign a bill overturning the policy if Congress sends him one.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he's looking for a way to use the policy "more humanely" and less rigidly. Of special concern, he has said, are third-party cases, in which a military member reports a colleague, sometimes as retribution.

Other former top officers support repeal, including two former chairmen of the joint chiefs, Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. John Shalikashvili.

But a group of 1,000 former military officers have written in support of "Don't ask, don't tell." They insist morale would suffer if gays served openly.

Scanlon, a former Army transportation corps officer, thought when she was at West Point she'd make the army a career. She loved her job, and was good at it, she said. But she woke up every morning and felt she was breaking a rule - an unjust rule, but a rule nonetheless.

"I felt like by serving in silence, I was slowly dying on the inside. That's not a place I wanted to be much longer." Scanlon, who lives in Williamsburg, is now a lawyer and mother of two.

Chlaplowski was never outed, but the fear drove him back to civilian life, where he could openly fight for repeal.

Many in the audience shared the sentiment. A retired master chief acknowledged the price of hiding his true identity for 20 years.

"It's a tough choice to make," he said.

Norfolk is the fifth stop in the tour. The speakers said few supporters of the law have come out to oppose them. They aren't complaining.

"It's very hard to get the opposition out," Chlaplowski said. "Not many people are willing to support this policy, at least publicly."

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, kate.wiltrout@pilot online.com.

Ellie