Gay Guardsman Has Returned to Drills With His Unit
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Lt. Dan Choi
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: February 11, 2010
WASHINGTON — In a sign that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy may be weakening under
pressure from the White House and the Pentagon’s top leadership, Lt. Dan Choi, who is facing
discharge from the New York Army National Guard because he publicly announced that he was
gay, took part in a drill last weekend with his Guard unit at what he said was the encouragement
of his commander.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Lieutenant Choi said that his commander was “totally
supportive” and had asked him to participate in a weekend drill with his unit, the First Battalion,
69th Infantry Regiment, in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., near Harrisburg. The unit is facing possible
deployment to Afghanistan in 2012.
Lieutenant Choi was never discharged from the New York Guard, but since April had not been in
drills with his unit as he grew increasingly busy lobbying for an end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell”
law. He instead went to substitute drills, as the Guard allows. In many cases, he said, a substitute
drill consisted of administrative work at the 69th Regiment’s armory at Lexington Avenue and
26th Street in Manhattan.
He said Thursday that he was nervous about returning to drills with the unit because his case had
become so public. “I’m more out, I think, than anybody,” he said.
Lieutenant Choi’s commander, identified by the New York Guard as Lt. Col. John Andonie,
declined to be interviewed. But a spokesman for the New York Guard confirmed that Lieutenant
Choi had participated in the drill and would remain with the unit until he was formally
discharged — when, and if, that happens.
“We do not have an issue with it,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, speaking of
Lieutenant Choi’s announcement that he was gay. “It’s a deeply personal thing. To us a soldier is
a soldier is a soldier.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, echoing a 2008 campaign pledge by President Obama, called this month for an end to the
16-year-old law, which forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.
Repeal of the law requires an act of Congress, but both Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen have said
they do not expect legislation any time soon. In the interim, Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan
Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has said he might introduce an
amendment to this year’s defense authorization bill that would call for a moratorium on
discharges under the existing law.
Lieutenant Choi, 28, a West Point graduate and Arabic linguist, served with the 10th Mountain
Division as an Army infantry officer in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. He was a member of the New
York Guard when he announced last March to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC that he was gay.
Because of his public declaration, Lieutenant Choi was recommended for discharge at a hearing
in June. That decision is now pending final approval by the Pentagon.
Last month, Lieutenant Choi said, he received an e-mail message from his commander, Colonel
Andonie, saying that the unit was preparing for a possible deployment and that it would be
helpful if he trained with the unit. Lieutenant Choi said he met in late January with Colonel
Andonie, who “just wanted to remind me that there were people in the unit waiting for me to
Lieutenant Choi said he enjoyed last weekend’s drill — “shooting my rifle for the first time in a
long while was good” — and that he expected to march next month with his unit along Fifth
Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which for years barred gay men and lesbians.