Servicemembers United, one of the largest organizations of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, has a new full time office in Washington, D.C.
The non-profit, non-partisian organization was created four years ago to represent gay and lesbian veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in fighting for repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policies. Its supporters also include heterosexual men and women concerned about discrimination.
With the U.S. Senate promising DADT hearings this fall, the organization has launched a national tour of town halls with the Human Rights Campaign to heighten the DADT issue. The latest will be held in Charlotte, N.C. and Chicago tonight, and Phoenix next Tuesday, Aug. 11.
No information is yet available regarding a possible West Coast or Seattle visit.
Veterans participating in the town halls include:
* Jarrod Chlapowski, 27, a former squad NCO at Fort Lewis. Chlapowski was a top Korean linguist and cryptologic voice intereceptor, with more than 300 sensitive recon missions to his credit. He chose not to reenlist after coming to terms with his sexuality after joining the Army, because of "the excessive burden" of the DADT law, according to a Servicemembers United biography.
* Alexander Nicholson, Servicemembers United's founder and executive director,is a former Army intelligence collector who speaks numerous languages, including Arabic, but who was discharged from the military only six months after 9/11.
* Stephen Vossler, 26, who previously served as a tactical reconnassance specialist at Fort Lewis, was a top graduate of the NCO Academy and was trained as a Korean language cryptologic linguist, left the Army after the end of his enlistment after seeing and enduring the awkward effects of the DADT policy.
* Julianne Sohn, a former Marine officer who was called back to the service in 2005 to serve with served with the 5th Civil Affairs Group in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq, was forced to resign her commission after joining the "Call to Duty Tour" of the U.S. in which gay and lesbian service members sought to reignite the debate over DADT. A UCLA graduate, Sohn since has become a Los Angeles police officer after graduating with top honors from the police academy.
* Genevieve Chase, founder of American Women Veterans and a former sergeant and veteran of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan who survived a suicide bombing in 2006.
* Joe Soto, a former Marine Corps captain and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who once competed nationally as a member of the USMC triathlon team.
* Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain, communications officer and martial arts instructor who is now executive director of Service Women's Action Network based in New York.
* Michael Noftzger, a former top enlisted graduate of the Army's psychological operations school at Fort Bragg, N.C., received numerous joint service awards for his work with the military information support team in Bogota, Colombia.
* Megan Scanlon, a West Point military academy graduate and former Army officer whose battalion was mobilized after 9/11 to coordinate air operations and deployments to Afghanistan, is a practicing attorney in Virginia.
* Eric Alva, a former Marine whose unit, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, was the first to cross from Kuwait into Iraq in the March 2003 invasion, received a Purple Heart for his wounds. After 13 years of service, which previously included a tour-of-duty in Somalia, Alva was retired as a staff sergeant, and later acknowledged he was gay, focusing upon helping others affected by the DADT policy.
Alva today is the national spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, which teams with Servicemembers United to address the DADT debate.