Northwest soldiers are expressing mixed opinions over the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The U-S Senate voted over the weekend to end the 17-year old policy that allows gays to serve, but not openly. The bill now goes to the President.
At Galloping Gerties diner, the food is hearty and the booths are often filled with soldiers. This is a popular off-base hangout. Private First Class Tommy Mertz is having breakfast with a buddy. The 19-year old got back from Iraq this summer and just got married. He says he’s served with gay soldiers and doesn’t mind.
“Most of the people in the Army that are gay, everybody already knows,” Mertz said. “They don’t have a problem with them. Most of us don’t have issues with those people. I think it’s only awkward if you make it awkward.”
Mertz thinks the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” will take a burden off gay soldiers who’ve had to keep their sexual orientation a secret. At a Starbucks down the road, Private First Class Nicole Whan also supports the repeal. In fact, she’d go further and extend Army benefits to same-sex couples.
“There’s a lot of people that are in the Army that receive benefits that are unhappily married,” Wahn said. “So why not let people that are actually happy to be married have the benefits.”
But not everyone I talked with is comfortable with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Several soldiers didn’t want to speak on tape. But said if you’re in the Army, your private life doesn’t belong at work. Lt. Joshua Smithers is just out of ROTC. He will deploy to Afghanistan this summer. He worries openly gay soldiers could create tensions.
“I mean there are a lot of cultural differences that have to washed-out when you come in the Army,” Smithers said. "That’s the whole point of the soldierization and so bringing in a different orientation is another whole different challenge that the Army is not used to dealing with.”
Smithers added he wouldn’t want to be gay in the Army. He thinks it would be tough. Smithers is young, just 22 years old, but talking with Lewis-McChord soldiers you get the sense there’s a bit of a generation gap.
Just like in the general public, younger soldiers appear more comfortable with gays and lesbians than older soldiers, in some cases.
Washington-Based 2nd Lt. Joshua Smithers is uncomfortable with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”