WASHINGTON – An Army base in Missouri used the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to kick out more soldiers than any other military installation last year, followed by an Army base on the Kentucky-Tennessee border and a naval base in Virginia.
Sixty people were dismissed last year from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., according to Defense Department documents shared with The Associated Press by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. That was up from 40 discharges under the policy from the training facility in 2004.
The advocacy group, which advises military personnel on the gay policy, obtained the information through a Freedom of Information Act request. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke confirmed that the Defense Department provided the information to the advocacy group.
The second-highest number of discharges were at Fort Campbell, a sprawling Army base on the Kentucky-Tennessee line. But the 49 people dismissed there, up from 19 in 2004, also represented the single-biggest increase in discharges anywhere.
It was at Fort Campbell where a soldier, Pfc. Barry Winchell, was bludgeoned to death in 1999 by a fellow soldier who believed Winchell was gay. Gay discharges from the base went up sharply on the heels of that murder but later subsided.
"The numbers at Fort Campbell remain disturbing because of the history there," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "The discharge numbers had gone significantly down. This seems to be a rebound. It's not clear why."
A spokeswoman for the base declined to comment on the statistics.
The Pentagon has said there were 726 military members discharged under the policy last year — up 11 percent from the year before — but did not publicly release base-specific information.
The data provided to the legal advocacy group showed the Norfolk, Va., naval base had the third highest number of gay dismissals in 2005, with 35 people leaving under the policy. The Fort Benning Army base in Georgia was next with 31 discharges.
The Pentagon policy, which went into effect in 1994 following passage of congressional legislation, prohibits the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members but requires those who openly acknowledge being gay to be discharged.
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has given any indication of dropping their long-standing support for the policy.
Krenke, the Pentagon spokeswoman, said it is the Defense Department's view that congressional action would be needed to change the policy.
A bill to repeal the policy and allow gays to serve openly has been introduced in the House, but no such measure has been introduced in the Senate.
Dr. Elizabeth Recupero, an internist and pediatrician discharged under the policy last year, said she is confident it will eventually be repealed.
"It's going to be overturned because people are needed, and it's not going to matter who they're sleeping with," she said. "We're in a situation of high alert and war."
Recupero was discharged last year after an investigation that lasted about five years. She was to be stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., after doing her medical training but never served there, having been put on leave during the inquiry.
Recupero says she regrets the way things turned out. "I'm an honorable person," she said. "I made a commitment to fulfill my duty, and I never got to do that, and I kind of feel lousy about this."