Difficult Decision for Gay Soldier:
Atlantan among 770 Discharged Last Year

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 23, 2004, Page A3

By Ron Martz

Brian Muller of Atlanta did not have to tell anyone in the Army he is gay.

Under the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy he could have continued to serve his country as a bomb technician dismantling explosive devices as long as he kept his homosexuality to himself.

"I knew the lines not to cross and I didn't, even though I pushed them to the limit," Muller, 25, said Tuesday as he recounted his eight-year Army career.

But after more than nine months in Afghanistan, the former staff sergeant who also served three tours in Bosnia decided to admit his sexual orientation to his commander. He had had enough of "don't ask, don't tell," he said.

The result was a quick, but honorable, discharge from the Army in which he once planned to make a career.

"It hurts to come back [from Afghanistan] and be told it doesn't matter what I did in the military. It doesn't count, because I'm gay," said Muller, who was discharged last November.

Muller is one of 770 service members discharged in 2003 for homosexuality, according to a study released this week.

That number is down significantly from the record 1,227 discharged in 2001 before the start of the war on terrorism. Since the policy was implemented in late 1993, more than 9,500 service members have been discharged.

Loss of specialists

What is troubling about Muller's discharge, say gay rights advocates, is that his expertise and that of many other service members discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" cannot easily be replaced.

That is especially true, they say, at a time when the military is extending the enlistments of many active, reserve and National Guard personnel because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Between 1998 and 2003, many of those discharged were in highly technical or specialized fields that require years of training, according to the study by the University of California at Santa Barbara's Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

Among those discharged were 88 linguists, seven of them Arab language specialists, 49 nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialists, 90 nuclear power engineers and 150 rocket and missile specialists.

The results of the study "should be an outrage to most Americans who value national security and military readiness above simple discrimination," said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which assists gay and lesbian military personnel.

The Pentagon maintains that allowing those who are openly gay and lesbian in the military would disrupt unit cohesion.

Under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, gays are allowed to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret and don't engage in homosexual acts.

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes gays in the military, said those discharged should not have been in those sensitive jobs.

"There is no shortage of people in the military, and we do not need people who identify themselves as homosexual," she said.

'At peace' with choice

Muller, who was born in Albuquerque, N.M., but whose family now lives in Ozark, Ark., said he knew for some time he was gay but did not admit it to himself until he had been in the Army about 4 1/2 years.

He initially enlisted as a cavalry scout and served in Bosnia with the 1st Armored Division. He later switched to explosives ordnance disposal, or bomb technician.

Before deploying to Afghanistan in October 2002 Muller spent time at President Bush's Texas ranch as part of a security detail. He had top-secret clearance and worked with the Secret Service to sweep areas for explosive devices prior to the arrival of the president.

"A lot of careers in the military, you're out there to take lives. Our job was to save lives," Muller said.

After his discharge from the military, Muller came to Atlanta for vacation, liked what he saw and decided to stay. He has dabbled in local politics and now works as a salesman for an auto dealership.

He has also become vice president of the fledgling Georgia chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights and on Sunday will be a member of the color guard in the Pride Parade that is part of the four-day celebration of gay pride in Atlanta.

Muller said he is at peace with himself and his decision to leave the military and the job he loved. But he said there are many others like him in the military who are still struggling with the policy.

The fact that they are homosexual should not make a difference in how the military views them, he said. "All we want is to serve our country and do our jobs."