Some Flowers Only Bloom in the Imagination

Hats off to Sgt Manzella

Posted By on June 27, 2008

In December, “60 Minutes” ran one of my favorite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stories, featuring Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, who’d been deployed twice during the war in Iraq. During his first deployment, Manzella, a medic with a field artillery unit in Baghdad, earned a combat medal for rendering treatment under fire. “I’ve treated everything from blast injuries to gunshot wounds,” he told Leslie Stahl.

Manzella is gay, a fact that he hid from no one, even introducing his Army buddies to his boyfriend. When he received emails suggesting his personal life might soon be investigated, Manzella told his battalion commander the truth, which in turn prompted an investigation.

Manzella didn’t hold anything back in the investigation, submitting photos of himself and A.J., and a video of a road trip, including passionate kissing. But when the investigation ended, Manzella says he was told to go back to work. “There was no evidence of homosexuality and go back to work,” he says.

“Wait a minute. You’ve given them photographs of you and A.J.,” Stahl remarks.

“Yes, and then they’re like, ‘Go back to work. You’re not gay,” Manzella says.

“So, no one ever said anything to you about the — I don’t even know what word to use, absurdity, confusing response?” Stahl asks.

“The closest thing that I was given by my superiors was, “I don’t care if you’re gay or not.”

Well, no, of course not. As Cholene Espinoza, an Air Force Captain who flew combat missions, explained, “Darren is in a critical field. He’s a medic. His commander needs him. He’s a known quantity. He gets along with others. He does what he’s supposed to. He goes above and beyond. Why do I want to lose Darren?”

The Army didn’t want to lose Darren, which is precisely why he was told to go back to work.

At least that was what he was told initially. The “60 Minutes” report raised a few eyebrows, and now that Manzella’s revelations have become embarrassing to the Army, he’s been discharged.

Here’s the item from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, by way of Pam Spaulding.

Decorated Army Sergeant Darren Manzella has been discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service, effective June 10. The Iraq war veteran was the first openly gay active duty service member to speak with the media while serving inside a war zone. […]

“The discharge of battle-tested, talented service members like Sergeant Manzella weakens our military in a time of war. National security requires that Congress lift the ban on gays in the military and allow commanders to judge troops on their qualifications, not their sexuality,” said Adam Ebbin, Communications Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). […]

Sergeant Manzella said, “My sexual orientation certainly didn’t make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad. It shouldn’t be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve.”

John McCain recently said gay people in the military represent an “intolerable risk” to unit morale, cohesion, and discipline.

I’m curious. Which poses the great risk, Manzella being deployed and serving honorably, or Manzella not being deployed? Which is better for the troops? Which does more to help those in uniform? Which leaves the military stronger, and which leaves it weaker?



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