WASHINGTON – Even if no one is asking, Army Sgt. Darren Manzella has been telling anyone who'll listen that he's gay — without serious retribution so far from the military.
Manzella, a medic who served in Iraq and Kuwait, has acknowledged his sexual orientation in national media interviews and again on Tuesday in a Washington news conference.
"This is who I am. This is my life," said Manzella, who received a combat medical badge for his service in Iraq. "It has never affected my job performance before. I don't think it will make a difference now. And to be honest since then, I don't see a difference because of my homosexuality."
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Manzella's case demonstrates the military is arbitrarily enforcing its "don't ask, don't tell" policy now that the country is at war.
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibits active-duty service members from openly acknowledging whether they are gay or lesbian.
Manzella still could be investigated now that he has left the battlefield. Every time he has said he is gay publicly can be counted as a violation of the policy, one of his attorneys said.
Manzella first told a military supervisor about his sexual orientation in August 2006 while he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and working in division headquarters. Three weeks after Manzella made the revelation, his battalion commander told him an investigation had been closed without finding "proof of homosexuality."
A month later, Manzella was redeployed for the war in Iraq.
Paul Boyce Jr., an Army spokesman, said he was unaware of an investigation of Manzella being opened or closed. He said the investigation would have been done by Manzella's Fort Hood unit, and officials there are on leave and unavailable to discuss the case.
"This particular soldier's unit only recently returned from the war to Fort Hood, Texas, so it's premature to speculate on any future actions until the young man's situation can be considered by his chain of command," Boyce said in a statement.
Manzella, originally from Portland, N.Y., returned from the Middle East last month and went on leave shortly before Christmas. He will return to the 1st Cavalry Division at Ford Hood at the end of the month.
A bill to eliminate the military's sexual orientation policy, filed by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., is pending in Congress. Sarvis said the bill is unlikely to get out of committee during this election year, but hearings could be held.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said Manzella's commanders should have discharged him when they learned he was gay. Her group opposes allowing gays to join the military.