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Steve McWilliams, Published July 25 2010

It’s time to end injustice in military

After 16 years of this failed law, “don’t ask, don’t tell” may be in its final hours.

A few short years after the first Gulf War came to a close, our nation’s leaders reached what they said was a compromise between allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans to serve openly, and an opposition that wanted to deny these individuals the honor of serving at all. The result was “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a failed law that has discharged more than 14,000 able-bodied service members and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Our nation is waking up to the fact that we cannot continue to pick apart our military’s ranks for the sake of outdated prejudices and obsolete myths about damaged cohesion or esprit de corps.

The truth is that gay, lesbian and bisexual service members have been serving beside their heterosexual brothers - and sisters-in-arms for a long time. Asking them to continue to serve in silence is an insult to the sacrifices that these Americans have made on and off the battlefield.

When this law is repealed, our military’s leaders will no longer be forced to remove able-bodied and highly trained young Americans from the ranks of their teams in a time when they are needed the most. They will no longer be forced to weaken the strength of their units for no other reason than an outdated, discriminatory law demands it. By repealing this law, our government will tell many service members they are important to our nation, and that they will no longer be forced to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.

Here in Minot, N.D., we host the brave men and women of Minot Air Force Base. Many of the base’s 7,500 service members and their families call our town home. They live and relax here. By repealing this law, our government will be able to do what many of us here in our city have done for years: Honor the service of all of our nation’s service members, regardless of their background.

During my 11 years, I served beside people from all walks of life. As you can see in any military town, the armed forces bring together folks from around the country – young men and women of different races, religions and upbringings. From the moment service members enter the military, they are told to set aside their differences and focus on the mission at hand. At last, our laws will truly be in keeping with this tradition.

In the coming weeks, as the U.S. Senate votes on the bill that will repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and as the military’s leaders begin to take apart this discriminatory practice, let’s take a moment to pause. Let’s pause to remember that gay, lesbian and bisexual service members have a long history of military service. These brave warriors have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Korea and Vietnam, in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Open service honors the sacrifice of all of the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to service of their country.

McWilliams is a former technical sergeant with the U.S. Air Force.