By: STEFEN STYRSKY
Petty Officer Jason Knight came out, was discharged, then brought back for a mission to Kuwait.
A gay sailor in the U.S. Navy has returned to active duty even though he was discharged two years ago for violating Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
As first reported in Stars and Stripes, Petty Officer Jason Knight was reactivated last year and sent to Kuwait even though he had told his commanders in 2004 that he is gay.
Through what now appears to have been a combination of a hasty separation, misfiled paper work, and an increasingly tolerant attitude by military personnel, Knight was able to circumvent the U.S. military's gay ban. Since reactivation he has been promoted and finished a yearlong tour in Kuwait.
In an interview with Gay City News this week, Knight, 24, said the long struggle with his sexuality only worked itself out in 2004 on his wedding night. He annulled his marriage and came out to his commander, not only to explain the altered circumstances, but also because he believed it was the honorable thing to do.
"I wanted to finally be myself," Knight said. "And I wanted to keep with the core Navy values."
Not surprisingly, Knight was discharged. The Navy also made him pay back a $13,000 sign-up bonus for failing to complete his term of service.
"They took my severance pay, emptied my bank account, and left me with nothing," Knight said. "They even garnished my wages this year while I was in Kuwait and I still owe them thousands of dollars."
However, his former commander avoided the usually extensive Don't Ask, Don't Tell discharge process by not citing Knight for violating the policy.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell allows commanders leeway in what they list as the reason for a service member's discharge.
In Knight's case, this left him with a record that never indicated he was thrown out for being gay. Knight also said that when he reviewed his service history file substantial documentation was missing including that he had graduated from the Defense Language Institute as a Hebrew linguist.
So when the Navy came looking for personnel to fill the manpower requirements of the Iraq war, Knight was considered eligible for reactivation.
Knight at first thought it was a joke, but then decided to go.
"I figured what could they do to me that they haven't already?" he said. "But I was also glad to be back in the Navy. I love the Navy and what it stands for."
He was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, for training and then to Kuwait where he worked in the Naval Customs Battalion Bravo, inspecting people and material bound from the Middle East to the United States.
Knight said he never announced his sexuality, nor told his commanding officers he was gay when he was reactivated, but that he never lied when asked, and eventually told co-workers he trusted.
He claimed his commanders in Kuwait also knew about his sexuality but didn't seem to care.
What finally made Knight come out for a second time were the comments made earlier this year by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace.
In response to a question about Don't Ask, Don't Tell from a Chicago Tribune reporter, Pace said he believed the policy was appropriate because the military had an obligation to keep "immoral" individuals out of its ranks.
Knight fired off a letter to Stars and Stripes, telling the newspaper he is gay, that he accepted reactivation because he loved the service, and that all his shipmates supported him.
"I was so mad. I was in the Navy four years, buried fallen service members as part of the Ceremonial Guard, and worked as a Hebrew linguist for Naval Intelligence," he said.
Stars and Stripes also reported that Knight's direct supervisor was happy with his work.
"He [Knight] is better than the average sailor at his job," said Bill Driver, the petty officer in charge of Knight's 15-person team in Kuwait. "It's not at all a strange situation. As open as he is now it was under wraps for quite a while. It wasn't an issue at work."
Knight's situation lends credence to critics of the anti-gay policy who claim that when it comes right down to it the military doesn't care about a person's sexuality as long as they perform their duties well.
"Petty Officer Knight's story shatters the myth that openly gay troops undermine unit cohesion or morale," said Sharra Greer, director of law and policy at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that counsels military personnel affected by the ban.
"The Pentagon knows full well that lesbians and gays are good service members. If military leaders believe otherwise, then they need to explain why gay troops are being called back to active duty and sent to the frontlines," Greer added. "Now the time has come to allow every gay service member to serve openly, and to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell have declined every year since 2001, reaching an all-time low of 612 last year. In 2001, before post-9/11 demands on the military hit full stride, there were 1,273 gay discharges.
The Navy and the Pentagon both refused to comment for this story.
Knight is now back home in San Diego, on leave until his year of service runs out in three weeks. He said he would like to take on another tour, but barring that he is considering going to medical school.
He has heard nothing officially from the Navy about his recent statements.