“The key to success is not how many people we put in, but how many we keep from coming back."
This Memorial Day, I salute Army Maj. Alan Rogers.
He died this Jan. 27 in Iraq after encountering an improvised explosive device.
He had a stellar military career. He received the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. He served at the Department of Defense, providing critical assistance to Pentagon brass. At the time of his death, he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, training Iraq soldiers on the ground in Baghdad.
In a letter to his family, Rogers’s commanding officer wrote that, on the day of his death, “As God would have it, he shielded two men who probably would have been killed if Alan had not been there.”
Army Maj. Alan Rogers was gay.
And he was actively involved in the campaign to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
I knew Army Maj. Alan Rogers.
He was brave in every sort of way. He deplored silence and understood all too well its impact. He felt the pain and isolation it could create.
Those who spend so much time and energy propping up the military’s gay ban have tried to cover up the real, and significant, contribution that gay and lesbian Americans make to our armed forces.
In the meantime, gay service members are fighting and — as we now know — dying on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
Their stories are irrefutable proof of the disrespect and dishonor “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” imposes on our men and women in uniform.
Rogers’ story is unique.
It is the story about the first known gay combat fatality, the immense sacrifice he made for our country and the shadows his country forced him into.
It is the story of the Army major who was good enough to fight and die for America but wasn't good enough to be treated as a full, first-class citizen, in the American dream.
As Congress considers legislation, known as the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, to rescind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” legislators should rename the bill in Maj. Alan Rogers’s memory.
There is nothing better, this Memorial Day, that we could do to honor his memory than to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Steve Ralls is director of communications for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and has worked alongside hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members to tell their stories publicly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.