Two soldiers are grabbing a late dinner at a Taco Bell near post. Like nearly everyone I spoke with for this story, they agreed to talk only if their names weren’t used. Homosexuality is still a sensitive subject in the military. But these two soldiers are optimistic about the new acceptance of gays serving openly.
Soldier1: I mean I knew soldiers who were gay before, while the policy was in place. I mean, you couldn't really tell the difference between a gay soldier, a straight soldier. I mean they seem to have their own pros and cons as a straight soldier would too. I've probably had better experiences serving with gay soldiers seeing as how they seem to be a little easier to get along with, in my opinion.
The soldier says his attitude is probably a minority opinion, though. He says some pockets of the military are likely going to remain hostile to gays for some time.
Soldier1: It kinda depends on your job and what unit you're in. I mean if you're in a unit that's more of a support battalion, it's probably gonna be a little easier to get along, verses as, if you're in an infantry battalion, you might experience a little more hazing than you would if you were in a, depending on what type of unit you were in.
The soldier says one gay soldier he knows doesn’t plan on coming out right away. He’ll wait awhile to see how his colleagues deal with the issue.
The other soldier adds that in his experience, with guys living in such close proximity, people in smaller units often know if a member is gay. You just figure it out with time, he says. And in his experience, everyone just gets used to it.
Life on deployment is a little different, he says.
Soldier2: All the guys are huddled in a tent on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. You know, you've got to shower and stuff in front of each other. You know, it's something that you're just gonna have to adapt to, and that's what the Army's good at – adapting.
Two other soldiers are having lunch at Salmon Run Mall. They don’t think the Army should adapt to homosexuality.
Soldier4: I'm not comfortable showering with openly gays.
Soldier3: That's the biggest thing right there.
Soldier4: My old man served in Vietnam. No. I don't think so. It's gonna cause a lot of problems because, OK, now men that are attracted to men can shower with the men they are attracted to. It's not like the men can shower with the women they're attracted to. So it's really a win-lose situation. The gays get to do what they want, but yet the straight, heterosexual people can't.
The soldier says he supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a good way of dealing with the issue of gay service members.
Soldier4: Cause evidently it's worked for a very long time, so – the old motto: don't fix nothin' that's not broke.
The two have had to sit through numerous classes emphasizing that they should treat any gay soldiers with the same respect they’d show straight ones. “Death by PowerPoint,” one calls it. Still, they say, they have no choice but to go along with the Army’s new policy.
Soldier3: Just get used to it, that's all.
At an Arby’s restaurant near Fort Drum, two soldiers take a break from having lunch to consider the issue. Are they comfortable serving with openly gay soldiers? Specialist Michael Shirk pauses at length before saying “yes.”
Shirk: I mean, it's like, it's not my particular lifestyle, but if that's their lifestyle and that's what they, that's their personal beliefs, then … that's what they, I mean that's what they want to go home to – nobody stops me from doing what I do, so … It's just, it's a matter of personal preference, I guess.
Specialist Shirk and his friend say they aren’t aware of any gay soldiers in their units. But as the new policy of acceptance takes effect, they take a live-and-let-live approach. More than anything, they say, what matters isn’t soldiers’ sexuality or their private lives. What matters is the mission.
Shirk: I mean, it's, as long as we get the job done on what we're trained to do day in and day out.
For North Country Public Radio, I’m Joanna Richards in Watertown.