WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This Sunday's edition of
the award-winning CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes will include a story by
correspondent Lesley Stahl about reports from Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network (SLDN) of a growing number of openly lesbian and gay troops in the
United States armed forces. The segment will also feature an exclusive
interview with SLDN client and openly gay Army Sergeant Darren Manzella,
who has served a tour of duty in Iraq, and is now serving inside Kuwait.
Manzella tells Stahl that he has received overwhelming support from both
his fellow soldiers and superiors since coming out last year. Stahl's
report also looks at SLDN's work in assisting service personnel such as
Manzella, and the organization's campaign to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't
Tell." In addition to Manzella, Sunday's segment also features SLDN board
member Cholene Espinoza, an Air Force Academy graduate and the second woman
to fly the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.
(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071213/DC09872 )
"Sergeant Manzella's story illustrates the arbitrary and uneven
enforcement of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said SLDN executive director
Aubrey Sarvis. "Many commands, like Manzella's, recognize that their
lesbian and gay troops are instrumental in the work of defending our
country. Those commanders, who want to do the right thing and retain good
troops, should not have their hands tied by this unfair law. Our nation's
commitment to fairness and civil liberties demands an end to this law, and
our national security interests are best served by repealing it."
Since 1993, more than 12,000 men and women have been dismissed under
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell." According to the Government Accountability Office
(GAO), nearly 800 of those dismissed had skills deemed 'mission-critical'
by the Pentagon, including 322 language experts, 58 of whom were proficient
in Arabic. In FY2005 alone, the armed forces dismissed at least 49 medical
professionals, like Manzella, under the law.
While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" dismissals have declined by 50% since the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an average of two service members
are dismissed under the law every day. Enforcement, SLDN reports, is
largely arbitrary and varies from command to command. A recent SLDN survey
found that troops in deployable units were far less likely to be dismissed
under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" than those stationed stateside. Less than 25%
of discharges in 2005, the SLDN analysis revealed, were from units deployed
to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Sergeant Manzella joined the Army in April 2002 and deployed to Iraq,
in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, in March of 2004. He provided
medical coverage during more than one hundred 12-hour patrols on the
streets of Baghdad. While under fire, Manzella cared for Iraqi National
Guardsmen, Iraqi civilians and his fellow service members, earning him the
Combat Medical Badge, a swift promotion and several other awards honoring
his courage and duty to service. He returned for a second tour of duty in
the Middle East in 2006 and is currently stationed in Kuwait.
"It is perhaps only once in a lifetime that we are given the
opportunity to do something of paramount importance, and I am honored to be
able to use my voice to speak out on behalf of the countless lesbian and
gay Americans currently serving in our armed forces," said Manzella. "More
and more of us are serving openly -- and proudly -- in our nation's
military. It is important that Americans hear our stories, see our
commitment to our nation and understand the harm 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
unnecessarily inflicts on our military and our troops. I am grateful to
Lesley Stahl and 60 Minutes for the opportunity to share my story, and
grateful to SLDN for their fight on my behalf during my time in the Army."
SLDN also announced today that Manzella will join its national
speakers' bureau and join other veterans who are helping to build public
support for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"All of us at SLDN are enormously proud of Sergeant Manzella for
risking so much in telling his story," said Sarvis. "We are honored to
stand up, every day, for patriotic troops like him; and we are more
dedicated than ever to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' once and for all."
60 Minutes airs this Sunday at 7/6c on CBS. For more information on the
program, visit http://www.cbsnews.com. For more information on Sergeant
Manzella, Sunday's story and SLDN's campaign to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't
Tell," visit www.sldn.org.
Editors note: Sergeant Manzella's media and public appearances are
handled exclusively by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. For photos,
biographical information, interviews, public appearance information and
updates on Manzella's case, please contact Steve Ralls at (202) 328-3244,
ext. 116, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a national, non-profit legal
services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending
discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and related forms of intolerance. For more
information, visit www.sldn.org.
SOURCE Servicemembers Legal Defense Network