Military Cuts May Halt Gay Troops' Return To Duty

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy Set To Be Lifted Next Month

The military's decision to reduce their troop numbers could prevent discharged gay troops from returning to duty.

In a month, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy will go away, but the fear is mounting among former gay Marines and sailors in the San Diego area that they won't be getting back in.

"It's disappointing," said former Marine William Rodriguez-Kennedy.

The pride of being a Marine is a feeling Rodriguez-Kennedy is hoping to capture again.

Discharged in 2008 under the policy after three years in the Marine Corps, 10News followed Rodriguez-Kennedy into a recruiting office last year when a court action temporarily struck down "don't ask, don't tell."

"I want to serve my country. I've always wanted to be a Marine and I still do," he said.

That attempt failed, but Rodriguez-Kennedy thought the end of the ban would finally lead to his re-enlistment dream coming true.

However, he was told by recruiters the few hundred annual Marine re-enlistment slots -- often reserved for specialties like linguists -- may be slashed, which doesn't bode well for his chances.

"With the military drawing down, it's actually almost impossible," said Rodriguez-Kennedy.

In the next few years, the Marines will slim down from 202,000 to 186,000. The Army is looking to cut 22,000 starting in October, and the Navy will be cutting 3,000 officers in the next few months.

The lone option for discharged troops may be through the court system.

A federal lawsuit by three former service members -- including former San Diegan and sailor Jason Knight -- challenging the constitutionality of the ban will be heard by an appellate court in September.

If a judge upholds the lower court ruling and side with gay troops, it could lead to a settlement that requires service members to get their jobs back.

"If they were discriminated against and taken out of service, they should be returned to service," said Rodriguez-Kennedy.

It is a return to service that would otherwise be unlikely despite the end of the longstanding ban.

Advocates estimate 30 percent of discharged troops could try to re-enlist, which would translate into several hundred local service members.

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