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Published: Monday, 4/25/2005

Good soldier lost

SGT. Robert Stout had been a combat engineer for more than a year in Iraq. Last May, while he was operating a machine gun on an armored Humvee, a grenade exploded, sending pieces of shrapnel into his face, arm, and legs.

It was enough to earn the 23-year-old man from Utica, Ohio, a Purple Heart, but not enough to make him want to quit the Army. Sergeant Stout wants nothing more than to complete his hitch in the service, but the Pentagon, despite a need for more recruits, will probably turn out this good soldier.

That's because Sergeant Stout is gay.

If he had been fighting for the army of Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, France, or Israel, he would return to the ranks a hero, having endured combat wounds and expecting to battle the enemy again.

Not in the United States Army.

The U.S. military has spent nearly $200 million between 1994 and 2003, according to a congressional study, to recruit and train replacements for 9,500 gay troops dismissed because of the government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Not only is the practice discriminatory, but it also costs the nation good soldiers like Sergeant Stout and federal dollars that, in a time of soaring deficits, should not be frittered away.

Sergeant Stout is believed to be the first gay soldier wounded in Iraq to publicly discuss his sexuality, a strict prohibition of "don't ask, don't tell." No doubt taking a hit for your country and being recognized with a Purple Heart can be an emboldening experience.

But no American soldier should have to be wounded before speaking openly about who they are.

Despite his loyal service to his country, his country will not be loyal to him. By the end of May, Sergeant Stout is likely to be discharged for no reason other than he acknowledged his sexual orientation.

With that, he will join the growing ranks of dismissed service men and women, brave and true, that even include some high-ranking brass - two Army brigadier generals and a Coast Guard rear admiral in December, 2003.

President Clinton instituted "don't ask, don't tell" in 1993 as a transition to the day when homosexuals could serve in the military like any other citizen. But the government's failure to phase out the policy has made the armed services the last bastion of discrimination in the United States.

Sergeant Stout is the latest victim of an institution that expects the ultimate sacrifice while dishonoring even the best of the order.

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