WASHINGTON — Army dismissals of gay soldiers more than doubled last year, with many coming from a base where a soldier thought to have been gay was beaten to death the previous year.
The Pentagon said Friday that 1,212 members of the armed services were discharged for homosexual conduct or for stating their homosexuality, a 17 percent increase from the 1,034 the previous year. It was the highest total since the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy went into effect in 1994.
The Army had the most with 573, up from 271 the previous year. The Navy and Marines Corps had slight increases while the Air Force had a big drop.
Fort Campbell, located along the Tennessee-Kentucky border, had 161 dismissals, more than any other Army base, according to Lt. Col. Duncan Baugh, a chaplain who is responsible for dealing with the homosexual policy in the Army.
"I am not surprised," said Dr. Paul Gott, a surgeon who was dismissed from Fort Campbell in January after acknowledging he was gay.
Gott tended to Pfc. Barry Winchell, 21, after Winchell was bludgeoned to death while sleeping on his cot July 5, 1999. A fellow soldier who believed Winchell was gay was later convicted of murder.
Gott said he was shaken by Winchell’s death.
"Somewhere in the back of your mind is the ‘you could be next’ sort of thing," Gott said in a telephone interview from Seattle, where he now lives.
The military permits homosexuals to serve so long as they don’t engage in homosexual conduct or state their sexual preference. Of last year’s total, all but 106 of the discharges were cases in which military members stated their homosexuality. The others were discharged for homosexual acts.
The Pentagon announced a year ago it was stepping up training to try to eliminate anti-gay harassment and educate personnel about the policy.
Capt. David Westover, a spokesman for the Air Force, said the training is at least partly responsible for the Air Force’s dramatic reduction in discharges, which dropped from 352 in 1999 to 177 last year.
He also said the Air Force implemented new procedures that make it harder for basic trainees to get out of the service by saying they are gay. Westover said that used to be grounds for immediate discharge, but now more effort is made to determine whether the person is being truthful.
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