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Don't let their personal life interfere with their work life, then I have no problem with nothing. As long as they get the job done.

Fort Drum wrestles with end of Don't Ask Don't Tell

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President Obama is expected to sign the measure repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell tomorrow. The Senate voted to end the 17 year-old policy barring gays or lesbians from military service.

The policy shift is a big victory for gay rights. Polls show it has the support of a significant majority of Americans. Still, many people around Fort Drum were struggling with the new reality yesterday. David Sommerstein went to Watertown's Salmon Run Mall to sample opinion and filed this report.

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David Sommerstein
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 [Bring up sound of bell ringing]

Thank you very much, god bless you, you have a very Merry Christmas.

Amidst the bellringers and Christmas shoppers, one thing’s for sure.  Even talking about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell makes people uncomfortable.

Ahhhhh, I stay quiet on that.  I don’t have much to say about  it.

Ed and Reese Smith of Richville lug two big bags from a hardware store.  They say to make something so personal so political is awkward.  Even with gay friends, they say they don’t talk about it.

They don’t bother me.  I don’t bother them.  You’know, right.  It’s a big controversial thing.  A lot of people believe you’re born that way, and it is.  It’s a really tough situation.

The Fort Drum region’s a conservative, rural place.  So homosexuality itself is a subject people wrestle with.  They choose their words carefully.  They um and ah a lot.

Joe Aucter of Croghan echoes a common concern – that adapting to a new social reality will distract soldiers in the middle of two wars.

I wonder if it might create a little conflict inside the military itself.  With them spread out as they are, I don’t know if we need that.

An extensive survey done by the Pentagon itself found military leaders don’t believe the repeal will corrode morale.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates instead said it’s the ban that forces gay or lesbian service members to effectively lie, and that cuts against military values of honesty and integrity.

But even supporters of Don’ t Ask Don’t Tell’s repeal say gay soldiers should keep their preferences to themselves.

Take Sergeant Manju Sampson, a towering soldier in green camouflage.  He scans a window display of lap blankets, potential gifts for his wife and daughter.

I see they got the snuggles here or the snuggies or whatever they are…

Sampson supports the policy’s repeal, but he says sexual persuasions, like many other things, should be kept private. 

Concentrate on doing their job.  Don’t let their personal life interfere with their work life, then I have no problem with nothing.  As long as they get the job done.

Sergeant Mike Poole says an openly gay soldier would interfere.  He says soldiers do almost everything together, on the battlefield and in the barracks, and he fears a backlash.

I’ve got no problem with what people do in the privacy of their home.  But now, would you expect a female in a shower with a male?  You got somebody who’s gay, y’know what I’m saying?  It kinda gets a little uncomfortable.

Of the dozen or so people I spoke to here, Stacey Shute is one of the few who unequivocally welcomes the end of Don’t ask Don’t’Tell.

You should be who you want to be.  If someone’s going to stand over there and fight for us, it doesn’t matter what you are.

Melinda Merrill just shrugs.  Her husband’s a sergeant at Fort Drum.  She says preventing openly gay soldiers from serving is wrong.

I don’t think it’s fair.  I think they should be allowed.

But Merrill admits the new policy will take some getting used to.

For North Country Public Radio, I’m David Sommerstein in Watertown.

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