KWAME HOLMAN: Army Sergeant Robert Stout has nearly recovered from wounds he received last May when his convoy was attacked outside Samara, Iraq.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: We were driving down a road, and a man popped out behind the building. We were the rear vehicle. He popped out behind a building with a rocket-propelled grenade and shot my vehicle. I was currently up in the gun hatch manning a 50-caliber machine gun. Other members of my squad were inside the vehicle. All five of us were injured in one way or another.
KWAME HOLMAN: But unlike some wounded soldiers, sergeant stout is not spending his rest-and-recuperation period being congratulated.
GROUP: Left, right, left, hey!
KWAME HOLMAN: He faces the possibility of being forced out of the army for violating the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which requires soldiers to remain silent about their homosexuality. Sergeant Stout spoke to this program and the Associated Press last week.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: Certain members in my platoon know I'm gay, but as of yet, my chain of command does not know.
KWAME HOLMAN: Why are you letting it be known publicly at this point?
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: I feel it's time we need to start changing the policies. The "don't ask, don't tell" was a good stepping stone, but it's outlived its usefulness. We need to move on to the next level.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sergeant stout's original tour of duty was to end last year, but like thousands of soldiers, he was required to stay because of troop needs related to the Iraq war. Sgt. Stout now is scheduled to get his discharge next month.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: I'd be more than willing to re-enlist in the army if "don't ask, don't tell" was revoked and homosexuals were allowed to openly serve. But with the current political situation and all the controversy surrounding it, it's time for me to leave. The policies are wrong. I'd be more than happy to serve my country continuously.
KWAME HOLMAN: Since the "don't ask, don't tell policy" was instituted 12 years ago, the military has discharged nearly 10,000 soldiers believed to have violated the requirement they keep silent about being gay. But the rate of such discharges has slowed since the Iraq War began.
At the same time, the armed services are facing difficulty bringing in new soldiers. In January, the Marine Corps missed a recruitment goal for the first time in a decade, and the Army recently announced its February recruitment goal was short by nearly one-third.
Some members of Congress say the personnel shortages are one reason to reexamine the policy of banning gays from serving openly. Democrat Martin Meehan of Massachusetts, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently invited four former Army generals and a retired Coast Guard admiral to Capitol Hill to help him make the case that the ban should end. Former Coast Guard Rear Adm. Alan Steinman:
REAR ADM. ALAN STEINMAN (Ret.): In my travels as an admiral, I've talked to a lot of young people in this country, and particularly young Americans who are in the military. And there are many examples of people I discussed with who say they know of gay people serving and, you know, it's just very quiet. They don't care. The attitude is, as long as they do their job and leave me alone, I'm happy with that. It's not a problem.
KWAME HOLMAN: Retired Army Gen. Keith Kerr served 43 years in the Army and Reserve. Like Adm. Steinman and retired Brig. Gen. Virgil Richard, he did so in silence about his homosexuality.
BRIG. GEN. KEITH KERR (Ret.): In addition to asking these soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guard personnel to be in harm's way, we're asking them also to give up an important personal liberty that they have by keeping absolutely silent.
REP. MARTIN MEEHAN: Fifty percent of all junior enlisted troops support lifting the ban; 63 percent of the American public support lifting the ban. Gay soldiers have proudly served in every American war, including Iraq and Afghanistan. There is estimated today to be 65,000 gay service members in the military. They're serving honorably. They're risking their lives. They are courageous.
SPOKESPERSON: The House will be in order.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some 70 House Democrats, but only a handful of Republicans, have joined Meehan's call to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Recently, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a prominent conservative, joined the effort.
Supporters say she could help sway Republican moderates, so could a February report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm. According to the GAO, the military has spent more than $200 million since 1993 to recruit and train replacements for the 10,000 soldiers discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." Among them were hundreds who had language expertise, including Arabic, critical to the fight against terrorism.
We contacted six of the highest ranking Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee to talk about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. All declined interviews. The Pentagon also declined. When we asked for a spokesperson on gays in the military, Pentagon officials pointed us to retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis. As an Army inspector general, Col. Maginnis analyzed the issues that would result in the 1993 policy called "don't ask, don't tell."
LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (Ret.): If someone came up through the ranks and I have known some, you now, that came up through the ranks-- and later identifying themselves as homosexual, you can say, "Well, I suspected, but I wasn't sure." But, you know, you're crossing a red line once you identify yourself as homosexual because, you know, of the privacy issues, because certainly the whole issue of unit cohesion and the readiness of the force; it begins to tear it apart.
KWAME HOLMAN: Maginnis says most active senior military officials agree with him that openly gay soldiers are a detriment to the effective functioning of the armed forces.
LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (Ret): The commanders have enough to do out there without trying to keep, you know, Dick and Sally apart, much less Fred and Dick, you know, apart. These are problems that we need to focus on what's important for the United States Military. They exist to defend our country. They exist so that we want to eliminate as many of these behavior issues that are really going to corrode the trust and confidence and the readiness of the force.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: It's sad that somebody would actually think that. It really is, because homosexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to be a soldier. I mean, homosexuals are completely capable of performing every military duty. We're out there; we're fighting right alongside heterosexual soldiers. We're being wounded right alongside heterosexual soldiers. We're probably even being killed, and we're all there together. They need to come down and they need to see that. They need to stop thinking of us as such a menace.
SPOKESPERSON: The President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: The issue of gays in the military has been fraught with political peril since 1993, when the brand-new Clinton administration proposed allowing gays to serve openly. The ensuing explosion of controversy nearly crippled the administration just as it got under way. Col. Maginnis says it was a bad compromise, and gays should be banned outright.
LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (Ret): Essentially, it's a double you know, they force, under this regulation, under this "don't ask, don't tell" that I didn't favor. Basically, you tell the homosexual that they have to stay in the closet, and you tell the military that they have to pretend that they don't care that homosexuals serve.
KWAME HOLMAN: When we spoke to the retired flag officers last month, Brig. Gen. Evelyn Foote said progress toward a better military would be further along had President Clinton insisted on allowing gays to serve openly in 1993.
BRIG. GEN. EVELYN FOOTE: I believe, had he executed that executive order in 1993, the military leadership would probably have screamed loudly and long. But we in the military salute when the order is issued and we go out and execute the order. And we'd be ten years down the road in bringing together all of the diverse elements in the military right now had he signed that order then.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, 24 nations, including Britain, Canada and Israel, allow gays to serve openly, according to the center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: It's outstanding to see that they're actually evolving past the archaic walls. They're actually becoming open to see that we're not a hazard. If anything else, we can definitely be a help just with the manpower issues alone.
KWAME HOLMAN: Maginnis disagrees.
LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (Ret): We have to somehow through our policies thread the groups that are going to promote combat effectiveness, segregate out the groups that have demonstrated to be a problem. And if we reach the point where we have to have everyone, no matter what their background, then our professional military will not have the robustness and the effectiveness that it's had in the past.
KWAME HOLMAN: By telephone from has Army base in Schwenfurt, Germany, Sgt. Stout said he's gotten almost universally positive response to his decision to acknowledge publicly his homosexuality. When we spoke with him last week, he said he has no regrets.
SGT. ROBERT STOUT: Somebody needs to come out and put a face on it so that way people realize that there are those that actually do want to serve in the military. There are homosexuals that do want to serve their country. And there are homosexuals now, many of them serving their nation right now, many of them still in Iraq. And we need to actually extend to them the same rights, the same privileges, I mean, of every human being.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Congressman Meehan has asked the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee to hold hearings on "don't ask, don't tell," but hasn't received a response yet.