Iraq War Vet Advocating Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to Speak at Sanford

Retired Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American soldier wounded in the Iraq War, will speak at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy about his work to repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The talk on Nov. 11 – Veteran’s Day – is from noon to 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

On March 21, 2003, on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Alva was traveling with his battalion in a convoy to Basra when he stepped on a landmine. It broke his right arm and his right leg was so badly damaged it had to be amputated. Alva received a medical discharge and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Alva became an instant celebrity, appearing on “Oprah” and receiving visits from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and First Lady Laura Bush.

Alva served for 13 years with the Marines and is from a military family. His father was a Vietnam vet and his grandfather served in World War II and the Korean War. He is also gay. In 2007, he contacted the Human Rights Campaign and became a spokesperson for their efforts to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He has testified before Congress about the policy and appeared on CNN, NPR and other national media.

“The undeniable truth is that not only is this policy just plain wrong because it discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, but the loss of thousands of dedicated personnel with critical skills and expertise clearly confirms that this ban is also a dangerous and costly compromise to our nation's security,” Alva has said.

On Oct. 12, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued an order halting all enforcement of “DADT,” having ruled the policy unconstitutional in the case of Log Cabin Republicans v. United States. On Oct. 20, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of that order at the request of the Department of Justice. The Obama administration has stated that it intends to repeal the policy, but wants an orderly transition and is awaiting a report from the Pentagon in December on how the transition would work.

Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Bruce Kuniholm, a former U.S. Marine, joined deans from eight other U.S. schools of public policy who in May sent a letter supporting repeal of the policy to members of the House and Senate committees debating the issue.

“This event is a great opportunity to better understand the impact of a major federal policy on the lives of real people and to witness that policy change in real time,” said graduate student Fiona Morgan, co-chair of the Living Policy forum, a student organization at the Sanford School.  Living Policy Forum seeks to promote discussion about the development and delivery of innovative public policy and to connect classroom learning with community engagement.  “We’re pleased to partner with so many campus groups to bring Eric Alva to campus, because it allows more voices into a policy discussion that will have broad consequences.”

The event is presented by the Living Policy Forum and the Sanford School of Public Policy. Co-sponsors are the Duke LGBT Center, the Kenan Institute for Ethics and OUTLaw.

For additional information, contact Mary Lindsley at (919-613-7312) mary.lindsley@duke.edu.