Why I Fight
June 17, 2009
Ed. Note: This post is from Jarrod Chlapowski, a U.S. Army veteran who recently joined the Human Rights Campaign to consult on ending the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Having been trained as a Korean linguist and cryptologic voice interceptor, he served in Korea, supporting the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion on more than 300 sensitive reconnaissance operation missions. Chlapowski chose not to re-enlist in the Army because of the excessive burden of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
For the past year I have been touring around the country promoting a documentary called “Ask Not” that features some of the activism with which I’ve been involved. My tour started at the Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in May of 2008 and finished locally here in DC a few weeks ago at Busboys and Poets. It was at this last event that I was finally asked a question I have been anticipating for over three years: If I served openly for five years with no issue from my peers or command, why did I not stay in the Army? This is a legitimate question. Certainly my story is not as dramatic or heart-wrenching as that of my partner Alex Nicholson. Alex was discharged after being outed in a letter written in Portuguese just eight months into his intelligence career. Or that of Fred Fox, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of his experiences participating in the Somalia rescue mission made famous by the movie Black Hawk Down. Fred was denied adequate treatment in the military healthcare system due to the limitations placed on him by DADT. My answer to the question was that the oppressive nature of the policy created a certain paranoia that I could be discharged any day, despite the acceptance of my peers. This situation made a career in the service unbearable and unrealistic. What I didn’t mention were soldiers like Robert Hicks, the first soldier to whom I admitted being gay, and who ironically was discharged a few months later. Or Jeff Paridis and Nate Lambert, who were revealed to be gay, restricted to post for 45 days, then were forced to endure discharge proceedings. Most distressing, however, was the emotional trials I witnessed Rob, Jeff, Nate and Alastair Gamble experience. Expecting to serve for quite a few more years, they simply were not ready for the transition to a civilian life. I, and the rest of the unit, bore witness to the drawn-out discharge proceedings, and I can tell you that the process was much more detrimental to unit morale than their being gay ever was, or could be. I was sure this experience was not unique, and was equally sure that these stories weren’t being told, though they needed to be. I didn’t want anyone to ever have to go through again what my unit had to go through. I became determined not to reenlist and instead become an advocate for repeal of DADT. With two weeks left in my enlistment, I was asked by documentarian Johnny Symons to share my story, and to let him follow me around as I travelled the country fighting for repeal. Three years later – last night – PBS aired the product of Johnny’s efforts. I hope you watch it not for me, but for Rob, Alastair, Jeff, and Nate. They certainly deserve it. Ask Not’ premiered last night on many PBS stations, and airs tonight at 10:30pm on DC's WETA. Check the website for local listings and replay times: www.pbs.org/independentlens/asknot/