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Joseph Rocha had always wanted to be in the military. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, trained to become a handler working with explosive-sniffing dogs, and found himself part of a small, specialized unit in Bahrain. Banned by law from discussing his sexual orientation, he had a hard time explaining to his peers why he didn’t party with them, or even join their bawdy conversations. He became an outcast. Fellow sailors ridiculed him for being gay. At one point they locked him in a dog kennel. Another time they forced him to eat dog food. In 2007 he was discharged after signing a document admitting his homosexuality. But if “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed—as many expect will happen in the coming year—Rocha says he wants to serve again. “You never lose that sense of duty and service and love for country,” says the second-generation Mexican-American from Sacramento, Calif., who will graduate from the University of San Diego this spring. “It’s a unique and beautiful thing most of us feel we were robbed of and would take the first chance to have it back.”
At least 11,000 service members have been discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 1993 policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly. (The Pentagon has collected data only since 1997, so the number is likely higher, with gay-rights groups estimating the figure closer to 14,000.) Nearly 1,000 specialists with vital skills —Arabic linguists, for example—have been forced out, meaning millions of taxpayer dollars spent on military training have gone to waste. According to a 2010 report by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA that focuses on gay legal and policy issues, the U.S. Armed Forces spend about $22,000 to $43,000 to replace each individual discharged under DADT, and the discharges continue today.
The cost to the individuals kicked out is impossible to measure. Many speak of shattered lives and reputations, skills lost, and of desperate years trying to regain financial and emotional security. Rocha worked for a time as a graveyard-shift security guard at a hotel in Los Angeles before saving enough money to enroll in college. None of that is very surprising. But like Rocha, many other former service members insist that if and when the law is repealed, they will quickly reenlist—if they are allowed to.
Read the full Newsweek story HERE.