WASHINGTON - The Navy returned an openly gay sailor to active duty last year in what gay-rights advocates say is an example of how some military commanders - stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - are turning a blind eye to the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays and lesbians from revealing their sexual orientation.
Petty Officer Jason D. Knight, a Hebrew linguist who said he had officially informed his superiors that he is homosexual, was discharged in April 2005 after completing his four-year tour of duty, according to a summary of his Navy personnel file.
Nine months later, the Navy recalled him to active duty and sent him to Kuwait, where he served as a translator and received multiple awards for exemplary service.
"An increasing number of lesbian and gay troops are being welcomed by their colleagues in the armed forces," said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents gay and lesbian military personnel seeking redress for discrimination. "Commanders do not want to lose good people to this law, and service members do not care if the men and women they work alongside happen to be gay."
In Knight's experience, detailed in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, many of his fellow sailors appear to support him as an openly gay sailor.
"He's better than the average sailor at his job," Bill Driver, the supervisor of Knight's 15-person unit in Kuwait, told the paper, which serves the military community and receives some government support. Driver added that Knight's sexual orientation was "not at all strange" and "wasn't an issue at work."
Knight, 24, enlisted on April 4, 2001, according to personnel records provided by the Navy.
The Navy stressed that Knight was dismissed in 2005 because his commitment was over, not because he is gay, as reported in Stars and Stripes.
The Pentagon has kicked out nearly 12,000 service members under the 1994 policy, which allows homosexuals to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation secret. Those dismissed include hundreds of linguists considered critical to the war on terrorism.
"This incident only underscores the absurdity of 'don't ask, don't tell,' " said Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D., Mass.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who has sponsored a bill to repeal the law.