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New campaign for 'don't ask' repeal

By Ed O'Keefe

Tapping into President Obama's interest in reading letters from ordinary Americans, a group opposed to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for at least the next month plans to publish letters sent to the president from people impacted by the gay ban.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will post the letters on its Web site each morning as it works to ensure that the Senate Armed Services Committee includes language repealing the military's ban in the annual Defense Appropriations Bill. The panel is expected to vote on the appropriations measure May 26.

SLDN is targeting six moderate senators -- Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) -- for their support in hopes of securing at least 15 committee votes for repeal.

The group also hopes that President Obama will also lobby lawmakers. He repeated his support for a repeal when confronted by gay rights protesters at a California fundraiser last week, but the White House has signaled he wants the Pentagon's internal review to work its course through early December before action is taken.

Obama receives about 20,000 letters and e-mails daily and senior aides pick 10 to give him a glimpse beyond "the presidential bubble."

SLDN's letters will come from service members, their family and friends impacted by the policy and people with a family legacy of military service concerned the ban might end their family history.

Monday's note is from former Air Force major Mike Almy, who was discharged in 2006 for violating "don't ask" and testified last month at a Senate Armed Services hearing.

"In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work e-mail accounts for 'personal or morale purposes' because private email accounts were blocked for security," Almy wrote in his letter to Obama, which is quite similar to his March Senate testimony.

"Shortly after I left Iraq -- during a routine search of my computer files -- someone found that my 'morale' was supported by the person I loved -- a man. The email -- our modern day letter home -- was forwarded to my commander. I was relieved of my duties, my security clearance was suspended and part of my pay was terminated."

"Despite this treatment, my greatest desire is still to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of a nation that I love; freedoms that I myself was not allowed to enjoy while serving in the military," Almy wrote.

The Pentagon last month scaled back the kind of evidence that can be used against gay service members and said it plans to ignore anonymous complaints. A final report on the potential impact of repealing the policy is due to military leaders by Dec. 1.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 26, 2010; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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