“DON’T ASK. DON’T TELL”
by Michael Duncan
Twenty years is a long time to wait for justice. It is an even longer time to wait for the mere permission to openly discuss a violation one has suffered.
Discrimination comes from many sources and in many different ways. Our nation’s military serve every day to allow Americans the freedom to become anything they want to be, yet until recently, our soldiers were faced with policies that took away not only their freedom to love those they choose but also their ability to address heinous wrongs committed against them. I was personally affected by that policy, and it would result in a struggle for justice over a period of years, and ultimately shape me into the man I am today.
Joining the Navy was something I had dreamed about all my life. Traveling the world, seeing new and exciting places, and more than anything else, I wanted to fight for my country. I never thought about the sacrifices that I would have to make, the certainty of going to war, or the danger that I would face, not just from the enemy, but from my own comrades. When I was old enough, I went to the recruiting office and signed my life away. A couple of months later I left for basic training in Orlando; I was so excited to be living my dream. However, that dream soon turned into a nightmare that still haunts me to this day.
A few weeks had passed, and I was doing great, excelling in everything that was put before me. People could say I was the perfect soldier, but that perfection came with enemies. One warm and sticky night I awoke to use the bathroom; the air was stale and reeked of sweat. The long room was lined with bunks as far as one could see with sleeping soldiers, and on the far side of the building was the bathroom. As I entered the bathroom, I felt a sharp blow to the back of my head. Everything went black as I was knocked to the floor. The air became thin as I gasped for air only to find something wrapped over my head; I struggled to get up, but I could not move. The more I fought to breathe, the shallower my breathing became. Suddenly my clothes were torn from my body, and unimaginable pain coursed through me as an object was shoved inside me. Helplessly I fought to get away, but the others holding me down were too strong, and all I could do was lie there. My body became wet as blood soaked the floor all around me, and I felt my arms and legs freeze in terror. I was going to die, and I was in so much pain that I welcomed it.
I do not remember blacking out; I guess it was my body’s way of coping with the pain. As I lay there silently praying that it was over, the pain still engulfed my body. I removed the pillowcase from my head, trying to get a breath. Fear set in as I tried to see through blood stained eyes. Reaching to pull the broom handle free that was inserted inside me, I broke down in tears. How could my colleagues do this to one of their own? We were supposed to defend people not inflict pain and suffering on each other.
I went on to serve to a full-retirement in the Navy in spite of that painful experience, spending sixteen years in Iraq and giving up my freedom, to fight for the freedom of others. Justice would not be served for many years following that night. Policies in effect did not allow the incident to be investigated. Because of my sexual orientation, speaking of the incident would have resulted in my dismissal from the Navy. Not until twenty years later, following the repeal of “Don’t ask. Don’t Tell,” was I able to openly discuss this most treasonous violation.
Never one to admit defeat, I determined to turn the agony I suffered into motivation to become a stronger, more determined man. I knew that what I had gone through had happened and was happening all across our country. The experience has guided me to become a rehabilitation counselor for the veterans who faced similar betrayal from those they relied on.
The scars never go away; the pain does not end, but what we choose to do with the experience defines our character and the people we become.