I learned any number of things in my time at West Point; the rigorous physical discipline I would need in my time as an Officer in Iraq, the foundation of knowledge in Arabic and environmental engineering that would help me contribute to the military even outside a war zone, and most importantly, the fundamental fact that on any battlefield, in any combat zone, your best strategy is to be proactive, not reactive. When you're fighting for your life, sitting back and waiting to be attacked is not an option. Battles have to be fought and won; if we could just wait for them to be handed to us, we wouldn't be fighting in the first place.
This last lesson has as many implications in civilian life as it does in the military, and as a gay officer, I feel there is one specific arena today where it is most apt: namely, the battle to overturn discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals.
I have spent my life in the army fighting for what I believe is right, and to uphold the American dream both at home and abroad. For me, that has meant fighting, actively, against the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The sorts of skills I learned at West Point, how to quickly analyze and react to a situation, make a split-second decision when necessary, and, outside the combat zone, develop lasting positive relationships with the Arab people and the world environment, have never had anything to do with my sexual orientation. There is no reason, then, that I should be forced to hide it.
I adamantly believe that this policy, one which enforces a sense of shame, of inadequacy, and of secrecy on the brave young men and women willing to serve our country is discriminatory, and should thus be abolished. As a soldier, I had to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution; written into that noble document are the words "all men are created equal." I believe in that document and those words, and so I don't believe that I should be made to feel unequal under a discriminatory policy like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
It is my history in the war against discrimination as embodied in DADT that has drawn me into another battle currently being waged, one where I have not yet been an active soldier: the battle to overturn Prop 8.
Why enter the fray? Because, as with DADT, I believe that, at its core, Proposition 8 is the product of ignorance and discrimination against a group of people who are entitled to the same equality that the Constitution, and, as one of its defenders, I, uphold. When my fellow soldiers and myself go overseas, leaving family and friends behind and often putting our very lives at risk, it is to uphold an oath that asks us to reject discrimination of all kinds. To come home from a mission intended to spread that highest ideal of democracy, namely equality, and be told that, as a gay soldier, I am not entitled to the same rights as my fellow American citizens, that, in fact, I am in effect a second-class citizen to whom certain rights aren't available, seems to me fundamentally immoral. I'm willing to put my life on the line for this country; don't I at least deserve the same protection and recognition for my relationships as any straight civilian?
There has been much debate about whether the court case currently being waged in California right now is the right way to go about achieving marriage equality. Is it too soon, some wonder? What if we are defeated, and that defeat sets us back for years to come?
As a veteran both of battlefield combat and of its political counterpart, I don't think so. Here, as with any fight, we have to be strategic, proactive, and most importantly willing to fight for what we believe in. Sitting back and allowing the status quo to prevail simply because it would be easier is not what moves us forward as a people. It is in our history, our Constitution, indeed, in our makeup as American citizens to take the fight to injustice, and to fight it wherever we see it raise its ugly head; right now that battle is in California, and so, even though I have no history with the marriage equality battle, that is where I will lend my support. As a soldier, I know when my country needs me; as a gay Officer who has had to fight discrimination before and will have to fight it again in the future, I know that now is one of those times.
Remember those great words of another veteran warrior for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Right now the greatest injustice I see is the discrimination going on at home: are you willing to stand up in order to defend what's right? I know I am.
Follow Lt. Dan Choi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/prochoi2014